CIO… the Ivy LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2013
- Players of the Year – After once again earning Ivy Player of the Week honors on Monday, Princeton senior forward Ian Hummer officially set a single-season record with six such accolades. For the third time, the title was shared with Harvard sophomore swingman Wesley Saunders, who himself has been awarded Player of the Week honors on five occasions this season. The weekly awards don’t always capture the most important performance from the previous seven days, but they’ve done a good job highlighting the two players between which coaches will be torn for Player of the Year honors at the end of the season. Hummer and Saunders are dead even in offensive rating, each contributing 110 points per 100 possessions on the offensive end, though Hummer does have the edge in usage rate, consuming just over 30 percent, while Saunders checks in at 25 percent. Both players are charged with some heavy defensive responsibilities as well, often drawing the opponent’s toughest assignment. The edge will likely go to the senior Hummer, but each should be a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection.
- Postseason Berths – Cornell’s disappointing weekend getting swept by Pennsylvania and Princeton officially knocked the Big Red out of the Ivy title race, leaving the Tigers and Crimson as the only teams vying for the title. Both Harvard and Princeton will be in a postseason tournament of some sort – the winner to the NCAAs and the runner-up likely to the CBI or CIT. The postseason possibilities don’t end there for the Ivy League, though. Cornell currently sits at 13-14 and would need to go 3-1 in its final four games to eclipse the .500 threshold necessary for tournament consideration. Its position outside of the Top 200 in both Pomeroy and the RPI might seem to be a disqualifier, but with the CIT expanding to 32 teams and focusing exclusively on mid-majors, the Big Red’s odds of getting selected at 16-15 are still pretty decent. Columbia has a better Pomeroy profile and better top win (at Villanova) than Cornell, but would need to win out to get to .500 in league play. The Lions only need to go 3-1 to finish at .500 overall, but the 6-8 mark in the Ivies might be too much to overcome.
- Harvard (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) – If there was ever a time to have a promising player finally realize his potential, it would be right before the biggest game of the year against your top league rival. Kenyatta Smith provided just that for the Crimson. Having played just 46 minutes combined over Harvard first six Ivy games, Smith got a surprise start against Pennsylvania and responded with 20 points, ten blocks and nine rebounds in 31 minutes. He followed that up with 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in just 20 minutes against Princeton. That the 6’8” center provided the interior defensive presence the Crimson desperately needed shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as Smith would be leading the nation in defensive rebounding rate and block rate if he had played the few more minutes per game necessary to qualify. The only thing keeping Smith on the bench now is foul trouble, which limited the big man to just 15 minutes per game in Harvard’s sweep of Brown and Yale last weekend.
- Princeton (14-9, 7-2) – While many marveled over Zack Rosen’s Ivy run last year, Ian Hummer is on pace to top it. Over his first nine league games, Hummer has registered an offensive rating over 100 in every contest, while posting usage rates of between 27 and 34 percent in each. With the Tigers wobbling a bit heading into their trip to Columbia and Cornell, the 6’7” senior provided two of his best performances of the season, averaging 20 points per game on an offensive rating in the 150 range, as Princeton won the two games by a combined 44 points. Now, the Tigers host Harvard in a contest that could either all but knock them out of the Ivy race or could put them in a virtual tie with the Crimson with just a few games to go. Hummer’s consistency could very well provide the steadying hand that puts Princeton over the top.
- Yale (11-16, 5-5) – An ambitious non-conference schedule (29th best according to Pomeroy) has left the Bulldogs out of the postseason discussion, but the Bulldogs are still primed to keep coach James Jones’ streak of 12 straight upper division finishes alive. Yale likely needs just two wins to finish at least fourth, though with visits to Columbia and Cornell upcoming and a date with Princeton still looming, going 2-2 is anything but given. The Bulldogs have been one of the league’s highest variance teams in Ivy play, posting an effective field goal percentage in the 60s in each of its three meetings with Harvard and Princeton, while averaging less than 50 percent in its other seven league games. That’s good news if you want to post some surprising upsets, as Yale did at Princeton already this season, but bad news if you want the consistency necessary to contend for a league title.
- Cornell (13-14, 5-5) – With a legit First-Team All-Ivy caliber sophomore in Shonn Miller, the future is bright for the Big Red. After getting swept by the Quakers and Tigers, that’s where Cornell’s focus now has to shift, however. It all seemed to be coming together at the right time for the Big Red, as its offense had posted six of its last seven games with an Adjusted Offensive Rating over 100 with its defense hovering right around the 100 mark on average during that span. Then, Pennsylvania and Princeton averaged a 65 eFG% over two games and did a great job of rebounding the few misses that Cornell forced. The result was the Big Red’s worst defensive performance of the season against the Quakers (135 Defensive Rating) and one of its worst against the Tigers (114 Defensive Rating). While Cornell has Miller to build around, it was also dealt some disappointing news recently, as senior forward Errick Peck revealed that he would be using his extra year of eligibility as a graduate student at a different program.
- Pennsylvania (7-19, 4-5) – Quakers fans will never be thrilled by having a shot at a 10-win season, but they have to be somewhat happy with the performance of their young players in difficult circumstances. Pennsylvania has been without its best player almost all of the past two months, lost arguably its best three-point shooter to injury and has fought through other illnesses and injuries along the way to have a shot at finishing in the upper division of the Ivy League. It’s done this while getting most of its production from the freshman and sophomore classes and while watching those players slowly become more efficient on the offensive end and more aware on the defensive end. With so many teams losing key pieces after this season, the Quakers look primed to make a jump back to contender status.
- Brown (10-14, 4-6) – That Matt Sullivan is Brown’s best offensive player encapsulates its problem quite nicely. For every great game that Sullivan puts together, there’s a disastrous performance from which the Bears can’t recover. Rookie Coach Mike Martin has Brown poised to post its best Defensive Rating in the Pomeroy era, but that’s been paired with the worst offense in the Ivy League. The Bears have three different players who have hoisted over 100 threes and none of them are connecting at a rate above the league average. Brown’s two best interior presences (rookies Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah) get fouled frequently, but only shoot 49 and 59 percent, respectively, once at the line. Given all that, it’s possible that the Bears’ best strategy is to hope to string enough threes together to win, but it’s not a strategy that can consistently win games for any team.
- Columbia (11-13, 3-7) – The Lions ended the freefall with a 58-41 win over the Quakers that was more driven by their opponent’s poor shooting than anything else. Columbia’s offense has almost completely stalled, as it has just two games with Offensive Ratings over 100 among its past nine contests – the home upset of Harvard and the near upset of Princeton at Jadwin Gymnasium. Some of the Lions recent struggles derived from All-Ivy point guard Brian Barbour having to fight through illness over the past couple weekends, but he was on the court for over 30 minutes per game during Columbia’s four-game losing streak earlier in the league slate. During non-conference play, the Lions’ extremely low turnover rate masked its shooting woes at times, and as the turnovers have started to increase, Columbia’s inability to make shots efficiently has taken a huge toll on the Lions’ offensive output.
- Dartmouth (6-18, 2-8) – With every passing loss, it’s becoming more and more evident that this won’t be the year the Big Green escapes the Ivy cellar. Dartmouth’s Ivy start was quite surprising, nearly knocking off Harvard at Lavietes and recording wins against Yale and Columbia. Since then, though, the Big Green’s best performance was equivalent to that of the 310th best team in the country, while a couple have made Dartmouth look like one of the nation’s 10 worst teams. There really isn’t a specific problem to diagnose. The Big Green has been horrible offensively and defensively over its past five games. It still has two decent chances for wins as it hosts Columbia and Cornell to close out the season, but it’s hard to see the Dartmouth team of recent weeks winning again.
Dunk of the Week
The Ivy League’s television package has been paying dividends for the league all year, but perhaps never more than over the past two weekends. The first showdown between Harvard and Princeton hit the airwaves on NBC Sports Net, while the first sublicensed game as part of the deal (Harvard at Yale – CBS Sports Net) was featured on SportsCenter’s Top Plays. The moment in question was Wesley Saunders’ thunderous dunk over a couple Bulldogs defenders. Check out the play for yourself.
- March 1 – Harvard at Princeton, 7:00 PM, ESPNU – Nothing can be clinched on Friday night, but the shape of the remainder of the Ivy race will be determined by this game. Princeton has beaten Harvard 23-straight times at Jadwin Gymnasium, and if the Tigers can make it 24, then they will join the Crimson with two league losses and spark a frantic race to the finish. If Harvard defeats Princeton, the Crimson will need just one win in its final three games to clinch a share of the Ivy title and just two of three to clinch the bid. Like many to come before him, Jadwin has been Tommy Amaker’s house of horrors, as the Harvard coach has won at each of the other Ivy gyms at least three times but is still waiting for his first victory at Princeton.
- March 2 – Harvard at Pennsylvania, 7:00 PM, NBC Sports Net – The residual effects of Friday’s contest will immediately be seen on Saturday, as the Crimson could head to Philadelphia looking for a share of the Ivy title or needing a win just to keep pace in the title hunt. The Quakers could be looking at another opportunity to move above .500 in the Ivy League, if they can take care of a winnable game against Dartmouth on Friday. Harvard has won four-straight games at The Palestra. All four have been riveting with the largest margin of victory during that span being just six and the 2011 contest going to double-overtime.
- March 9 – Cornell at Harvard, 5:30 PM, NBC Sports Net – Postseason implications could abound in this contest, as the Big Red could still be fighting to get eligible at .500 while the Crimson could still be in need of a win to keep its NCAA hopes alive. As was its habit at the time, Harvard watched a 20-point, second-half lead dwindle to just two in the two teams’ first meeting. The Crimson has improved at closing out games since, but the Big Red’s pressure defense should test Harvard if it finds itself up late in the contest once again.
- March 12 – Princeton at Pennsylvania, 7:00 PM – There’s no broadcast information for this one yet, but if the Tigers beat the Crimson Friday night, this contest would likely decide the difference between a playoff and either of Princeton or Harvard receiving the NCAA bid, so it could easily get picked up for television. If the NCAA berth is on the line for the Tigers, the Quakers will likely have revenge on their minds, as Princeton kept a senior-laden Pennsylvania team from forcing a playoff with Harvard by beating the Quakers in final Ivy game last season. Now, Princeton has the more experienced squad and will be looking to get its star senior, Ian Hummer, to the Big Dance one last time.