Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
A lot has already been written about Cornell’s near-miss vs. Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. It should not have come as a surprise as this is a veteran Big Red team with two players (Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote) who will most assuredly get NBA looks. And it also has a coach who has become a proven big-time recruiter and is finally getting his just due as a game coach. With the core of his soon-to-be three time defending Ivy champ team graduating this spring, look for Steve Donahue to be a hot name for many job openings.
The bottom of the conference, to be kind, has been dreadful. Brown, Yale, Penn and Dartmouth (more on them later) are a combined 4-28 in their last 32 games vs. Division 1 competition. Their RPIs are respectively 247, 291, 309 and 322. Only Penn, and to a lesser extent Brown, has played a representative schedule. Fortunately for all of those except Penn (which still has two Big 5 games ahead), the conference season begins this weekend. As the saying goes — someone has to win.
So for all those out there wishing to do some research: when was the last time two Ivy teams fired their coaches mid-season? (The keys to the Corvette for anyone with the correct answer.) Hot on the heels of Glen Miller at Penn was Terry Dunn at Dartmouth. Talk about the inmates running the asylum — the players allegedly unanimously signed a petition indicating that they would not play unless Terry Dunn was fired. This after the assistant coaches all left in the spring. Word as to their specific grievances has not leaked out. Think there is a line out the door to take over this plum assignment?
Here are the power rankings, with a rundown on each team heading into league play:
1) Cornell (14-3): After a warm-up on Monday, the Big Red stands at a gaudy 14-3. Can you say 28-3? A perfect Ivy season is not out of the question for the best team the league has seen since the Penn teams (who should have won an NCAA game) in the early part of the decade. Look for a Top 25 ranking and – invoking the ghost of Bill Bradley – maybe even a single digit seed in the tournament. To paraphrase ESPN analyst extraordinaire Jimmy Dykes: “Don’t be fooled by the names on the uniforms — this team can win two games come March.”
2) Harvard (12-3): Technically at the top of the standings (1-0 league) after last weekend’s drubbing of the coachless Big Green, Tommy Amaker’s crew has played a tough schedule which included respectable losses to Big East powers Georgetown and UConn, and wins vs. BC, GW, and that West Coast sensation, Seattle (50-point conqueror of Oregon State). Right now they are the clear cut second choice and their 1/30 and 2/19 games vs. Cornell should be wars.
3) Princeton (8-5): Tigers begin the Ivy season winning six out of their last seven games, albeit vs. weaker opposition. They should be battling Columbia for the minor awards in the league. With Cornell’s graduation losses looming, the Tigers may be the 2010-11 pre-season Ivy pick with underclassmen Doug Davis, Dan Mavraides and Patrick Saunders all returning.
4) Columbia (6-8): Quick – which Division 1 player has the best 3-pt fg pct? You’re right if you guessed the Lions’ Noruwa Agho. The sophomore from N.Y. boasts an unheard of 62.5% from behind the line (52 attempts). He also leads the team in scoring, averaging more than 18 points per game. Columbia has played a rather weak non-conference schedule but has the pieces in place to be better than .500 in the league.
5) Brown (6-11): A 6-11 record has to be taken with a grain of salt as two of those wins have come vs. Division 2 opposition. Nevertheless, they have played a tough schedule that included Virginia Tech, St. Johns, URI, Siena, Minnesota and Providence (all losses). The one bright spot has been 6-8 junior Matt Mullery who leads the team in scoring (15.8) rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and blocks. He may become the first Brown Bear to accomplish the near impossible Pentagon (though I just made that up).
6) Penn (1-11): With two Big 5 games (LaSalle and St. Joes) next up, it is very likely that the Quakers will enter conference play with a 1-13 record. The good news is that new coach Jerome Allen seems to have gotten the players attention and the team is, after all, 1-1 in their last two after a not-so-terrible performance against Temple on Wednesday. He has also given free reign to sophomore point guard Zack Rosen who responded to this new-found freedom with a 28-point effort vs. UMBC. The Red and Blue have been decimated by injury with starters Andreas Schreiber and Tyler Bernadini, among others, both likely lost for the season.
7) Yale (6-11): The Bulldogs returned to New Haven with two easy tune-ups prior to beginning conference play — this after a brutal five-game road trip that overlapped the new year. Coach James Jones’ squad relies heavily on holdover Alex Zampier. The 6’3 guard from the Hudson Valley in New York State averages almost 19 points per game and leads a rebuilding Yale team that includes three freshman and four sophomores.
8) Dartmouth (3-11): The Big Green, like Cornell, may be well on their way to a perfect record in conference as well — on the losing end. With Terry Dunn out (after a rare victory vs. Bucknell) assistant coach Mark Graupe will handle the coaching responsibilities until the end of the season. Not a lot of joy or promise in Hanover as no starter is averaging over eight points per game. But at least they share the rock.