CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2013

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Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • The 14-Game Tournament — College basketball’s most unique conference schedule gets underway in earnest this weekend, as the eight members of the Ivy League begin six weeks of Friday/Saturday back-to-back games for the right to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. No conference tournament, no second chances. The only rare appearances for the league during Championship Week occur when the regular season title is shared, in which case no tiebreakers are applied and the two or more teams proceed directly to a neutral site playoff. The last one of those happened following the 2011 season, when a Douglas Davis jumper at the buzzer sent Princeton past Harvard into the NCAA Tournament. Currently, the odds of playoff this season sit around 20 percent and would most likely be a repeat of that 2011 duel.
  • Odds Aren’t — The last travel partner weekend was supposed to be a snoozer as each of the three contests had favorites of between 5.5 and 16.5 points. No one told the teams involved, apparently, as two of the three contests went into overtime and another wasn’t decided until a missed three at the buzzer. The favorites are still 5-2 in the early going, meaning that the race has gone pretty much to plan thus far. If the results from last weekend are any indication, however, the next six weekends should provide plenty of surprising moments while the league likely ends up either of the expected favorites, Harvard or Princeton, taking home the title.
Can Freshman Phenom Siyani Chambers And Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker Turn The Crimson Into Tournament Darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Can Freshman Phenom Siyani Chambers And Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker Turn The Crimson Into Tournament Darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Power Rankings

  1. Princeton (8-7, 1-0 Ivy) – Two massively important records for Tigers fans to keep in mind are 2-5 and 6-2. Those are Princeton’s marks when Ian Hummer uses over and under 35 percent of his team’s possessions, respectively. Hummer is everywhere on the offensive end, taking tons of shots, drawing many fouls and even leading the entire Ivy League in assist rate. As a whole, though, the Tigers are far more effective when the 6’7″ senior is doing a lot, but not too much. The new, improved Princeton squad of the last month has thrived on ball movement to find any of the myriad three-point shooters that can knock down open looks. When the offense is running smoothly and efficiently, it becomes very difficult for one player to use more than a third of the team’s possessions, which likely means that Princeton’s title hopes rest on Hummer doing less, not more.
  2. Harvard (10-6, 2-0) – Just as everyone expected, the Crimson jumped out to a 2-0 Ivy start for the fourth-consecutive season. Except that the path to get there was something almost no one could have expected. Harvard was thoroughly outplayed for vast stretches of both its games against travel partner Dartmouth, needing a 17-2 run to claim the road win and an insane 38-20 run over the final four minutes of regulation and the overtime period to survive at home. Sure, Harvard isn’t going to start 1-for-16 from three all that often, so the offensive ineptitude might have been a little deceptive, but the Crimson’s struggles to guard a pretty anemic Big Green squad can’t be explained away as easily. The casual explanation is to say that Harvard sleepwalked through its travel partner series, but a closer examination lends more credence to the notion that Dartmouth exposed some real flaws, especially on the defensive end.
  3. Columbia (9-7, 1-1) – How different would things be if the Lions had Noruwa Agho? What’s becoming more and more evident every game is that Columbia is one two-way guard away from being right in the midst of this race. Senior guard Brian Barbour is a great facilitator that earns trips to the line in droves but can’t knock down shots from the field consistently. That’s okay, because the Lions have Grant Mullins and Steve Frankoski, who are both superb shooters. The only problem is that, on the defensive end, none of those three can do more than wave at athletic guards as they speed by them on the way to the hoop. Without a dominant interior presence to scare driving guards, the Lions’ best offensive perimeter lineup is by far its worst defensive one. This tradeoff is what is keeping Columbia from making a serious run at the Ivy title.
  4. Brown (7-9, 1-1) – In a league full of teams that have been on fire since Christmas, the Bears stand out as the biggest turnaround. Brown has gone 4-3 over its last seven games with two Top 150 wins and if it had found one more point in regulation against Yale, could be sitting at .500 and tied atop the Ivy League with Harvard. The Bears have been outstanding defensively over that stretch, but that’s unlikely to continue, as opponents have shot incredibly poorly recently, something which should regress to the true mean over the remainder of the season.  As Brown starts to allow more points, expect its sputtering offense to get exposed once again, potentially forcing the Bears out of this final slot in the league’s upper division.
  5. Cornell (9-10, 1-1) – For a Big Red team that has had a deceptive number of quality wins since it last won the Ivy title in 2010, it may be a bit surprising that Cornell’s 66-63 win over Columbia was only its second Top 200 road win of the Bill Courtney era. The victory should provide a blueprint for the rest of the Ivy campaign. An atrocious shooting team from long range, Cornell limited the number of threes it took and instead tasked its athletic guards with the mission of drawing fouls and winning the game at the line. At the other end, the Big Red let Columbia guard Brian Barbour explore the weakest area of his game (shooting) and the senior point guard obliged with a 5-for-17 performance from the field. Cornell seemed unable or unwilling to deviate from its up-tempo system that encouraged bad shooters to bomb away from three for so long this season but finally appears willing to craft its game around what its personnel can do best.
  6. Yale (7-12, 1-1) – Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs looked like a clear upper division team, but after barely scraping out a split with Brown, it’s hard to distinguish Yale from the rest of the bottom five. Senior guard Austin Morgan is a career 40 percent shooter from three, and Yale is 6-4 when he makes more than one in a game. Morgan is far too deferential at times – something which was understandable when he was the third option to Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite, but something which makes less sense when he has the highest offensive rating of any of the starters. Freshman Justin Sears has been outstanding at times, carrying the Bulldogs to some unexpected wins, but if Morgan could be more assertive offensively, Yale might be better equipped to survive the nights when Sears has an evening befitting a rookie.
  7. Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2) – The storyline of an offense picking apart a defense for easy interior buckets and displaying its prowess on the glass might have been expected from the Harvard-Dartmouth travel partner series. But likely no one expected that team to be the Big Green. For most of the 80 minutes, however, Dartmouth picked apart a confused Crimson defense with its four starters ranging from 6’6 to 6’8 combining to shoot 16-of-21 from inside the arc. Some Harvard good fortune kept it in the game long enough for the Big Green’s glaring weaknesses to catch up with it. Dartmouth shot just 63 percent from the line, including a 3-for-6 showing during the final minute, and it handed Harvard 38 free throws on the afternoon. Though the result is still a loss, the Big Green has clearly taken the steps forward necessary to have a chance to depart the Ivy cellar for the first time since 2009.
  8. Pennsylvania (3-15, 0-1) – If any team is poised for a surprising Ivy run, it’s the Quakers. Junior Fran Dougherty, who looked like an Ivy Player of the Year candidate earlier this season, is ready to return from a bout with mononucleosis just in time for the league slate. He’ll join a squad that has started to turn the corner on both ends of the court. Coach Jerome Allen has cut the minutes of inefficient freshmen Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis, discovering the offensively gifted Patrick Lucas-Perry in the process. Miles Cartwright has played more like the star most expected him to be, shoring up the backcourt in the process, while freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry has become a legitimate scoring threat in the post. The Quakers aren’t going to become a contender overnight, but if Pennsylvania emerges as the best team of the bottom five, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Top Game

Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT) – Just a week after Memphis coach Josh Pastner said in a post-game press conference that Harvard would not just win the Ivy League but win it in a landslide, there the Crimson was, down 57-44 to Dartmouth on its home floor with under four minutes left to play. If an epic comeback was to follow, it sure didn’t start immediately either. The Crimson’s three possessions over the next two minutes included two missed free throws and a turnover, as it still trailed by 10 after forcing a Big Green turnover with 1:42 to go. Even after a Christian Webster three and a couple of Laurent Rivard free throws, Harvard still trailed by seven with the ball with just over a minute left. Webster connected on two more to get the Crimson to within 62-60, when Harvard caught its biggest break of the game. Dartmouth’s John Golden missed two free throws and Siyani Chambers followed with a layup on the other end to complete the frenzied comeback. Harvard immediately scored the first six points of the extra session, and while the Big Green hung tough, the Crimson made 12 of its final 13 free throws to seal the win.

Reader’s Take


Looking Ahead

  • February 2 – Columbia at Princeton, 7:00 PM, NBC Sports Net – The fickle nature of the 14-Game Tournament is quite evident in this matchup. If the Lions can beat Pennsylvania on Friday and spring the upset here, they’ll instantly be back among the favorites to win the Ivy title. If they lose at Jadwin and allow the Tigers to get two games up in the loss column, the hopes of a championship fade away almost completely. Historically, Princeton has defended its home floor with vigor, posting a six-point home court advantage in league play over the last 20 years and having gone a stunning 20-2 in Ivy games at Jadwin Gym during the Ian Hummer era. The Lions are horrible at defending the three, so chasing the Tigers around the perimeter will be a must, but Columbia does have the size to hang with a large Princeton squad. If the Lions can keep the Tigers from shooting them out of the building, while draining some threes of their own, they will have a chance of staying in the Ivy title race.

    Statistics show that Princeton has a lot more success when Ian Hummer is involved in all aspects of the offense (Getty)

    Statistics show that Princeton has a lot more success when Ian Hummer is involved in all aspects of the offense (Getty)

  • February 2 – Cornell at Pennsylvania, 7:00 PM – For two potential lower division squads looking to stay in the race as long as possible, the outcome of this contest at The Palestra will likely dash one team’s hopes. The matchup is most intriguing due to the background of the teams as well. Both squads have had wild swings in production during the non-conference slate, looking good for stretches, before spiraling wildly out of control, especially on the offensive end. Recently, however, each team has shown steady, sustained improvement in scoring efficiency, much of it due to getting its turnover issues under relative control. Both teams love to run up and down the floor, setting a pace that should lead to a high scoring affair, even if neither side gets there in an overly efficient manner.
  • February 9 – Harvard at Columbia, 7:00 PM – Last year’s meeting at Levien Gym epitomized both team’s Ivy seasons. Harvard played afraid to lose with a lead down the stretch and wound up needing overtime to win and avoid falling behind in the Ivy race, while Columbia lost its seventh game by five points or less or in overtime. Whether or not either team is a contender in the Ivy race will hinge on the outcomes of this weekend’s games and next Friday’s contests, but regardless, these are the two teams most likely to catch the Tigers, so the loser will have that much more work to do. Harvard has been quite the high variance road team under Tommy Amaker, often struggling to put away teams outside the Top 200, while other times pounding its closest rivals (except Princeton, of course). If Columbia hits its threes like it has shown it can at times, it will put a lot of pressure on a talented, but streaky Harvard offense to keep the Crimson in the game.

Postseason Watch

The Ivy League has garnered at least three postseason invites each of the past three seasons. Heading into league play, it’s entirely possible that the streak could continue. Here are the top Ivy contenders for a postseason berth and what they will have to do to secure one.

  • Princeton – The Tigers head into Ivy play with just a .500 non-conference mark, but that came against a Top 100 schedule nationally. The win against Bucknell gives Princeton a fringe top 50 victory to fall back on, and the Tigers have four top 200 road wins on the resume. Anything 8-6 or better will be enough to keep Princeton above .500 and should merit a CBI or CIT berth. Beyond that, it’s probably NCAA Tournament or bust, as the bad losses during the non-conference slate have damaged the Tigers’ NIT profile. Postseason Likelihood – Very High
  • Harvard – The Crimson missed out on a golden opportunity at St. Mary’s and the collapse at Massachusetts didn’t help the profile either. If Harvard had held on in both of those, it would be well positioned for a NIT berth with a good run in Ivy play. Given those losses, its prospects are quite similar to those of Princeton. An 8-6 mark or better in the league will likely be enough for a CBI or CIT berth, and it will stay in either of those unless it can make the NCAA Tournament. Postseason Likelihood – Very High
  • Columbia – An above .500 record looked like a lock for the Lions given their weak non-conference schedule, but Columbia gave enough games away to put itself in jeopardy of missing that mark in D-I competition. An 8-6 finish is imperative and that might not be enough, even with the win over Villanova. For the Lions to feel safe about their CBI or CIT prospects, a 9-5 mark or better is probably necessary. That would mean either picking off Harvard or Princeton at least once or not losing another game to a lower-ranked opponent. Postseason Likelihood – Possible, Not Probable
  • Cornell – Despite the immense struggles the Big Red went through during non-conference play, Cornell still managed to scratch out a 7-9 record against a schedule that was, at the very least, more challenging than Columbia’s. The odds of the Big Red getting the nine Ivy wins necessary to be in CBI or CIT contention are not high, but at least it’s a target for which to aim. Cornell probably needs to split with Harvard and Princeton to like its chances, but at least it’s a remote possibility, which is something a handful of other Ivies can’t say. Postseason Likelihood – Unlikely
Brian Goodman (983 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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