2009-10 Conference Primers: #28 – Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2009

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Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League and a featured columnist.   Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials..

Predicted Order of Finish (with projected records in parentheses):

  1. Cornell (14-0)
  2. Princeton (9-5)
  3. Penn (8-6)
  4. Columbia (7-7)
  5. Harvard (7-7)
  6. Yale (6-8)
  7. Brown (3-11)
  8. Dartmouth (2-12)

All-Conference Team:

  • Louis Dale (G), Sr., Cornell
  • Jeremy Lin (G), Sr. Harvard
  • Ryan Wittman (F), Sr., Cornell
  • Matt Mullery (F), Sr., Brown
  • Jeff Foote (C), Sr., Cornell

6th Man. Tyler Bernardini (G), Jr., Penn

Impact Newcomer. Brian Grimes (F), Jr., Columbia

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What You Need to Know.  Fueled by three star seniors (Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote), the reigning Ivy League rookie of the year (Chris Wrobleski), and two major transfers (Mark Coury from Kentucky and Max Groebe from UMass), Cornell is coming into the 2009-10 season as the heavy favorite to capture its third straight conference crown — and perhaps win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.  Head coach Steve Donahue’s squad is so deep and talented (they also boast a pair of experienced seniors in Geoff Reeves and Alex Tyler), their toughest challenge may be finding significant minutes for all their heavy hitters. Penn and Princeton, the powerhouses that owned the Ivy League for two decades until Cornell rose to the top, are both trying to return to their glory days but might have to wait a year to make a serious run at the crown. Princeton should improve on its 8-6 league mark with the continued development of point guard Doug Davis, who averaged 12.3 points per game as a rookie last season, and the addition of Ian Hummer, who may be the best freshman in the league. This is an important year for rebuilding Penn, which clears out some mediocre seniors and hands the keys of the team to junior guard Tyler Benardini and sophomore point guard Zack Rosen, the last two Big 5 rookies of the year. Columbia has some nice incoming talent with Brian Grimes, who sat out last season with an ACL tear after transferring in from La Salle, and Loyola Marymount import Max Craig, who is 7 feet tall and not a stiff.  Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has one of the best players in the league in Jeremy Lin and a couple of good recent recruiting classes, but the Crimson are coming off a 6-8 conference season. Yale has been a consistent threat under longtime coach James Jones, finishing above .500 for nine straight seasons. The Bulldogs will need to put a lot of the burden on senior guard Alex Zampier (13.2 ppg) to keep that streak alive.  Matt Mullery shot a ridiculous 60 percent for Brown last year, but the Bears will be hard-pressed to significantly improve their 3-11 league record. And finally, after an impressive 7-7 Ivy season by its standards, Dartmouth should tumble back down the league standings with the loss of Alex Barnett and his 19.4 points per game.

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on March 6th, 2009

Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Right now, the Ivy League is a mess. Somehow, heading into the final weekend of conference play, a Cornell team that is superior to any other in the league has yet to clinch its berth in the Big Dance (remember there’s no conference tournament in the Ivies). Somehow, Princeton – the same Princeton that started 2-8 with losses to mighty teams like Maine, Central Connecticut and Lafayette on its resume – controls its own destiny. And somehow, Yale and Dartmouth – yes, Dartmouth! – are still mathematically alive with two games to play.

Here’s the deal in simplest terms: If Cornell (9-3 league) takes care of business and beats Penn tonight and Princeton tomorrow night at home (where they are undefeated this season), then they win the league. They can also win the league if they beat Penn while Princeton loses at Columbia tonight.  But if Princeton (7-4) is able to sweep Columbia and Cornell this weekend, then the Tigers’ game Tuesday against Penn – the final game of the Ivy League season – could either make or break their chances of winning at least a share of the league title. (In the case of a tie at the top, there would be a one-game playoff between the co-champs with the NCAA berth on the line).

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on February 20th, 2009

David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

A weird sequence of events happened during the Penn-Columbia game two weeks ago: Penn fans listened as the Princeton-Cornell score was announced. They learned Princeton was winning. And then they cheered. Of course, this makes perfect sense. The only way for any of the seven Ivy League also-rans to make the NCAA Tournament (or at least the play-in game) is to get through Cornell, the clear favorite to win the league. But for all of the Penn fans in the gym that night – the dozens of us – cheering for Princeton still felt dirty. That’s because for so long the Ivy League has been all about Penn and Princeton, the two storied programs that have made up one of college basketball’s best rivalries. Penn-Princeton games may not always produce the most exciting basketball (unless you love backdoor cuts and running the shot clock down to five seconds) but each contest is special because it usually determines the league champion. Over the years, the other six Ivy League teams have had as much success as Gus Johnson trying to keep his voice down in a library. Consider: Since the Ivy League’s inception in 1955, only seven times has the league championship been awarded without the Quakers or Tigers at least sharing the crown. Here’s a good YouTube video on the rivalry which highlights the 1999 game in which Penn raced out to a 29-3 lead before losing, 50-49, in a game now known at the Palestra simply as “Black Tuesday.” Six years later, however, Penn produced a miracle of its own when it erased an 18-point deficit in the final seven-and-a-half minutes to stun Princeton in overtime. I think about nine of my 10 favorite Palestra memories came from that game, and I still get chills every time I watch the highlights.

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2009

David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Ivy League, its regular season is unlike any other. For starters, it is the only league without a conference tournament, thus making it the only league whose regular-season winner gets an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament. The debate has long raged over the merits of having a conference tourney and while I don’t really want to get into that timeless argument, I will say that I appreciate the uniqueness of the Ivy League and firmly believe that the best way to crown a champ is over 14 games, not over three in the final week. That said, teams that stumble early are often dead by midseason. The Ivy League schedule is structured in a way (for academic and travel reasons) so teams play back-to-back games every Friday and Saturday. As you might expect, many seasons have been lost in single weekends alone. The dreaded weekend trip to Penn and Princeton, for example, has been a virtual death sentence for many NCAA Tournament hopefuls.

But the winds of change have swept through the Ivy League. Penn and Princeton, which combined to win every league title from 1989 to 2007, have recently been passed by Cornell as league bully. And as the Ivy season begins its Friday-Saturday routine tonight, the Big Red look to be clear-cut favorites to win the league’s “14-game tournament.”

They will, however, be tested. Here is a look at all eight Ivy teams, their projected order of finish and a case for why they will or won’t be dancing in March:

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009

David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Let’s see … what to report from the Ivy League from the last two weeks. Hmm. Cornell beat a team by 54 points. That’s fun – even though they did it to Division III Ursinus. What else? What else? Oh! Yale and Columbia both added to the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s record 50-game Division I losing streak. Good for them. And … I think that’s about– oh wait, I almost forgot! Harvard had probably its greatest win in school history while providing the Ivy League with its best moment in quite some time. That’s probably the big story of the week, right?

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Amaker and Harvard Celebrate the Win Over BC (photo credit: NBC Sports)

When Harvard (9-6) pulled off that shocker over Boston College last week, however, it seemed like there were two overriding sentiments: One was that since B.C. had just beaten then-No. 1 North Carolina, then Harvard should be the new No. 1 team in the land. And two, how ’bout that Tommy Amaker, huh? While I agree that Harvard is the best team there ever was or ever will be, I am hesitant to heap all of the praise entirely on Amaker. Instead, I would like to take a moment to praise former coach Frank Sullivan, a very good man who had little success at Harvard but whose lasting legacy might be leaving the program with Jeremy Lin. Granted, Amaker has brought in a very talented freshmen class, and has probably instilled a newfound belief into his players, but Lin is simply playing at another level right now. Against Boston College, the junior guard scored a game-high 27 points while dishing out eight assists. Here are some highlights of Lin schooling the Eagles.

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on January 2nd, 2009

Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

In the latest installment of “An Ivy League team nearly beats a school from a major conference but ends up losing by a little and the big school either makes patronizing comments about how hard the Ivy League team tried or instead talks about their own lack of focus,” Yale took Alabama down to the wire before losing 66-63 on Sunday. Even though this dude started his game story by writing “Sometimes Yale has a good basketball team — that is not the case this year” (which is more just bad journalism than it is rude), you might consider this a moral victory for the Bulldogs, who came back from an 18-point second-half deficit, on the road. Yale senior forward Travis Pinick, who was named the league’s player of the week, had 17 points and 11 rebounds against the Tide. Two days later, however, Yale lost to Hampton to fall to 2-8, despite 17 points from Ross Morin and 15 from Alex Zampier.

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2008

Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Well, a good portion of the non-conference slate is over, and the Ivy League still doesn’t have a big signature win. But Cornell came pretty darn close to pulling off a huge early-season upset Wednesday when it led Syracuse at halftime and took the Orange right down to the wire at the Carrier Dome. Naturally, Syracuse players said it was a lazy effort on their parts while Cornell coach Steve Donahue praised his team’s effort. Fine, we get it. The only way an Ivy League team can even stay with a Big East team is by playing smart and outhustling the other team (backdoor cuts don’t hurt either). But the truth is, the defending Ivy champs have a very good team that may have a chance to make some national noise down the road. (Keep in mind, the Big Red played against ‘Cuse without their two best guards, Louis Dale and Adam Gore.

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Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

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Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Some early-season notes from the only league without scholarships or a conference tournament:

Cornell might be the class of the Ivy League, but Penn, a perennial power (save for last year), has been getting most of the early attention, thanks to a not-so-terrible loss to No. 1 North Carolina to open the season followed by a nationally televised game against Philadelphia rival Drexel during ESPN’s college hoops marathon.

Full disclosure: I’m a Penn graduate and a big college hoops fan, so I made it over to Drexel for the game dubbed as the “Battle of 33rd Street.” Amazingly, the 10 a.m. start time wasn’t even the weirdest part of the game. Or that Drexel had banners in the arena listing its flag football champions. Or that at one point Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell hollered “That’s terrible” at the refs about 23 times in succession (actually, anyone that’s seen Fast Eddie at a Penn game will tell you that’s not weird at all; the Penn grad takes his sports – and his yelling – seriously).

No, the weirdest part was probably that the game marked the first time Penn played at Drexel in a series that dates all the way back to the 1920-21 season (which you might say makes sense considering Penn’s home, the Palestra, is considered college basketball’s most historic gym). Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said the home court edge made a big difference and he was probably right as the Dragons held on for a 66-64 win in a game that featured too many fouls, too few made free throws and probably one too many “tell the professor I really am sick” jokes.

There were some positives for Penn – such as former-spare-parts-turned-valuable-seniors Brennan Votel and Kevin Egee combining for 35 points. And the Quakers fought back from a big hole and had a chance to tie it in the final seconds. But it should be obvious from those who watched the game that this young Penn team, which starts three sophomores and a freshman, needs to make significant improvements if it hopes to unseat Cornell as Ivy champs.

One more quick note on Penn: Of all the things in college basketball that are easy to predict, a freshman point guard from the Ivy League struggling in his first college game against the No. 1 team in the country probably falls somewhere between Dickie V gyrating and Digger Phelps gratuitously holding a highlighter to his tie. And sure enough, Penn freshman point guard Zack Rosen had a rough debut, getting shut out by the Tar Heels in 28 minutes. But Quaker fans should take heart that the heralded recruit who passed up schools such as Rutgers, Iowa State, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech and Gonzaga to come to Penn will only get better. Much better.

Cornell posted a nice win over Loyola Md. in the consolation of the NIT Tip-off (The NIT has consolations?) but the AP didn’t seem to notice as not one Cornell player, basket, spurt, play, band member, coach or fan was even mentioned. But I guess that’s what happens when the opposing coach goes to sit in the stands for part of the game.

The Big Red lost their first NIT game to St. John’s, but some early speed bumps should be expected as the team is currently without sharpshooter Adam Gore (ACL) and point guard Louis Dale (hamstring), the reigning Ivy Player of the Year. Dale may be back soon, but Gore is out until at least January, which might make the road to a repeat a little trickier.

–I heard something weird happened during Princeton’s first game, so I checked the student newspaper’s account of the game. And yes, the rumors are true! Princeton has a “flashy” point guard. At first, his flashiness “puzzled” the fans who were used to the “Princeton basketball of old – constant motion, backdoor screens and layups, defeating opponents by wearing them down and catching them off the guard.” But soon, they grew to appreciate the new “modern and conventional” style of basketball. Could this be the end of backdoor cuts as we know it? Don’t they realize that’s how they beat UCLA in one of the all-time great tourney upsets?  What’s next to go – set shots?? I’m not sure if a world without Princeton backdoor cuts is a world I want to live in. (By the way, the Tigers lost their first two games, but already appear to be far better than the 07-08 team that was one of the worst offensive teams in the country.)

–I thought the departure of Barack Obama’s brother-in-law Craig Robinson would hurt Brown on the recruiting front, and it very well might. But the Bears gave rookie head coach Jessie Agel a good win when they knocked off Patriot League power Holy Cross, less than a week after narrowly losing to a Rhode Island team that almost took out Duke. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s brother had a rough debut at Oregon State, losing to Howard, 47-45. Interestingly enough, Howard is coached by longtime Penn assistant Gil Jackson, so this game had a lot of league connections (probably why the two teams combined for less than 100 points). Perhaps even more interesting, the AP reports “a couple dozen” fans “swarmed” the court after the game. Hope they had good security there.

–From Seton Hill to Michigan, Tommy Amaker has always been known as a good recruiter, if not the smartest game coach. But Amaker’s first recruiting class at Harvard has drawn allegations of unethical behavior, some of which came to light when the Crimson’s prized recruit, Frank Ben-Eze, ended up enrolling at Davidson after committing to Harvard because of scrutiny over diminished academic standards. Still, Amaker’s first class looks mighty good. With three newcomers starting (Oliver McNally, Max Kenyi, Keith Wright), the Crimson opened the season with an 80-69 win over New Hampshire on Wednesday . If these guys can pass poly sci, Harvard may be set up for a run at the program’s first Ivy title.

–Andy Katz may think Yale can win the Ivy League, but the Bulldogs followed a fairly impressive 8-point loss to Stanford with a not-so-impressive 31-point loss to Vermont. (Yes, non-conference losses can be impressive if you’re in the Ivy League.) Yale should still be in the top half of the league, but first it needs to find a way to replace the shooting touch of the graduated Eric Flato.

Dartmouth joins Penn, Princeton and Yale with an 0-2 record, losing to Army and Providence to start the year. But the Big Green’s best player Alex Barnett already has 46 points in those two games.

–Finally, rounding out the Ancient Eight, Columbia is 1-1 after beating New York City rival Fordham and losing to the Big East’s Seton Hall. My favorite player, K.J. Matsui, the first native Japanese player to play Division I basketball, is off to a slow start to his senior year, shooting just 2-of-16 from the field.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #25 – Ivy

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2008

Marty Leon is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot and Ivy Leagues.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Cornell  (20 – 9)  (12-2)
  2. Penn   (19-9)   (10-4)
  3. Harvard   (12-16)   (8-6)
  4. Brown   (13-15)   (7-7)
  5. Yale   (13-16)   (7-7)
  6. Dartmouth   (14-13)   (6-8)
  7. Princeton   (13-14)    (4-10)
  8. Columbia   (6-22)   (2-12)

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  In the conference of the true student-athlete, Cornell looks to be the heavy favorite after a 14-0 league record last season.  They posess a huge home court advantage, playing their  games in snowy Ithaca and return the league’s player of the year in Louis DalePenn will be nipping at their heels trying to regain their championship form,  while Harvard, with the best freshmen crop in the league, looks to be third best.  Beyond that, a logjam ensues where anyone can beat anyone on a given night.  Dartmouth has a possible player of the year in Alex Barnett and Zach Rosen out of Penn should be the best rookie. 

Predicted Champion.  Cornell (#15 NCAA) should come away with the title, as they have all the pieces to the puzzle.  Besides Dale, Ryan Whitman is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, and 7 footer Jeff Forte provides huge frontcourt presence.  Cornell will be a #15 seed at best, as they were pounded by Stanford 77-53 in the NCAA tournament last year.  Here’s a video of their clinching game against Harvard last year.

Others Considered.  Penn could challenge Cornell as they provide three super sophomores.  Tyler Bernardini returns after a rookie of the year season, while forward Jack Eggleston and point guard Harrison Gaines are back.  Though very talented,  this team will need to rely too much on youth to go the distance.  Harvard falls in the same boat, as Coach Amaker has recruited the Ivy League version of the “fab five.”  We can’t count out Yale and Brown who are also capable of beating these three teams.

Important Games.

  • Penn @ Harvard  (1/31/09)
  • Cornell @ Penn  (2/7/09)
  • Penn @ Cornell  (3/6/09)

RPI Boosters.

  • Penn @ UNC  (11/15/08)
  • Villanova @ Penn (12/2/08)
  • Cornell @ Syracuse  (12/3/08)
  • Cornell @ Minnesota (12/6/08)
  • Cornell @ St. Joseph’s (12/22/08)
  • Harvard @ Boston College (1/7/09)
  • Temple @ Penn (1/14/09)

Neat-O Stats.

1.  Intensity -  Every league game is crucial with no conference tourney to fall back on. 
2.  Scholarships – None given in this league.  All need based financial aid.  Coaches still successfully recruit nationwide.
3.  Family Feud – Yale coach James Jones and Columbia coach Joe Jones are brothers.
4.  Roots – Hall of Fame coaches Al McGuire of Marquette and Dave Gavitt of Providence began their coaching careers at Dartmouth.
5.  Vermont Connection – Brown coach Jesse Agel and assistants TJ Sorrentine and Kyle Cieplicki were all part of the Vermont team that shocked Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tournament.

65 Team Era.  Since 1985, the Ivy has gone 3-24 (.111) in the NCAA Tournament, with all three of the wins coming within five seasons of each other (1994 – Penn; 1996 & 1998 – Princeton).  The Ivy is now on an ten-year drought without a win in the NCAAs, and eight of those losses have been by double-digits.  Ouch.

Final Thoughts.  If you want to see the purest college basketball, the Ivy League is one of the few places left where true scholar-athletes are on the floor.  On a rare occasion, the league winner makes a decent showing in the NCAA Tournament, but that won’t be the case this season.  No team is athletic enough to compete with the big boys in March.  The real story out of the Ivy this year is second year coach Tommy Amaker’s troubles at Harvard.  After being vindicated of improper recruiting charges, the NY Times ran an article questioning Amaker’s coaching methods after he dismissed several players for no other reason than he passed over them.  The question is, “Is Amaker trying to bring big-time coaching philosophies to a school where winning isn’t the number one priority?”

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