CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 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

  • One For The Record Book – While Yale’s 69-65 victory over Princeton sent shock waves throughout the league, the score itself obscured the myriad storylines, ranging from interesting to bizarre, hidden beyond a cursory glance. The Tigers saw their 21-game Ivy home winning streak come to an end – a run which extended all the way back to the 2009-10 season. The victory helped push the Bulldogs into a tie for third in the league and put Yale back on pace to finish in the Ivy’s upper division for the 13th consecutive season. Also, it marked just the seventh time in the Academic Index era (dating back to 1980) that a team pulled off the back-to-back sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton on the road. The game itself was very strange, as both teams posted effective field goal percentages over 60% and each offense rebounded over half of its missed shots.
  • High Octane – After spending most of the non-conference slate struggling mightily to score the basketball, the eight Ivies have experienced a veritable explosion on the offensive end during league play. Every team has seen its offensive efficiency rise, as the 14-Game Tournament has seen Ivy teams score an average of six points more per 100 possessions than they did during the non-conference slate. True-shooting percentage has risen substantially in league play as teams have started getting to the line more and converting a greater percentage of their three-point shots. Dropping threes is a great equalizer for an underdog, and sure enough, the league’s two biggest upsets to this point (Yale over Princeton and Columbia over Harvard) have seen the favorites succumb to a barrage of trifectas from their opponents.

    The Tigers continue to roll, but an unbalanced schedule has Princeton playing seven of its final nine on the road.

    The Tigers continue to roll, but an unbalanced schedule has Princeton playing seven of its final nine on the road.

Power Rankings  

  1. Princeton (11-8, 4-1) – While the Tigers look like the most complete Ivy team and have the added benefit of experience going for them, one thing to keep in mind is that the Tigers haven’t played a road game since January 5th and have yet to venture away from Jadwin in league play. With seven of its final nine on the road, Princeton is about to find out just how tough it is out there, starting with its trip to Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend. Over the same timeframe that the Tigers won 21 straight games at Jadwin Gym, they went just 9-7 on the road, losing at five different Ivy venues. Princeton’s home-road splits this season have been pretty much dead even, so there’s no reason to expect any drop off as the Tigers leave New Jersey, and all it would take is one road sweep to make Princeton the prohibitive favorite.
  2. Harvard (13-7, 5-1) – The Crimson has clearly staked its claim as the weirdest Ivy team in recent memory. It has held leads of 14 points or more in four of its six Ivy games, yet its largest margin of victory was just 10, and it needed to close the game on a 17-2 run to hit that mark. Last Friday, it had Cornell down 20 midway through the second half, only to survive after the Big Red missed a three at the end that would have won it. A week earlier it survived two overtimes with a Brown team it had led by 22 at one point. The Crimson’s potent offense has frozen up in each of those second half collapses, failing to generate many good looks once it slips into clock-killing mode. That it has survived is all that matters in the 14-Game Tournament, though, and it has a chance to erase those bad memories, as it hosts Pennsylvania and Princeton this weekend.

    A rare road sweep of the Quakers and Tigers has lifted Austin Morgan and the Bulldogs from the cellar all the way to pole position for third place (New Haven Register)

    A rare road sweep of the Quakers and Tigers has lifted Austin Morgan and the Bulldogs from the cellar all the way to pole position for third place. (New Haven Register)

  3. Yale (9-14, 3-3) – A rare road sweep of the Quakers and Tigers has lifted the Bulldogs from the cellar all the way to pole position for third place. The path clears up nicely for Yale from here, as it closes with six home games and the easiest road trip of the three. The Bulldogs are a living testimony to the power of rebounding. Yale leads the conference in offensive rebounding, grabbing 38 percent of the loose balls on that end, and is a close second on the defensive glass, pulling down 72 percent there. Those gaudy numbers have helped mask the fact that opponents are outshooting the Bulldogs by a whopping eight percentage points.
  4. Cornell (11-12, 3-3) – When its offensive weapons are playing up to their potential, the Big Red is a very dangerous team. Shonn Miller’s defense always gets the most praise, but he’s continually evolving into a more efficient offensive player and will make another leap when he stops taking threes he can’t make. Errick Peck put a terrible non-conference run behind him to become a strong number two scoring option, and freshman Nolan Cressler, who faded after a hot start to the season, has been dialed in from deep recently. Perimeter defense has been the Big Red’s downfall, as Ivy opponents are shooting 39 percent from three. If Cornell can find a way to stop the bleeding there, it has a very good shot at the number three spot on the Ivy ladder.
  5. Columbia (10-10, 2-4) – With its title chances dashed, the Lions still have plenty to play for – namely a postseason berth. Columbia took a huge first step toward that goal with its win over Harvard last Sunday. Still, it will likely take an above .500 Ivy record to garner a CIT or CBI invite, which means no more than two losses down the stretch. With two games against Harvard and Princeton remaining, that puts the pressure on tricky weekends like the upcoming visit to Brown and Yale. Anything less than a sweep will push Columbia closer to elimination from the postseason picture. The Lions squad that shot the lights out against the Crimson on Sunday could win any remaining game on its schedule. The inability of the Lions to avoid some ice cold shooting nights, though, will be the team’s ultimate downfall.
  6. Pennsylvania (5-17, 2-3) – What was already a difficult season just got worse, as the Quakers lost its star forward Fran Dougherty and sharpshooting guard Steve Rennard for the season. With rookie center Darien Nelson-Henry also hobbled, an already shorthanded Pennsylvania team has been forced to go deeper into a pretty shallow bench. The only constant for the Quakers has been surprisingly staunch defense. Pennsylvania leads the league in Adjusted Defensive Rating during conference play by almost six points per 100 possessions, as no team defends either the two or three better. With so few offensive weapons remaining, however, the Quakers have struggled to take advantage, going just 2-2 at home over the past four games despite allowing just one opponent to post an effective field goal percentage of 40 or above.
  7. Brown (8-12, 2-4) – A strong weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth has long since been forgotten, as the Bears were never a factor in a pair of blowout losses at Pennsylvania and Princeton. The Bears shoot a higher proportion of threes than any team in the league and don’t make many trips to the line, which obviously introduces a boatload of variance to the offense. Sure enough, one week after shooting an average 57 percent, Brown connected at an anemic 35 percent against the Quakers and Tigers. The Bears have been built that way for years now and their final eight Ivy games should be no less of a rollercoaster.
  8. Dartmouth (6-14, 2-4) – The Big Green has already passed one milestone, winning more than one Ivy contest for the first time since 2009. Not coincidentally, that was also the last season that Dartmouth avoided finishing in the league basement. Leading the charge for the Big Green has been its offense, as  Tyler Melville, Connor Boehm, Jvonte Brooks and Alex Mitola are hovering around or above the national average for offensive efficiency, something Dartmouth would have been thrilled to see even one player do some seasons. With the Big Green’s .500 mark in non-travel-partner games, Harvard and Dartmouth are a combined 5-3 in such contests, tied for the lead with Pennsylvania and Princeton. The New England pair has a chance to finish as the league’s toughest road trip for the first time in the modern era.

Top Game

Harvard 89, Brown 82 (2OT) – As another three fell to cap a 10-0 Crimson run that put Harvard up 63-41 with 13 minutes to play, the rout was on. Or so it seemed. It took just five minutes and a 14-0 Brown run to erase any ideas the Crimson faithful had of hitting the exits early. Harvard’s offense didn’t necessarily heat up, but its defense stabilized enough to stake the Crimson to a 67-60 lead with two minutes to go. The Bears pulled within three with 20 seconds to go, but Laurent Rivard hit two free throws for Harvard that seemed to ice the game. A crazy finish ensued as Sean McGonagill nailed a three pointer, Stephen Albrecht stole the ball from the Crimson’s Christian Webster and McGonagill drained a jumper at the buzzer after keeping the game alive with an offensive rebound. After Harvard’s Wesley Saunders had a potential game-winning, reverse layup rim out at the end of the first overtime period, the Crimson scored the first five points of the second extra session and never let the Bears back to within one possession with the ball for the remainder of the game, sealing the 89-82 victory.

Reader’s Take


Looking Ahead

  • February 15 – Cornell at Yale, 7:00 PM – Having three Ivy losses prior to the midway point is usually enough to consider one’s title hopes dead, but a fourth would certainly drive the nail into that coffin. That will be the fate for the loser of this matchup between the Big Red and the Bulldogs. Cornell’s strong defensive rebounding unit will square off against one of the best offensive rebounding teams the Ivy League has seen in quite some time. Despite the fact that both offenses have been playing much better recently, Yale might not be able to extend possessions as easily against Cornell, and the Big Red’s hot shooting streak could regress rather quickly, potentially turning this game into quite the defensive struggle.

    Wesley Saunders and Harvard hosts a huge contest against Princeton later this week. (Harvard athletics)

    Wesley Saunders and Harvard hosts a huge contest against Princeton later this week. (Harvard athletics)

  • February 16 – Princeton at Harvard, 7:00 PM, NBC Sports Net – The epic closing stretch for the Tigers starts now, as Princeton has seven Ivy road dates among its final nine games. With that challenge comes opportunity, however. The first trip includes a visit to Boston, where the Tigers can buy themselves some breathing room in the Ivy race with a win. And among those two remaining home games is a return trip from the Crimson, meaning that even with a loss in Boston, Princeton isn’t in bad shape. For Harvard, the pressure is palpable. A loss to Princeton at home would likely mean that it would have to spring an upset at Jadwin – a place where Harvard hasn’t won since 1989.
  • February 22 – Princeton at Columbia, 7:00 PM – The Lions might have fallen from the Ivy title chase, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Columbia can still knock down shots in bunches, as it did against the Crimson last weekend, and Levien Gymnasium can get incredibly loud during Ivy weekends. The Lions also match up incredibly well with Princeton, as they have the size to fight the Tigers on the interior. If the Tigers can navigate the next two weekends with a 3-1 record, they’ll be in great shape in the hunt for the title. The bus ride from New York City to Ithaca is brutal when playing on back-to-back nights, and the teams are both capable of playing well on a given night, so Princeton needs to play 80 good minutes if it wants to come away with a sweep.
  • February 23 – Harvard at Yale, 8:00 PM, CBS Sports Net – If Yale can sweep the visits from Columbia and Cornell (a big if, for sure), it could give itself a chance to sneak back into the race when hosting Harvard. The Bulldogs already played the Crimson tough in Boston, taking advantage of Chambers’ foul trouble to pare a 14-point lead down to the final margin of three. If Yale can hurt Harvard anywhere it’s on the offensive glass, where the Bulldogs snag lots of extra chances and the Crimson has struggled to get stops. Surprisingly enough, Yale couldn’t take advantage of that during the first meeting between the two teams, but if it can find a way to do so in the rematch, it might be able to spring an upset that could keep it hanging around in the Ivy race a little longer.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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