Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

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

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

Reader’s Take


Final Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (26-4, 13-1) – The race might have been tight in the standings until the Crimson’s win at Yale last weekend, but on an efficiency margin basis, Harvard dominated the Ivy League like no other team in the Pomeroy era. The Crimson closed out the 2014 Ivy campaign outscoring opponents by a record 0.25 points per possession while playing one of the toughest strength of schedules for a champion in league history. Harvard loses nearly 40 percent of its minutes to graduation this offseason, but with a strong sophomore and junior class, expect the Crimson to make a strong run at its fifth consecutive Ivy title in 2014-15.

    T.J. Bray and his on-court brilliance is going to be missed. (Princeton Athletics)

    T.J. Bray and his on-court brilliance is going to be missed. (Princeton Athletics)

  2. Princeton (20-8, 8-6) – Maybe if the Tigers hadn’t slipped up in January, people would recognize T.J. Bray’s season for what it truly was – the most dominant offensive performance in the modern era of the Ivies. Bray had three games all season with an offensive rating below 100 (but not far off at 94, 95 and 97) and easily led the nation in efficiency among all players using at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions. The bad news for the Tigers is that Bray is a senior, so once again Princeton enters the offseason looking to replace a player who is seemingly irreplaceable.
  3. Columbia (19-12, 8-6) – There were so many reasons to quit. Picked last in the Ivy preseason media poll, the Lions were expected to sink to the bottom of the league. Columbia had just suffered a heartbreaking defeat, as a game-winning basket had been waved off for a charge. Who could blame the Lions for another Ivy swoon? But the Lions responded with a four-game winning streak, including a defeat of Yale that started the Bulldogs’ tailspin. Sure, Columbia got walloped in Cambridge and closed out its season with a home loss to Princeton, but those were the only two teams in the league playing better basketball than the Lions down the stretch.
  4. Yale (15-13, 9-5) – The allure of a true Ivy race may cause those around the league to judge this Bulldogs team too harshly. Yale had cheated the odds to get to 8-1 and remain in a deadlock with Harvard atop the Ivy standings. The schedule never changed, though. Games at Columbia, Princeton and Penn still remained with a visit from Harvard following right behind. Ultimately, the Bulldogs were who we thought they were – a talented, athletic group that couldn’t shoot the ball to save their life, a fact that couldn’t be masked no matter how long the parade to the free throw line was. The home loss to Dartmouth was a little ugly, but still, Yale’s 2014 Ivy campaign should be viewed as nothing but a success.
  5. Brown (15-13, 7-7) – The future is bright in Providence. The Bears lose four-year starter Sean McGonagill, but coach Mike Martin brings in another solid recruiting class to join five freshmen rotation players and a pair of bigs who are among the league’s best. It’s not quite time to look to the future just yet, though. McGonagill will have the chance to continue his college career, as the Bears will host an opponent in the Tournament.
  6. Dartmouth (12-16, 5-9) – Paul Cormier can flat-out coach. There are probably more takeaways from the Big Green’s season, but that is by far the most important. The game after Maldunas was reported lost for the season to injury, Harvard showed up in Hanover and destroyed Dartmouth, 80-50. An 0-14 Ivy campaign seemed possible, if not likely. Cormier responded by going high variance, daring opponents to take as many threes as they wished, while fielding a lineup that could get to the line effectively. While the Big Green had to endure a seven-game losing streak, the approach did yield five surprising Ivy victories, including a season-ending road sweep of Brown and Yale.
  7. Penn (8-19, 5-9) – Four talented starters and a bench that could never provide consistent help. That was the story of the Quakers’ season. The end result was a frustrating campaign from start to finish that finally boiled over into a jab that guard Tony Hicks threw at the jaw of Columbia’s Meiko Lyles. The incident, which got Hicks suspended for the following game at Cornell, was merely a microcosm of the state of the program, which has fallen far from its heights as a three-time Ivy champion as recently as 2007.
  8. Cornell (2-26, 1-13) – The defense wasn’t just awful, it was consistently awful. The Big Red failed to hold any of its 27 Division I opponents to under a point per possession all season, en route to setting an Ivy record for the worst defensive efficiency rating by a whopping 10 points per 100 possessions. Shonn Miller returns next year to provide some help in that department, but the Big Red is more than just one player away from being remotely competent on that end.

Rush The Court All-Ivy Team:

  • Sean McGonagill, G, Brown – The 6’1″ senior enjoyed the most efficient season, while playing 93 percent of his team’s minutes. More importantly, he anchored a backcourt otherwise comprised exclusively of freshmen and led the Bears back to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
  • Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard – The junior swingman posted an eerily similar offensive season to his sophomore campaign on a per-possession basis, but the Crimson benefitted far more from Saunders’ improvement on the other end of the floor. Saunders has drawn the opponent’s toughest assignment for the past two seasons, but his growth as a perimeter stopper this year was noted by all those around the league.
  • T.J. Bray, G, Princeton – Bray had no problem filling the shoes of the departed Ian Hummer – a concept that would have seemed laughable over the summer. The 6’5″ guard finished in the top 25 nationally in offensive efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and assist rate. He also had the fourth-lowest turnover rate and ninth-highest free throw rate in the Ivies.
  • Alex Rosenberg, F, Columbia – Speaking of free throw rate, only five players nationally were more effective at getting to the line that Rosenberg, and only three drew more fouls from opponents. Rosenberg shot at least 10 free throws in 10 of the Lions’ 14 Ivy games (just missing in three more with eight twice and nine once). That consistent flow of points allowed Rosenberg to eclipse 30 points twice in league play while topping 20 three more times.
  • Justin Sears, F, Yale (RTC Ivy Player of the Year) – By the end, Sears was scoring nearly half of the Bulldogs’ points, but it wasn’t enough to keep Yale in the race. He put up 28 points and 13 rebounds against Harvard and followed it up with 26 and 10 against Dartmouth, but the Bulldogs still got swept. The good news for Yale fans is that Sears is only a sophomore, giving him two more years to terrorize the Ivy League and potentially bring back a title to New Haven for the first time since 2002.

Postseason Outlook

Harvard – NCAA Tournament (Projected Seed #11) – The Crimson should prepare itself to be underseeded – the only question is by how much. The Sagarin ELO Ratings, the true measure of resume strength judging only wins and losses, has Harvard ranked 20th. Vegas would have the Crimson ranked somewhere between #33 and #36. Those two systems would indicate that Harvard merits something between a #5 seed and a #9 seed. Given the NCAA’s selection criteria, though, the Crimson will likely fall all the way to the #11 or #12 line. More important than the seed will be the match-up, as it always is in the Big Dance. There is a reasonable chance that Harvard could get an opponent where the Crimson would open as even or the favorite despite being the lower seed. If Harvard is fortunate enough to survive that opening round game, an #11 or #12 seed might serve the Crimson well, offering a more favorable match-up to advance to the Sweet Sixteen than it might have had as an #8, #9 or #10 seed. The regional semifinal is likely Harvard’s ceiling, as foul trouble for its interior players will likely keep it from being able to string together more than two consecutive victories against NCAA Tournament caliber opponents.

Other Likely Ivy Postseason Participants:

  • Princeton – CBI or CIT
  • Yale – CBI or CIT
  • Brown – Hosting CIT First-Round Game
  • Columbia – CIT
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