Ivy League Season Wrap-Up & Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

In by far the toughest Ivy since the 1970s, Harvard delivered exactly as expected, slogging through the treacherous league slate with a 12-2 mark and a second Ivy title. What wasn’t expected was the company the Crimson would have at the top. The average expectation had no other Ivy teams eclipsing the 10-win plateau, but Penn paid no heed to those projections. After losing to Harvard 56-50 at home to fall two games off the pace, the Quakers ripped off an amazing stretch of seven straight wins to climb even in the loss column after the final Ivy back-to-back weekend. But tradition left Penn with work to do. Its second-most difficult game of the season still remained – the annual meeting with rival Princeton after the rest of the league’s regular seasons had already drawn to a close. The Tigers double-teamed Quaker star Zack Rosen all game, stifling the Penn offense, and executed efficiently on the other end, cruising to a 10-point victory and ending the Quakers’ title hopes.

It was a historic year for the league by a variety of metrics. The league has never posted a higher Pomeroy Rating in the efficiency era, has never had seven non-conference wins over Pomeroy Top 100 teams in a season, and has never had a higher ranked team in the Pomeroy era than Harvard at No. 37. It is also currently hanging on to the 13th spot in the Conference RPI rankings, which would eclipse the 2001-02 mark of 14th, and could have as many as four teams earn postseason bids. With so many pivotal seniors, it will be hard for the Ivies to avoid a collective step back, but with a solid incoming freshman class, don’t expect a return to the dark ages of 2008 and 2009.

Tommy Amaker and Harvard Paced An Outstanding Ivy League Campaign (AP)

Yale and Princeton each posted solid campaigns, flirting with the RPI Top 100 for most of the season and building postseason-worthy resumes – the former by its quantity of wins and the latter with its quality. Columbia had a great non-conference run followed by an incredibly unlucky Ivy campaign, while Cornell did just the opposite, stumbling a bit outside the league, before putting together a solid 7-7 mark in Ivy play. Brown and Dartmouth had forgettable seasons, but the Bears will return several players from injury and ineligibility while the Big Green will see its talented freshmen continue to grow and mature.

Conference Accolades

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March Madness Comes Early for the Ivy League

Posted by mpatton on February 26th, 2012

Matt Patton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Saturday’s Harvard-Penn game in Cambridge.

With just under two minutes and thirty seconds left to play in the biggest Ivy League matchup of the season, Zack Rosen cut Harvard‘s lead over Penn to one. The lead had gradually dwindled from nine points six and a half minutes earlier, despite four opportunities for the Crimson to push the lead to double digits. Forty seconds later Henry Brooks fouled out, sending Kyle Casey to the charity stripe where he re-upped Harvard’s lead to three. Rosen answered again. A missed three from Harvard senior co-captain Oliver McNally meant the Quakers possessed the ball with just under a minute left only down one.

Zack Rosen Scored Penn's Last 9 Points to Lead the Quakers over Harvard. (credit: Meghan Cadet / Daily Pennsylvanian)

This was Harvard’s year. The Crimson are the most deep, talented, and experienced team in the Ivy League. Talk to coach Tommy Amaker and he’ll praise the team’s “bench and balance” repeatedly. Prior to conference play, the only true slip-up for the Crimson was their loss at Fordham. Amaker’s team (which didn’t lose any players from last year’s team) blitzed the nonconference slate compared to its prospective challengers. Princeton started the season 1-5 before finally righting the ship; Yale fared slightly better, but against far worse competition; and Penn couldn’t crack .500. After drubbing Yale on the road 65-35, the Harvard hype grew to an all-time high.

After Fran Dougherty grabbed an offensive board, Penn coach Jerome Allen called a timeout. Everyone in sold out Laveites Pavilion knew where the ball was headed. Rosen owned the Quakers’ last seven points. This was his moment. The senior inbounded the ball, immediately stepping in and taking a handoff from Rob Belcore near halfcourt. Rosen proceeded to drive straight past Brandyn Curry, the Ivy League’s best on-ball defender, forcing Casey to send him to the line with 23 seconds left.

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Checking In On… The Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Perfect No More: Heading into last weekend’s back-to-back, Harvard held a one-game lead and an undefeated mark in Ivy play. The trip to Penn and Princeton claimed the latter, but the Crimson survived with the former intact, as Harvard remains a game ahead of both Penn and Yale in the loss column and two games up on Princeton and Cornell. The Crimson got its most important win of the season on Friday night at The Palestra, as freshman Corbin Miller scored 17 points in just 18 minutes and Kyle Casey added 15 to hold off a pesky Quaker squad 56-50. Miller and Casey combined to shoot 11-19 from the field and 4-8 from three, while the remaining players from both squads connected at an anemic 28% clip. Casey and Miller continued their solid play the following night at Jadwin Gym against Princeton and even got some help from Brandyn Curry and Keith Wright, who combined for 31 points on 12-21 shooting. It was the defense that betrayed the Crimson against the Tigers though as Princeton shredded the Harvard defense with effective back door cuts and well-executed post isolation mismatches. The Crimson cut a 10-point Tigers lead to four with under a minute to go, but Princeton went 7-8 from the line to clinch a 70-62 victory. Harvard had been looking for its first win at Jadwin since 1989 and first road sweep of Penn and Princeton since 1985. Ivy teams have combined for just seven sweeps of the Quakers and Tigers on the road in league history.
  • Collapse Of All Collapses: Don’t take a look at this Ken Pomeroy Win Probability chart if you are a Columbia fan, but otherwise prepare to be astonished. Just ten minutes away from having to turn its attention to the postseason’s smaller dances, Yale ripped off a 26-5 run to end the game, overcoming a 20-point deficit and keeping itself in the midst of the Ivy race. The Lions might have long been out of the title chase, but the loss was still incredibly damaging. With five teams from the Ivy League likely to finish above .500, the race for postseason slots will be incredibly competitive and Columbia’s profile is one of the weakest of that group. Getting swept by the other team with a weak profile (Yale) is probably the best way to ensure being the odd man out in the selection process.

RTC Ivy Award Favorites

  • Player of the Year – Zack Rosen, Penn: He’s been the front-runner from start to finish. Rosen is second in points produced per game (a metric that includes all contributions to offense, not just points scored) and has an Adjusted Offensive Rating of 107 on 28% usage during league play. Watch Out For: Brian Barbour, Columbia; Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton

    If The Season Ended Today, Penn's Zack Rosen (1) Would Be Our RTC Ivy League Player of the Year

  • Defensive Player of the Year – Brandyn Curry, Harvard: He leads the league by a mile in Defensive Plus-Minus and has been great at generating steals and forcing five-second calls. Since its inception, the award has gone to forwards and centers, but this might be the first time that a guard takes home the hardware. Watch Out For: Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton
  • Rookie of the Year – J’Vonte Brooks, Dartmouth: This one has turned into a two-horse race for the title with Cornell’s Shonn Miller being very deserving as well. Brooks has given Ivy defenses fits as he has bullied his way to the free throw line early and often, posting a Free Throw Rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) of 94%. His turnover rate is alarmingly high, but on a team without many offensive creators, that’s a drawback that Dartmouth can easily accept. Watch Out For: Shonn Miller, Cornell
  • Coach of the Year – Jerome Allen, Penn: It’s hard to argue with the statement that the Quakers have overachieved the most this season, though Kyle Smith and Columbia would have a case if the Lions hadn’t fallen so quickly in league play. Allen might be unfairly benefiting from Rosen’s unbelievable offensive performance, but he’s a win away from setting the high-water mark in victories since Penn last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Watch Out For: Kyle Smith, Columbia; Mitch Henderson, Princeton
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Checking In On… The Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Not Your Older Brother’s Ivy League: By Adjusted Pythagorean Winning Percentage – the same method used by Ken Pomeroy to rank teams – this year’s Ivy League is far and away the best since roaring ’70s, which culminated with Penn’s Final Four run. Turns out, the RPI isn’t far behind. The previous high-water mark for the league was 2002, when Penn won the league in a three-way playoff with Princeton and Yale. That year, the Quakers finished with the highest RPI ranking (#37) that any league team has had since Princeton’s amazing 1998 season. The Tigers wrapped up the season at #79 and the Bulldogs closed their campaign at #98, marking the first time the Ivies had three Top 100 RPI teams. The league’s average RPI was #160, best in the era for which data is available, barely edging last season’s average of #173.

After a rough start, this year’s edition of the league has made an assault on that 2002 mark. Harvard sits comfortably in the RPI Top 50, while Penn, Princeton and Yale are hovering on the cusp of the Top 100 to make four Ivies in the Top 125. The 2012 average RPI currently stands at #169, but that’s primarily because all eight 2002 squads finished ahead of this year’s laggards Brown and Dartmouth. While it’s completely within the Crimson’s control to track down the 2002 Quakers for best RPI since the 1998 Princeton squad, the league’s teams will need a bit of help from their non-conference opponents to claim the mark for best average, since league play tends to be mostly a zero-sum game from a rankings perspective.

As Teams Like Brown Drop From Contention, Keith Wright And The Crimson Continue To Hold The Keys.

Given that the Ivy League does not have a conference tournament, there is no second chance to save a season once a team falls out of the league race. With each Ivy Check-In for the rest of the year, this section will break down which squads’ seasons came to a premature end, and which are sliding quickly into the danger zone.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR:

  • Dartmouth (0-4): The Big Green has been full of surprising moments all year, including holding a seven-point lead in the second half at Harvard in each school’s Ivy opener. But Dartmouth got outscored 90-51 over the next 55 minutes to drop both ends of the travel partner series to the Crimson and then blew second-half leads at both Brown and Yale to fall to 0-4.
  • Brown (1-3): After getting swept by Yale to kickoff the Ivy campaign, the Bears narrowly avoided the cellar by grabbing a comeback win over Dartmouth at home. Brown had to have a win over league favorite Harvard the next night to stay in the race and hung in with the Crimson for 20 minutes before a 13-0 run gave the visitors all the cushion they would need to cruise to victory. Now the Bears have been relegated to the role of spoiler with Penn and Princeton coming to town next weekend.
  • Columbia (1-3): A 20-6 run to pull even with Cornell at 53 seemed to give the Lions new life in what was quite properly referred to as an Ivy elimination game. The Big Red responded with big bucket after big bucket over the final six minutes to withstand the charge and edge Columbia, 65-60.

THE WAITING ROOM:

  • Cornell (2-2): A series of mediocre results has the Big Red alive heading into its trip to Boston next Friday, but a win over Harvard is an absolute must to stay in the race. An upset there could give the Big Red a clear shot at 6-2, which would keep it in the thick of things heading into back-to-back road trips including dates with Penn, Princeton and Yale.
  • Princeton (1-2): The results weren’t expected to be great for a team with five-straight road games to start Ivy play, but two losses are still just as damaging if they come against good teams or bad. The Tigers now need to sweep a tricky road swing to Yale and Brown and take care of Dartmouth at home to set up an opportunity to get back into the race with a visit from Harvard.

Power Rankings

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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Contenders and Pretenders: The first Ivy League back-to-back weekend is in the books, though for only half of the league’s teams. In true 14-game tournament fashion, it took just one weekend for the Ivy title race to change pretty drastically. With a road sweep of Cornell and Columbia, Pennsylvania immediately vaulted into the number one contender spot behind Harvard. The New York trip will be the second-toughest in the Ivies this season (the Princeton/Philadelphia swing will be slightly more treacherous), so escaping it with a 2-0 mark puts the Quakers in great shape to hang around the title race deep into the season.

Credit: PennAthletics.com

Zack Rosen And The Quakers Hope They Have All Their Kinks Ironed Out So They Can Make A Run At Harvard.

The weekend wasn’t as kind to Columbia, which had two separate comeback bids fall short against Pennsylvania and Princeton, losing both games by a combined six points. The Lions had entered Ivy play at 9-1 in their last ten games, but all it takes is one rough back-to-back to see title hopes get dashed. Columbia still has a chance at a postseason berth in one of the 16-team events, but will likely need to close with eight or nine wins in its final 12 games – a slate that includes two meetings with Harvard.

The Tigers and Big Red emerged from the weekend alive, but endangered.Princeton is in better shape than Cornell, as road splits are excusable, while home splits can be deadly. The Tigers face the daunting task of playing their first five games on the road, which also means seven of the final nine at home, so Princeton can fall a little behind early and still maintain a realistic hope to catch the leaders down the stretch. Cornell doesn’t have that luxury. The Big Red must sweep travel partner Columbia over the next two weeks to stay in the race and set the table for a battle with preseason favorite Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion.

Yale survived a surprising scare at home against lowly Brown, trailing by seven at the half and six with just over three minutes to go before closing the game on a 13-3 run. The Bulldogs look to complete the sweep this weekend to remain perfect heading into their meeting with Harvard on January 27. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012

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

Reader’s Poll

 

A Look Back

  • Game of the Year (Thus Far): When Harvard held Florida State to 14 points in the first half earlier this year, pundits marveled at the re-tooled Crimson defense. Well, what about allowing the Seminoles to score just 10 points in a half? Princeton did just that on December 30, jumping out to a 27-10 lead on Florida State at the intermission – the fewest points ever scored in the first half by the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Down 40-26 with just over 12 minutes left, Florida State broke off a 12-0 run and the margin for either side would never balloon beyond five the rest of the way. A Xavier Gibson tip shot brought the Seminoles even for the first time since 2-2 with just 52 seconds remaining and the Tigers couldn’t get a couple potential game-winning looks to fall. Florida State made the first bucket of each overtime, but Princeton responded every time. A 7-0 Tigers run in the second extra session staked them to a three-point lead with under a minute to play, but the Seminoles answered with two free throws, a steal, and another free throw to extend the game another five minutes. Finally, a 10-3 run comprised of two Douglas Davis threes and two Ian Hummer layups gave the Tigers a five-point cushion with under 30 seconds to play, and they were able to salt away the 73-71 win by draining five of six from the free throw line.
  • Another Not So Shabby Contest: The students were gone for winter break, but Lavietes Pavilion was still sold out, as Harvard set out to defend an AP Top 25 ranking at home for the first time against St. Joseph’s. The Hawks posted an outrageous 92 eFG% in the first half, and if it hadn’t been for nine turnovers, St. Joseph’s might have buried the Crimson instead of leading by just 10. Not much changed coming out of the intermission. The Hawks matched Harvard shot for shot, holding a 61-50 advantage with just over 10 minutes to play. The Crimson had cut the lead to seven before St. Joseph’s made its biggest mistake of the game, as Halil Kanacevic drew a technical for a post-foul dunk attempt. Oliver McNally drained both and the final seven minutes of the game became the Kyle Casey show. Casey scored 10 of Harvard’s final 16 points, including a dagger three to put his squad up four with 42 seconds left, as the Crimson closed the contest on a 24-8 run to snare the victory. Harvard and Princeton’s performances gave the Ivy League its fourth and fifth Pomeroy Top 100 wins of the year – the third straight season with at least five such victories against non-conference opponents. Just two opportunities remain to tie or break the record of six Top 100 wins, set last season, and both are Pennsylvania’s final Big 5 match-ups with La Salle and St. Joseph’s.
  • Conference Play Begins: The nation’s only regular season conference tournament gets underway this weekend as Dartmouth visits Harvard, followed by the first Ivy back-to-backs the following Friday and Saturday nights as Cornell and Columbia host Pennsylvania and Princeton. Usually all but the final weekend of January is reserved for the travel partner games, but because of the Tigers’ exam schedule, it had to move the first back-to-back forward to mid-January. Different sources have released conference title odds projections, which have placed the Crimson’s odds of defending its Ivy title (it lost the automatic bid in a playoff with Princeton) around 90%. For the league to produce a challenger to Harvard, one or two teams from the middle of the pack (Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) will have to excel in these 50/50 games. If those five merely split their meetings, that will provide the Crimson the cushion it would need to coast to the NCAA bid. So while Harvard-Dartmouth officially kicks off Ivy play, the next weekend’s games between Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, and Princeton will be the first that have a huge impact on the title chase.

The Tigers Are At THeir Best When Douglas Davis Is On The Floor (Vaughn Wilson/Florida A&M).

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (12-2) – If the win over St. Joseph’s was the high point of Harvard’s season thus far, the low point came just three short days later. Unable to crack the Fordham 2-3 zone or shoot over it, the Crimson registered its second-worst offensive showing of the season in a 60-54 loss to the Rams. Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry was in foul trouble for most of the second half, and it has become quite clear that this Crimson offense is nowhere near as good when he is off the floor. While Harvard still is the class of the league, the gap might not be as large as it appeared just a few weeks ago. Fordham showed that this Crimson team can be had on the road, which is something that other Ivies undoubtedly noticed.
  2. Princeton (8-7) – There isn’t an Ivy team with two better road wins than the Tigers’ triumphs over Florida State and Rutgers. At the same time, only Columbia and cellar-dwellers Brown and Dartmouth have three worse losses to this point. Trying to determine which is the real Princeton team misses the point. The true Tigers squad is indeed both. That’s why Princeton will record some very nice wins during league play, but will also take some really questionable losses. So, despite the Tigers’ decently lofty ceiling and the ability of Ian Hummer and Douglas Davis to take over a game offensively, the league is too strong for a high variance team not to get dinged in games it objectively shouldn’t lose. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

  • Turnaround Experts: Unless your school’s name was Harvard, November wasn’t the best month. High expectations had been placed on a league that suffered relatively few key graduation losses and had vaulted into the teens in the conference rankings. As the calendar flipped to December, however, the Ivies had just two teams above .500 and the league’s overall record against Division I competition was a disappointing 21-28 with one of the nation’s worst strength of schedule ratings to boot. Led by Columbia’s and Yale’s 4-0 Division I mark in December thus far, the Ivy League has gone 20-14 this month and currently has six teams in Pomeroy’s Top 200. Even some of the losses have been impressive, which has buoyed the conference rating in the possession-based ranking systems. Pennsylvania played both Villanova and UCLA tough on the road before ultimately falling, and Princeton gave Drexel all it could handle in Philadelphia before losing by four. Meanwhile, Harvard has paced the league with a 10-1 mark, hanging around the Top 25 in almost every type of ranking and keeping the Ivies in the national spotlight.
  • Quality Wins:  With almost three-quarters of the non-conference season in the books, the Ivy League has racked up some wins that would make any one-bid conference jealous. Harvard has led the way with neutral-site victories over Florida State and Central Florida en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. The Crimson hasn’t been the only team taking down quality opponents, though. The Quakers have come close to a few major upsets – none closer than their overtime loss to Temple – but still have a win over Top 100 Robert Morris to their name. Princeton joined the party with wins over Buffalo and Rutgers and like Pennsylvania came close to a couple others. Finally, Cornell and Columbia have each knocked off some quality teams from the one-bid leagues – Lehigh and Manhattan, respectively. Depending on the rating system, the Ivies have registered as many as 21 of their 41 wins against the Top 200, including 10 in road or neutral settings, and the average ranking of the league’s wins is roughly 210. That profile makes the Ivy League the #13 conference in the country according to the Pomeroy Ratings. It also has this year’s edition of the league on pace to be the toughest top-to-bottom since the inception of the Academic Index Floor (a test-score and GPA based system for ranking the academic qualifications of potential admits) in the early 1980s.
  • Top Performers: With Harvard cracking the Top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll again this week, you might expect to see a bunch of Crimson players in a section on the league’s top players. Harvard has been so balanced this year though that its highly efficient offensive players including forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and guard Laurent Rivard haven’t been able to post the raw stats that would lead to recognition. Any discussion about Player of the Year to this point starts and ends with Pennsylvania guard Zack Rosen. He’s the only Ivy player to be on the floor for more than 90% of his team’s minutes, and his output has been historically strong with an offensive rating close to 130 and a usage rate of nearly 25%. His backcourt mate, Tyler Bernardini, has been having a stellar senior campaign as well with efficiency and usage rates that may not match Rosen’s but are still easily All-Ivy caliber. Princeton’s Ian Hummer has been carrying the Tigers this season, using 33% of his team’s possessions and establishing himself as the league’s second most productive player behind Rosen. Yale big man Greg Mangano has to be part of the POY discussion, though he’s had a little more support as guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite, along with forward Jeremiah Kreisberg, have all played very well this season. Some other guys to watch as league play approaches are Columbia’s Brian Barbour, Brown’s Sean McGonagill and Cornell’s Drew Ferry, who has stabilized a Big Red team that has yet to get the usual high quality output from its star Chris Wroblewski to this point.

Greg Mangano Enters The Ivy POY Discussion With Averages of 17 Points And Nearly Nine Rebounds Per Game To Go Along With A Low Turnover Rate.

  • Cousy Award Watch List: Over sixty players made the annual list of the top point guards and combo guards in the nation, including four from the Ivy League. Seniors Chris Wroblewski and Zack Rosen made the cut along with Columbia junior Brian Barbour and Harvard junior Brandyn Curry. The list of quality point/combo guards in the league hardly stops there. Brown sophomore Sean McGonagill was last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year and is having a fine sophomore campaign. Princeton’s Douglas Davis has struggled a bit before having a monster game last night in a loss at Siena. Finally, Yale’s Austin Morgan has quietly put up First-Team All-Ivy numbers that rival any of the league’s four players that made the Cousy List.

Power Rankings

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Defense Reigns Supreme:  A year after having five teams scoring more than one point per possession, the Ivies have struggled out of the gate this season with just one team over that mark. The league has compensated with defense and in a big way. While three teams are allowing more than one point per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, removing his preseason weighting reveals that only one (Brown) is above that line based on this season’s performance alone. Considering that from 2004-11, only seven Ivy teams total had allowed less than a point per possession, the defensive transformation this season has been nothing short of remarkable.

The league’s best defensive unit thus far has been preseason favorite Harvard. The Crimson’s potent offense hit the brakes in the Bahamas, but it more than compensated by suffocating opponents on the opposite end of the floor. Harvard scored just 14 points in the first half against Florida State, but that was good enough for a share of the lead. The Crimson continued the staunch defense in the second half, closing out a 46-41 win over the then-#22 Seminoles. It was the second-consecutive game where Harvard held its opponent to under 50 points, a streak which would continue in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Central Florida and through the next week at Vermont. Seattle finally broke the streak in a big way, putting up 70 on the Crimson, but on 70 possessions, it just barely the first time the Crimson had allowed an opponent to hit a point per possession this season.

Harvard isn’t the only Ivy shutting teams down on the defensive end of the court though. Princeton held a Top 100 Buffalo squad to just 0.76 points per trip in a 61-53 victory, and Cornell also held the Bulls to just 0.95 points per possession earlier in the year, but couldn’t score enough to avoid a nine-point defeat. Columbia has held its last four Division I opponents to 0.67, 0.93, 0.88 and 0.71 points per trip, and three of those four contests were road or neutral site games.

Poll Position: It’s not common to have a Top 25 section in an Ivy League Check In, but this week, the Crimson cracked the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #24 and the AP Poll at #25. It was the first time that an Ivy squad made either poll since 2010, when Cornell finished at #17 in the Coaches Poll, and the first time a league team made the AP Poll since 1998, when Princeton climbed as high as #8. Harvard’s entrance marks the first time in school history that it has been ranked in either poll, leaving Brown as the only Ivy team never to have made the cut.

Struggling and Absent Stars: If the Ivies want to hang on to a conference rating in the teens, they will have to do it without some injured stars and some other pivotal players who have slightly to drastically underperformed expectations thus far. Columbia senior guard Noruwa Agho, who made First Team All-Ivy last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Brown junior forward Tucker Halpern, who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy last season, has yet to play, and there are no indications that he will be back any time soon. Finally, Cornell junior forward Errick Peck, who was poised for a breakout campaign, has yet to hit the floor for the Big Red. To compound matters, some freshmen of whom big things were expected, including Penn forward Greg Louis and Bears center Rafael Maia, have lost the season due to injury and foreign transfer eligibility rules, respectively.

While the three remaining returnees from the First Team All-Ivy squad – Quakers guard Zack Rosen, Yale center Greg Mangano and Crimson center Keith Wright – have carried over their stellar play, the remainder of last year’s All-Ivy team has posted some mixed results. Big Red guard Chris Wroblewski has shot an anemic 32.0 eFG% from the field and Harvard guards Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry haven’t hit at much higher clips (37.0 and 38.3 eFG%, respectively), though Curry’s solid assist rates have kept his offensive rating afloat. All told, that’s three graduations, two extended injuries and three underperforming stars from last year’s 14-player All-Ivy roster. That the league has managed to exceed last season’s performance thus far is a testament to the strong freshman class and the quality of the Ivies’ depth.

Kyle Casey Is In The Middle Of The Buzz Surrounding Harvard. Will They Stay Ranked After Thursday's Loss To Connecticut?

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (8-1) – It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the Crimson has taken care of business every time out, with the lone setback being Thursday night’s loss at Connecticut. The biggest difference between this year and last has been the depth provided by Tommy Amaker’s talented 2011 class. Forward Steve Moundou-Missi provides strong defense and good finishing skills around the rim, while swingman Wesley Saunders can shut down opposing perimeter players and is hard to defend on drives to the basket. The contributions from the rookies don’t end there, though. Forward Jonah Travis put up a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against Seattle and guard Corbin Miller has knocked down seven of his first 10 threes. Both went quiet against the Huskies, but expect more consistent performances once the competition falls back to its usual level.
  2. Yale (7-2) – The four-man unit of guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite and big men Jeremiah Kreisberg and Greg Mangano has been as good as any top four in the league. Depth, however, is lacking. Coach James Jones has given 11 different guys at least 10 percent of team minutes thus far and has yet to find a group of rotation players that can help on the offensive end consistently. The Bulldogs have taken care of business during a weak stretch, winning each of its last five contests to head into the exam break at 7-2 on the year. With the brutal back-to-back Ivy schedule, it is imperative that Yale find some options off the bench if it hopes to join the conversation with Harvard at the top of the league.
  3. Pennsylvania (5-5) – Senior guard Zack Rosen has been all that’s stood between the Quakers and disaster this season, but it’s been enough to make Pennsylvania a bit of a surprise. The Quakers’ record isn’t all that impressive, but its worst loss is to Pomeroy Top 150 James Madison, and it has already posted a Top 100 win over Robert Morris. Having been a Big 5 punching bag lately, Pennsylvania took Temple to overtime and lost at Villanova by eight – strong showings in what will be a competitive race for the title of Best in Philly.
  4. Princeton (4-5) – The question isn’t whether there are championship pieces here; rather, the question is whether there are enough. Senior guard Doug Davis and junior forward Ian Hummer have combined to use over 50 percent of Princeton’s possessions at an offensive rating over 100 when they’re on the floor, but the offense has still stagnated, as the Tigers haven’t been able to come close to replacing the output of graduated stars Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox. Princeton has played the second-best defense in the league thus far, which has kept it oddly competitive at times, but it is only 3-2 in D-I games when it holds the opponent under a point per possession, meaning that no matter how good the Tigers are at generating stops, improvement on the offensive end is necessary to win games consistently.
  5. Cornell (3-4) – Exam time has rolled around in Ithaca, but the Big Red went into its break with a bang, knocking off a very good Lehigh team at Newman Arena. Things get a lot tougher after finals, though, with visits to BCS teams Illinois, Penn State and Maryland on the horizon along with road dates at Stony Brook and Bucknell. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski has struggled thus far, shooting relatively poorly and turning the ball over much more than last year. Freshman Shonn Miller got off to a hot start for the Big Red, but despite cooling off a bit, his defensive rebounding abilities have been invaluable for a team that struggled to control the paint last season.
  6. Columbia (6-4) – Coming off a solid showing at Connecticut to start off the season, the Lions led Furman for 30 minutes before being dealt a huge blow, as senior guard Noruwa Agho suffered a season-ending knee injury. Columbia dropped the game to the Paladins and a couple more, but has come on strong as of late. Stingy defense has led the Lions to four-straight wins over Division I competition. Junior guard Brian Barbour has picked up the slack in Agho’s absence, taking on a huge possession load and leading the Lions to road wins over Manhattan and Loyola Marymount.
  7. Dartmouth (2-5) – After having spent the last four years mired in the 300s, the Big Green has begun to take visible steps toward respectability. Freshman forward Gabas Maldunas has given Dartmouth a legitimate interior presence and the backcourt led by upperclassmen R.J. Griffin and David Rufful has played well at times. Sure there is only one Division I win at this point (at home against Bryant), but the Big Green only fell to a solid San Francisco by two points in the Great Alaska Shootout and lost at Rutgers by just six in the season opener. There’s still a long way to go, but Paul Cormier is bringing Division I talent back to Hanover, and that’s a start.
  8. Brown (4-7) – Some bad fortune has landed the Bears in the Ivy cellar, as Brown hasn’t had the services of Tucker Halpern and Rafael Maia for reasons discussed above. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Sean McGonagill, transfer Stephen Albrecht and swingman Matt Sullivan have combined to forge a decent starting backcourt, but with no depth and more questions than answers at the forward spots, the Bears have struggled to avoid getting blown out by the top half of Division I teams. The schedule has been and will continue to be light enough for Brown to post a respectable record, but that won’t fool anyone that makes SOS adjustments.

Looking Ahead

Finals loom for many of the league’s teams, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of December is without its fair share of interesting matchups and potential statement games.

  • 12/10 – Pennsylvania at UCLA (Fox Sports West) – The Bruins will be without Reeves Nelson, who was suspended by UCLA coach Ben Howland this week. The Quakers might have a loss of their own though, as sophomore guard Miles Cartwright missed Pennsylvania’s last outing against Delaware. Despite struggling a bit this season, the Bruins should be healthy favorites in this one. The Quakers can win if they keep a cold shooting UCLA team from finding its stroke, but the game will likely hinge on whether Zack Rosen can successfully carry the team on his back as he’s been doing all season.
  • 12/10 – Columbia vs. Long Island – It took the Lions a little time to find themselves after losing Noruwa Agho, but Columbia has been on a tear recently. The Blackbirds will be the best team the Lions have faced other than Connecticut thus far though, and Long Island’s potent offense will provide a great test for Columbia’s suddenly stifling defense. If the Lions get by the Blackbirds, it will be hard not to make the argument that this team is better off without Agho than with him.
  • 12/14 – Princeton at Rider – This is a game the Tigers should win, but it’s hard to argue that the league’s most high variance team to this point “should” do anything. Princeton loses by two at North Carolina State and returns home to dismantle Buffalo, but falls to Elon at home and Morehead State at a neutral site before knocking off Rutgers in a game which itself exhibited violent swings. For the Tigers to be taken seriously as a contender in the consistency endeavor that is the 14-Game Tournament, they need to be able to take care of non-Top 200 squads on the road.
  • 12/18 – Yale at Rhode Island – The oddsmakers would have this as a near coin flip at this point, but it’s a game that the Bulldogs need to prove they can win, since the bulk of the Ivy League will likely hover in the same range. Greg Mangano should have a field day with a Rams frontcourt defense that’s allowing opponents to shoot 56.7 percent from two. If Yale can keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass – the only real positive for the Rams this season – it should be able to leave Kingston with a victory.
  • 12/21 – Cornell at Penn St. (Big Ten Network) – It’s the second Big Ten matchup for the Big Red in three days (after a trip to Illinois on Dec. 19), but this one should be a fair deal easier than the showdown with the #22 Illini. The Nittany Lions, who would be a notably bad Power Six conference team if it weren’t for many others that were already the standard bearers, just fell to Lafayette this week. If Cornell can keep Penn State’s offense dormant, it will have a great chance to put a Big Ten scalp on the Ivy mantle.
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RTC Conference Primers: #16 – Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Readers’ Take I

Geography is an important factor in many of the Ivy League pre-conference games. With that in mind, we ask you:

 

Top Storylines

  • Travelin’ Elis: Optimism in New Haven? The Yankees are history, there are no Knicks, and the Giants and Jets have provided only disappointment so far. So it has to be about the upcoming Yale basketball season. And the fans have every reason to be hopeful thanks to their two stars who spent a good portion of the summer overseas. Jeremiah Kreisberg played for the Israeli U-20 team in the European Championships, and all he did was lead the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in about 30 minutes of action. The experience the 6’9” sophomore from California gained from international competition makes him the perfect complement to Greg Mangano. The returning RTC Ivy League POY played his way onto the US World University Games roster and in doing so became the first Ivy player to compete on the US team since Bill Bradley in 1965. (Can you say “Senator Mangano?”) While the team did not distinguish itself (a quarterfinal loss to Lithuania earned them a fifth place finish) Mangano got to show his skills playing alongside some of the heavyweights of the Big East. Also on the team were Tim Abromaitis, Ashton Gibbs and Scoop Jardine. Mangano averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in almost 11 minutes of action, highlighted by an 8/8 performance against Mexico.
  • Early Exams: Granted, in a league where there is traditionally only one NCAA Tournament bid — Harvard’s merits last year not withstanding — wins and losses in non-conference games mean little. Yet, they do provide some early insight as to where the teams stand and an upset of a national power is cause for celebration. Overwhelming preseason favorite Harvard, along with the top two contenders, Yale and Penn, have early schedules that will prove to be either minefields or springboards. The Crimson play in the Battle for Atlantis over Thanksgiving and open with Utah. If all goes according to plan, they will face heavyweight Connecticut in the final. Should that happen, it will be a prelude to their traditional matchup with the Huskies in early December. Yale has an early date at Seton Hall but their acid test comes during a December road trip to Wake Forest and Florida. But the granddaddy of pre-conference schedules belongs to Penn. They will face Pitt and James Madison during the Hoop Group Philly Classic. That’s the appetizer for a main course that includes Big 5 contests against Temple and Villanova. And the dessert? End-of-year road trips to UCLA and Duke. It’s not a stretch to assume all of the above are tournament teams with Top 25 potential.

Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parenthesis)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Ivy League Wrap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

The Aftermath – Princeton 63, Harvard 62

On a day of hoops hysteria and afternoon delights dominated by buzzer-beaters, ESPN live-look ins, and replayed highlights, none were as hysterical or as replayed as Harvard/Princeton. By now, you know the result, have read the front page of your local sports section, and have seen the dagger Doug Davis shot through every Crimson heart. The agate will simply read Princeton 63, Harvard 62. But this game was so much more than that. It was about players on both sides performing brilliantly under pressure, with the stars on both teams shining brightly in a packed and raucous Lee Amphitheater; matching basket for basket down the stretch. Ian Hummer to the hoop for a Princeton one point lead with 37 seconds left matched by a driving lay-up 26 seconds later by Brandyn Curry- who was magnificent- to keep the see-saw moving, setting the stage for Davis. The game will not soon be forgotten. Princeton moves on and is one of those clichéd opponents that “nobody wants to see in the first round” but John Calipari and Kentucky will. The only thing that could have removed the sting for Harvard is an at-large berth that they truly deserved. Instead, the committee rewarded a lot of also-rans from power conferences that inflated their record by playing all the schools with directional names in their home state and on their home court. Tommy Amaker went out and did what the NCAA asks — play a representative pre-conference schedule on the road –George Mason, UConn, Michigan, dancers all. And in fact, Harvard had a better RPI than 14 of the at-large teams selected. A travesty, but then again those other teams have fans who travel and contribute and we all know money talks. So they will play in the NIT and unlike some of the other teams who get the same “honor,” Harvard will show up and play their hearts out. Like Saturday.

NCAA Tournament Preview

Last year, Cornell won its first two tournament games and had become the darling of the country. They were a senior-laden team, dependent on scoring from beyond the arc. Next on tap were the Kentucky Wildcats and their team of NBA first rounders. But they were young. John Calipari had a week to prepare and allowed his team to hear the hype of the Brains vs. Brawn match up. And he convinced his team to play some aggressive D on the perimeter resulting in a Kentucky rout. The committee must have enjoyed last year, as Princeton draws Kentucky in the first round. Feline groovy.

The two teams had one common opponent, Penn, and neither lost. But in a game that kicked off the new year, Penn had the Wildcats on the ropes at Rupp for most of the first half before falling victim by 24. The difference was on the boards. Princeton will not be that overmatched inside thanks to Kareem Maddox and Ian Hummer who can definitely rebound with Josh Harrelson and Terrence Jones. The game may come down to how well the Tigers defend the three-point shooting trio of Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. Furthermore, the Wildcats are not deep. Only six play double figure minutes. They are in trouble if either Jones or Knight gets into foul trouble. So here is the recipe: stay close early, play even off the boards, draw some fouls and stop transition. Can be done but a tall order. Let’s go out on a limb here. The Tigers do what Cornell couldn’t, ride the wave of Doug Davis’s heroics, win one for the Ancient Eight and come away with a 68-66 victory.

Final Power Rankings

1. Princeton (12-2, 25-6)–won the title in a playoff game for the ages as chronicled above-and deservingly so; had a spectacular season; a nice core returns, even though Maddox and Dan Mavraides’ graduation will be big shoes to fill. Look for the Tigers to give the Kentucky freshmen all they can handle.

2. Harvard (12-2, 23-6)–as Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe so eloquently put it, “Princeton won, but nobody lost”; heads held high in defeat and truly deserved a spot in the field of 68; will be unanimous pre-season choice for 2011-2012 title with everyone coming back and a top recruiting class. A pre-season top 25?

3. Yale (8-6, 15-13)–Coach Jones thinks they should be one of the favorites next season and he may be right. Mr. Inside/ Mr. Outside, Greg Mangano (see below) and Morgan a formidable duo.” The Game” next year may be on the court instead of the field.

4. Penn (7-7, 13-15)–Underachievers? Perhaps, but they are a fun team to watch and have found a gem in Cartwirght; need to develop an inside presence to compete with the Hummers, Manganos, and Wrights of the world.

5. Columbia (6-8, 15-13)–will return leading scorer Agho and running mate Barbour so immediate respectability; nice first year for Coach Smith, who will look to recapture some of his St.Marys recruiting magic

6. Cornell (6-8, 10-18)–ended the season on an uptick, winning their last three; Coach Bill Courtney developed a system of playing everybody; Chris Wroblewski will be last trace of Big Red dynasty; keep an eye on recruiting class.

7. Brown (4-10, 11-17)–bright spot is their youth, particularly do-it-all guard Sean McGonagill; I like Coach Agel a lot, but with so much of Ivy nucleus returning will be tough to see any noticeable improvement in standings though.

8. Dartmouth (1-13, 5-23)—I wonder how Coach Cormier can keep his kids motivated; no immediate escape from the cellar is imminent; freshman guard Melville looks like a keeper; attracting more fans to the games may be a realistic goal.

The Second Annual Bradley Awards

It is time to honor the best of the brightest…those players, and coach, from the Ivy League who have distinguished themselves during this 2010-2011 basketball season. And the good news is, just about every one of this year’s recipients will be returning next year.

Coach of the Year: Certainly newcomers Kyle Smith at Columbia and Bill Courtney at Cornell appear to be on the right track. And Brown looks they could contend in the near future under Jesse Agel. But this year’s choice came down to the men who lead the two pre-eminent programs–Sydney Johnson of Princeton and Tommy Amaker of Harvard. Both did outstanding jobs and indeed had their teams prepared for the game of the year. However 90% of the country chose Princeton as their preseason choice with their starting team returning intact and two seniors. Harvard, on the other hand, lost POY Jeremy Lin, had a much more inexperienced nucleus, yet ended up with the better record and better RPI. So the Bradley goes to..Tommy Amaker.

Freshman of the Year: As alluded to in our previous column this was perhaps the toughest choice. Miles Cartwright of Penn came out of the gate on fire and perhaps is a future star. Laurent Rivard of Harvard proved invaluable as a sixth man helping the Crimson to a share of the title. But the Bradley goes to Sean McGonagill of Brown. The 6’1 guard from Illinois started every game since his arrival on campus. And he earned the coveted trophy with his versatility. He led the team in minutes played (33.3 per game), assists (5.2 pg), and free throw shooting (82%). He was third on the team in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (4.4). I have a feeling this will not be the last of his Bradleys.

Sixth Man of the Year: This one is almost unfair. Princeton is so well-balanced that they can afford to bring a Player of the Year candidate and one their two most important seniors off the bench. None other than Kareem Maddox. The 6’8 Californian was perhaps their most valuable player but started only four games. Yet he averaged over 30 minutes. The rest of his stats were equally impressive; 13.7 ppg (second on the team and 8th in the league) on 57% shooting from the field; and 7.0 rebounds per game (4th in the league). What would the Bradleys be without a Princeton representative?

All-Ivy Team:

  • Noruwa Agho Columbia – 6’3 Jr. New City, NY–led the league in scoring at 16.8; fifth in assists at 4.3; contributed over four rebounds per game; started every game and played nearly 35 minutes per game
  • Zack Rosen Penn – 6’1  Jr. Colonia, NJ–led team in scoring (14.6, 4th in league), minutes played (36. 7, 1st in league), assists ( 5.5, 2nd in league) and steals (1.3, 6th in league); defending RTC Ivy Player of the Year as a sophomore hit numerous clutch game winning or tying shots.
  • Keith Wright Harvard – 6’8 Jr. Suffolk, Va–led team in scoring (14.9, 3rd in league), rebounding (8.5, 2nd in league) and in field goal percentage (58.8, 1st in league); started every game and combined with Kyle Casey to give Crimson tough inside duo.
  • Ian Hummer Princeton – 6’7 So. Vienna, Va–tough choice over  Jack Eggleston; yet it was Hummer’s all-around play and team success which ultimately gave him the nod ; 7th in league in scoring (13.9 led team), 6th in rebounding (6.7), 2nd in Fg % (55.7%) 4th in blocks (1.1); the Tigers’ go to guy
  • Greg Mangano Yale – 6’10 Jr. Orange, Ct.–only Ivy player to average a double/double (16.3 ppg, 10.0 rebounds per game); was within .5 of a point from leading the league in both scoring and rebounding; led league in blocks with three per game; second in the league in shots taken but still shot over 48%; with running mate Austin Morgan, forms perhaps best returning inside/outside threat. And thus…

Greg Mangano is recognized as the 2010-2011 Bradley Award winner as Ivy League Player of the Year.

Defending the Jacket

Last year, we scored a coup, not only winning the RTC Bracket Pool (and the Hickory High letter jacket), but dominating the other two in which we participated. This gives me the right and responsibility to offer my thoughts on this year’s tournament — offered with a caveat; winning is tough, repeating near impossible. I have identified four factors which lead to NCAA success — free throw shooting, rebounding margin, shooting the three and defending it. Last season, Duke was the only team to appear in the top 40 nationally in the four categories. Xavier and St. Mary’s were the only others to appear in three and thus were recommended as likely to outlive their seed. This year, the same analysis provided some eye-opening information.

The eye test, based on watching all season long, has left me with the conclusion that Ohio State is the best team. But OSU appears in only one of the categories- so bye bye Buckeyes. And in fact, this season, NO team ranks in the top 40 in all four categories. But there are three teams in three. Those are Kansas, Arizona, and Texas. And the latter two, unfortunately, are on a collision course for a second round matchup in the West bracket. Arizona has the better numbers. So the Cats advance, knock off Duke in the regional final and advance to play Kansas in the championship game. We will let you take it from there. Let the Madness begin.

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

A Look Back

While most of the country dribbles through the dog days of February with talk of seedings and bubbles (alive, alive-o), the Ivy League plays in search of their conference champion and its NCAA tournament representative. After their first meeting, it appeared the rest of the schedule would be a formality for Harvard and Princeton, as they both moved inexorably toward a March 5 date with destiny. But then….

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To A Title: After beating Harvard at home at the beginning of February, and extending their winning streak to five, Princeton could be forgiven if they were looking a month ahead to the rematch; a game where a win would all but guarantee an Ivy championship. And indeed, despite a couple of close calls along the way, the Tigers did win another five straight, allowing them to maintain their slim lead on the Crimson who, to their credit, kept pace. A trip to Providence did not seem to represent a particularly difficult hurdle. But then they let Brown do it to them. It was a game they never really threatened to win, leading only once briefly mid-way through the second half, before a 13-2 Bear run put the ribbon around a 75-65 win. It was the most points the defensive-minded Tigers had allowed since their early season Duke debacle. They were no better offensively as those Tigers not named Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox shot a collective 8-32. The loss dropped them out of the league lead and needing an unlikely Crimson crumble to regain it. This past Saturday, they got what they needed.

Not exactly The Game, but anything pitting the Bulldogs against Harvard gets the juices flowing in New Haven and Cambridge. And it should have come as no surprise to see the Crimson stub their toe. After the Princeton loss, they needed two overtimes to beat Penn, had to dig out of two large halftime holes in both games against Brown, and eked out a three point win vs. Yale at home. The rematch at Lee Amphitheater saw Harvard cling to a slight lead most of the way. But the Elis hung tough and went ahead with 41 seconds remaining. Harvard had a couple of shots to win, including a Brandyn Curry missed layup at the buzzer, but fell 70-69 and out of first place. Harvard must now defeat Princeton next weekend and then hope for the Quakers to play spoiler. A playoff is a distinct possibility where fate could be decided by a flip of the coin to determine home court.

The Future is Now: Most basketball fans by now have heard of Kyrie Irivng of Duke and the ACC and Brandon Knight of Kentucky and the SEC. Both great freshman guards. But it is unlikely any league can boast of three backcourt newcomers that have made an immediate impact like Miles Cartwright, Sean McGonagall and Laurent Rivard have done in the Ivy League. Cartwright is perhaps the most electric with the most upside once he gets a bit stronger. He announced his presence in the season opener for Penn when he came off the bench to score 18 first half points against Davidson. He has started the last 17 games and seems unlikely to relinquish that spot. Rivard has had the most impact; thrown into the pressure cooker as Harvard’s sixth man as they search for their first ever Ivy crown. But the most versatile and most consistent has been McGonagill at Brown. He has started every game for the Bears and is third in scoring and rebounding while leading the team in assists. Amazingly, their stats are almost identical:

Player           Minutes      FG%        FT%      PPG

McGonagill       33           45%          83%      11.7

Rivard              25            43%          89%      11.2

Cartwright        34            43%          82%      11.6

Throw in Rivard’s two made threes per game, Cartwright’s defense (1.3 steals per game), and McGonagill’s four rebounds and five assists per game and you have three worthy candidates for Ivy Freshman of the Year.

Player of the Week: By his own standards, it is likely Zack Rosen of Penn would be the first to admit that it has been a disappointing year for him and for the team. After all he was the defending RTC Ivy Player of the Year and some of the more zealous Quaker faithful and alumni were quietly confident that this team could contend for an Ivy title. Well that is not going to happen and Rosen is unlikely to earn back-to-back trophies for his mantle. After a couple of down games, Rosen has responded and led Penn to three straight wins before losing to Cornell. Over the past two weekends, he has played 146 of a possible 160 minutes. He shot 48% from the field, 54% from long range, and 89% from the line. He grabbed 15 boards, averaged six assists and 16.5 points per game. And while he only scored eight against Yale, his last-second basket was the game-winner. So this week, we honor the 6’1 junior from the Garden State with a fitting bouquet of..you guessed it, roses. The Zack Attack lives!

Power Rankings

1. Princeton (22-5, 10-1)—The Tigers breathe a sigh of relief as they come from behind to take the lead versus Columbia, scoreboard watch, and see Harvard go down in defeat. Princeton can celebrate if they beat the Crimson on Saturday and then not have to worry about a date with Penn that follows. The most veteran team still is experiencing shooting woes, however.

2. Harvard (21-5, 10-2)–Probably the most talented team has played in spurts over the last two weeks and that attitude finally came back to bite them. A win on Saturday most likely guarantees a playoff. An interesting scenario finds the Crimson at 43 in RPI rankings-ahead of tournament likely Missouri State (Missouri Valley champs), Florida State ( #3 in the ACC), Butler (atop the Horizon with Cleveland State), and Marquette (9-7 in the Big East). Could the unthinkable happen and the Ivies get two bids in the new and expanded NCAA Tournament?

3. Penn (12-13, 6-5)–Below .500 overall and trailing Yale by a half game in standings, but the Quakers rank above the Elis thanks to a head-to-head series sweep. A disappointing pair of losses to Cornell and two other overtime disappointments sealed their fate. One has to wonder if Fran Dunphy (or Steve Donahue) on the bench might have made a difference in those games and kept the Quakers in the mix.

4. Yale (7-5, 14-12)—Yale made Princeton fans ecstatic when they found a way to beat Harvard. Having lost five close games during the season, they will definitely be a contender next season as they lose no one of consequence. Player of the Year candidate Greg Mangano (averaging a double/double) should receive some national recognition.

5. Columbia (5-7, 14-12)–A promising start for first year coach Kyle Smith came grinding to a halt as the Lions have lost six of their last eight. Columbia has the opportunity to finish .500 if they get two home wins to conclude the season. Another team that returns its nucleus and must be in the 2011-2012 conversation.

6. Brown (4-8, 11-15)—The Bears have beaten Princeton, sustained a two-point loss at Penn, and have had Harvard on the ropes twice. I have a feeling coach Jesse Agel is a star in the making, as is his freshman point guard Sean McGonagall (see above). They will lose Peter Sullivan but return everyone else who  contributes.

7. Cornell (4-8, 8-18)–Four games ago, coach Bill Courtney started looking ahead and has played 14 players in three of their last four games and averaged 13 players in their last seven games. It has worked, as the Big Red is 4-3 over that span. Have to believe this prime recruiter will have Ithaca rocking soon.

8. Dartmouth (1-11, 5-21)–After beating Cornell, it looks as if Dartmouth will end the season on an 11 game losing streak. With the teams above them keeping most of their good players, it is difficult to imagine the Green escaping the cellar. Most promising is freshman guard Tommy Melville who has averaged in double figure over the last four games.

A Look Ahead

One weekend left to the Ivy season, so circle the date—Saturday, March 5. That is when Princeton travels to Cambridge to visit Harvard. A Princeton win sends the Tigers dancing; a Harvard win and all eyes then turn to the Palestra three days later as Penn tries to ruin the season of their archrivals. A playoff for league honors is not out of the question. Either way, as per usual, the one left standing will become the first official entrant into the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Whatever happens, our next column will take a close look at the Ivy champ, how they eventually earned the crown, and dissect their matchup with their first round opponent, and if they realistically have a chance to duplicate Cornell’s run. We will also bestow our annual Bradley Awards in the form of the All-Ivy team, Coach of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and of course, Player of the Year

And as an added bonus, as defending RTC NCAA Bracket Pool contest winner, and proud owner of the coveted red leather Hickory High letter jacket, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to offer you my analysis of this year’s tournament–including who may surprise and of course the team that will ultimately enjoy a shining moment. See you then!

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe there are only three weekends remaining in the Ivy season. The past fortnight saw some amazing comebacks (Harvard down 22 at the half vs. Brown at home; Penn rallying three consecutive games from double-figure deficits); difficulty on the road (unless the home team was Dartmouth); some outstanding individual performances (Greg Mangano, Keith Wright, Sean McGonagill, Ian Hummer); and the wheat separating itself from the chaff, beginning with….

The Clash of the Titans: On February 4, Harvard strode into Jadwin Gym for the Ivy version of Kansas vs. Texas. Both the Crimson and the Tigers were undefeated in conference and just about every pre-season prediction had one or the other as probable league champs. The likelihood was that this game, as well as the season-ending return match a month later would determine who would be dancing in March. It would be an upset if either team stumbled significantly before that.  Before Harvard could entertain any shining moments, they had to stop playing second banana and get the monkey off their back; the monkey in the form of a 21-game road losing streak to Princeton. Certainly the Crimson wanted to avoid any slip-ups this time.  Harvard out-shot the Tigers from the field, 44% to 39%, were basically even from the FT line and outrebounded Princeton 32-26. But as all baseball fans know, box scores don’t tell the story and in fact the Tigers prevailed 65-61 in round #1 of the Clash. Sixteen Harvard turnovers and frontcourt foul trouble more than likely contributed to the defeat. The Cambridge contingent already have endured their toughest trip while Princeton has yet to play their first league road game. It is up to both teams to navigate the rest of the schedule unscathed before their March 5 rematch.

Working Overtime: A four-game win streak, which included the seniors celebrating their first Big Five victory in four years and a 3-0 start out of the gate in the Ivy League, had the Penn faithful dreaming of another banner-hoisting in the Palestra. And with the opportunity to put a stamp on their credentials with back-to-back games against the Ivy elite–Harvard and Princeton–Quaker students and alums could be forgiven if they were clearing their mid-March schedule for NCAA first round travel plans. Seventy-two excruciating hours in February pretty much unpacked everyone’s bags.  Harvard entered the Palestra the night after a tough loss to Princeton dropping them into second place. Penn on the other hand had a bunch of well-rested starters-nobody saw more than 28 minutes of action-after a 31 point demolition of Dartmouth. However it was the more talented Crimson squad that took advantage of the shaky Quakers to open up what seemed to be an insurmountable 18 point second half lead. But Zack Rosen’s two free throws with 10 seconds left completed the improbable comeback and tied the game at 64. It sent the game into overtime and the 6283 in attendance dancing with glee (minus Brittney and Quinn). Rosen wasn’t finished with his heroics, as his jumper at the buzzer of OT #1 sent the game to an additional five minutes. This time however it was not to be. The Crimson rode the tide of Oliver McNally’s final basket to an 83-82 victory.  A rare mid-week game and a visit to travel partner Princeton was next on tap for Penn. Playing their first road game, the Quakers must have experienced déjà vu all over again as with eight minutes to go they found themselves down 13. However a 21-8 run sent the game into, you guessed it, overtime, and gave the Tiger faithful pause. Penn forged in front only to go scoreless the rest of the way, endure a Chris Webber-esque timeout-less moment, and watched the Tigers convert late from the line en route to a 62-59 defeat.  It gets worse, though.  A trip to Ithaca to face an unsettled Big Red squad seemed just what the doctor ordered to get Penn healthy. In a game of wild swings, Cornell led by 16, at 29-13, with 7:08 to go in the first half, before the Red and Blue countered with a run of their own to go up 52-43 with 8:41 left in the second and left the Quakers feeling their oats. But destiny being what it is, the game came down to the final seconds-make that the final second. Cornell missed on what they thought would be the last play of regulation only to see Conor Turley get fouled in the rebounding scramble with time still left on the clock. Clank. Into overtime for the third straight game. This time there were no heroics, no last second misses. The extra five minutes belonged to Cornell as they emerged with an 82-71 victory.  Three losses snatched from the jaws of victory. Three games where Penn had to dig themselves out of an early hole only to stick their nose in front–two of them on the road. Five points away from being undefeated and alone atop the Ivy standings. This Valentine’s Day, if you see a Penn coach or rabid fan, give them a hug. As for the players, they wont need your heart as they have plenty of that to go around.

Player of the Week: As mentioned, there are plenty of deserving candidates. Over the last four games, Greg Mangano of Yale has averaged about 21 points-including 30 in their win over Dartmouth- and eight rebounds a game; Ian Hummer, 15 and eight; Keith Wright has led Harvard in scoring each of the last four ,averaging 19 and nine. But it is our wont to spread the wealth; to recognize as many different players as possible in a league that doesn’t get much national ink. So this week we head up to Providence and honor Sean McGonagill of Brown. The 6’1 freshman from Illinois, who has started since Day 1, began his run to glory with an amazing 39 point effort against Columbia; a total which tied the gym scoring record. Over the last four games, he as played 34 minutes a game, shot 53% from the field, 44% from beyond the arc, and 86% (18-21) from the stripe. In fact, his 7-7 performance from the line helped the Bears seal the deal against the Big Green.. Besides his scoring, McGonagill contributed 17 rebounds and 22 assists during Brown’s 2-2 stretch. Partnered with sophomore Tucker Halperin, the Bears look to have a solid one-two punch for the next three years. And McGonagill, along with fellow frosh backcourt stars Miles Cartwright of Penn and Laurent Rivard of Harvard, represent, for the Ivy League, a changing of the…guard.

Power Rankings

1. Princeton (7-0, 19-4)–Yes they are undefeated in conference play, (five of them at home) and winners of nine in a row and 17 out of 18- very impressive. A closer look however shows that they have had four close calls, winning games by 4, 4, 3, and 2. Poor shooting has been the problem. The Tigers will need more consistency if they hope to remain perfect before their rematch with…

2. Harvard (7-1, 18-4)–At times, it appears the Crimson feel they need only show up to win. Cases in point–squandering an 18 point lead vs. Penn; sputtering to a three point win vs. Yale; and the topper–finding themselves down 21 points at home at the half vs. Brown. The amazing comeback notwithstanding, coach Tommy Amaker needs to get his squad to focus and cut down on turnovers if they hope to catch Princeton.

3. Yale (5-3, 12-10)–A bit of surprise to find the Elis above .500 but it should be none if they stay. After all they have played their three toughest road games (Penn, Princeton, Harvard) and were competitive- close losses all. And they have probably the most dangerous inside/outside combination in the league in Austin Morgan and Greg Mangano. Look for Yale to have a say in the league outcome as they get those same three teams in New Haven.

4. Penn (3-4, 9-12)–Their travails have been chronicled above and one cannot argue that with a few breaks, the Quakers could be right up there. But looking at the glass half empty there have been road losses like the one at Columbia ( 3-9 overall away from home), the rebounding issues (destroyed by the Lions 34-18) and the bit of a step backward by their star, Zack Rosen. A year away?

5. Columbia (4-4, 13-9)–The future looked bright for the Lions as they began league play 2-0 and winners of eight of nine. Coach Kyle Smith was getting some local pub and in some circles their resurgence was being compared to that of fellow city resident, St.Johns. However, after an excusable loss to Harvard and a win vs. Dartmouth, there followed two damaging losses to Brown and Yale and a 30 point home drubbing vs. Princeton. Leading scorer Norwua Agho was virtually invisible the first two defeats.

6. Cornell (2-6, 6-16)–This is the same Cornell that this column buried earlier; and no, we are not buckling under the pressure from prominent alumni. They were one of the few teams not named Harvard and Princeton to get a road win. And might have had a three game win streak if not for Kareem Maddox’s jump shot with 10 seconds to play. Coach Bill Courtney continues to struggle with combinations and players will play 30 minutes one night and ten the next. But the worst of the growing pains may be over

7. Brown (2-6, 9-13)–Up and down but not without promise. They have a roster infused with youth (see McGonagill and Halperin) and coach Jesse Agel looks like he knows what he is doing by looking at the big picture. One wonders how much the meltdown vs. Harvard will affect the Bears going forward.

8. Dartmouth (1-7, 5-17)–Too easy to knock the (not-so) Big Green, so we will focus on the positives. They will not go winless. They were competitive against Harvard and in their last two home games vs. Brown and Yale. And the home attendance figures are creeping towards four figures (982 at the Yale game). So now how does Paul Cormier convince any talent to come play in Hanover?

A Look Ahead

  • Princeton may face a stern test Friday at Yale before heading home to Jadwin where they are undefeated. Harvard must navigate around four road games before season ending home contests versus Penn and Princeton which could decide the Ivy title.
  • It’s “put up or shut up” time for Yale as they get the big boys at home.
  • Could we have a new player as we march toward March? Penn must repair their collective psyches and put the brakes on their four-game skid. Reveling in the role of spoiler may be their only motivation left.
  • Columbia may be back on track and it would not be out of the question to see them in a battle for third place.
  • The game this Friday at home vs. Harvard will go a long way in seeing how far Cornell has come back.
  • If the RTC Player of the Week award has not changed Sean McGonagill (wait -how can such a prestigious “trophy” not go to your head?), it will be interesting to see the progress he and his young teammates make at Brown. Dartmouth, unfortunately will have to wait until March 4 before attempting to break that elusive 1000-fan barrier.
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