Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
A Look Back
A ho-hum two weeks to begin 2011 in the land of the Ancient Eight. Overall, the league went 11-8 and saw their Conference RPI drop to a more realistic #14. With non-league games dwindling to a precious few, it is unlikely that ranking will change much from now until March. Still two weeks to go before the Ivies get into league play, and most of the members used the time to fatten up on inferior competition (i.e. Baruch, Lyndon St, Union). All except Penn and Harvard, who ventured into the SEC and ACC, respectively, for a couple of memorable games.
Pardon the Inter-Rupp-tion: A trip to the Bluegrass State to open the new year; a glimpse of Kentucky’s thoroughbreds — both human and equine; a national television appearance on ESPNU; and, a matchup of two storied programs, each in the top ten all-time in victories. All of that for the Penn Quakers to ring in 2011.
Except someone forgot to tell the Red and Blue that they were also supposed to be fodder for the #11 Wildcats, who were coming off a dismantling of neighboring rival Louisville. For the first 15 minutes, it was the Quakers who looked like the nationally ranked team. Riding the hot hand of Tyler Bernardini and the floor generalship of Zack Rosen, Penn opened up a 12-point lead which, left John Calipari screaming on the sidelines, wondering how Miles Cartwright had slipped through his recruiting fingers, and gave Jerome Allen flashback visions of his own great teams. It was then where things began to unravel, thanks in large part to some Kentucky defense and rebounding. A 14-1 Wildcat run to end the half gave Kentucky a lead they would never relinquish and finally allowed the 21,681 in the sea of blue to, if you’ll excuse the expression, e-Rupp-t.
The second half proved to be not much more than a scrimmage for Kentucky. They hit 12 of their first 13 shots en route to an 18-22 clip over the final 30 minutes. The rebounding numbers were even more lopsided, 36-15, in favor of the Wildcats, thanks to a workmanlike effort from Josh Harrelson. The only good news for the Quaker faithful was that the 86-62 final score meant that ,with apologies to Warner Wolf, if you had Penn and 25 you won!
Familiarity Breeds…: Three years ago, just days after Boston College had upset then #1 North Carolina, Harvard came in and beat the Eagles. A natural letdown was the explanation. Last year, despite protests from the Al Skinner and the BC players that things would be different, the result was the same. So this year, it should have come as no surprise when Harvard traveled across the Charles to Chestnut Hill and came away with a gutsy 78-69 victory. And to sweeten the (bean) pot, the congratulatory post-game handshake that Tommy Amaker received came from none other than old Cornell nemesis, Steve Donahue. And this against a BC team that had won eight out of nine and at 3-0 is currently atop the ACC leader board (that’s right, Dookies). The Crimson led just about every step of the way. BC cut an 11 point lead to five with two minutes remaining but could creep no closer. Amaker used only seven players with six getting significant minutes. The leading scorer for the Crimson…..
Player of the Week: Laurent Rivard, Harvard –Based on his name, he should either be a ski resort in the mountains of Quebec, a new Dior eau de toilette, or a left wing for Les Habitants. But freshman Laurent Rivard of Harvard (kind of rhymes) is instead this week’s RTC Ivy League Player of the Week. In the three Crimson victories, the 6’5 guard from Saint-Bruno, Quebec, averaged 16 points in 31 minutes per game. More importantly, it has become evident that he is the only one who is seeing significant minutes off Tommy Amaker’s shortened bench. So hissez le trophée Monsieur Rivard. You are well on your way to becoming the Ivy Sixth Man of the Year.
With this being the last power poll before league play commences, it is time to separate the wheat from the chaff. To begin:
Prepping for March: It is difficult to separate or look beyond:
1. Harvard (11-3, 1-0)–the Crimson reclaim the top spot thanks to their 3-0 record which included the aforementioned victory over BC. The return of Kyle Casey and the rapid development of Laurent Rivard gives Harvard six players capable of scoring in double digits and who compare very favorably with the six from…
2. Princeton (11-4)—The Tigers relinquish #1 primarily because of inactivity (finals), with just a victory over Marist in the last two weeks. The quartet of Douglas Davis, Dan Mavraides, Ian Hummer, and Kareem Maddox can hold their own with any team this side of Cameron Indoor or Allen Fieldhouse. The head-to-head meetings with Harvard February 4 and March 5) should decide league supremacy.
Can Make Some Noise:
3. Columbia (9-5)–winners of six of their last seven, albeit against weak competition, the Lions look to be much improved under Kyle Smith. Led by Ivy scoring leader Noruwa Agho (16.4 PPG), Columbia next faces travel partner Cornell in home-and-home games that will go a long way in determining if the Lions are worthy of first division status.
4. Penn (5-7)—There are a lot of reasons to think the Quakers can make a run at the title. They have probably the most complete player in the league in Zack Rosen, (two rebounds and three assists short of an unheard of triple double before fouling out vs. LaSalle) a freshman comparable to Laurent Rivard in Miles Cartwright, and a veteran supporting cast. Furthermore, they have shown flashes of brilliance against nationally ranked opponents Kentucky and Villanova. But then there are games like those against Marist and Manhattan. The jury is still out.
5. Cornell (4-10)–What, you say? Make noise? A team tied with lowly Dartmouth for the cellar and a team that endured an eight game losing streak? Well, perhaps we ARE going too far back into their past performances. But it is hard to believe that a team which features veterans like Chris Wroblewski and Errick Peck who have known only success, won’t make some sort of an impact in the league race.
On The Outside Looking In:
6. Yale (7-7)–Perhaps an underrated and overlooked squad. Next to Penn, Yale played probably the most demanding non-conference schedule. The Elis did conquer BC and played Big East foe Providence tough. They will go as far as Greg Mangano and Austin Morgan take them.
7. Brown (6-7)—Games against their in-state rivals Rhode Island and Providence were the only two real tests the Bears have faced. And in each case, they didn’t pass, losing by 25 and 27 points, respectively. Peter Sullivan has been a bright spot averaging nearly 14 points and six rebounds per game.
8. Dartmouth (0-1, 4-10)–Wondering if Paul Cormier is having second thoughts about leaving the NBA for a return engagement in New Hampshire? At least the relatives and friends of the players are happy, as there are ten members of the Big Green seeing double digit minutes.
A Look Ahead
Brown faces home-and-home travel partner Yale before going south for a Penn/Princeton weekend. The Bears could be staring at an 0-4 to open up. Columbia has the aforementioned battles with travel partner Cornell before heading to New England for Harvard and Dartmouth. Can they win three of those? Cornell has the opportunity to put their pre-conference disasters behind them as they have three winnable games before facing Harvard on the 29th. Would anyone be shocked to see the Big red atop the standings at 3-0 before that game? Assuming they will not go 0-14, where will victories come for Dartmouth? Their first home weekend vs. Cornell and Columbia? Doubtful.
Harvard actually has an interesting game at GW before three soft league home games. It is expected that the Crimson will enter the Feburary 4 game against Princeton unblemished. Penn must complete their rugged Big 5 schedule against old friend Fran Dunphy and his Owls and then the St. Joseph’s Hawks. If they are not worn out from all the flapping, they should begin league play 2-0 with their softest home weekend. A weird scheduling quirk has Princeton opening with five straight league home games. If they are perfect, the race may be over early. Yale needs to beat up on travel partner Brown before they too swing south for a trip to the Palestra and Jadwin Gym.
Note: Once league play begins, there will be games only on Friday and Saturday, for the most part. Therefore, this column will next appear in two weeks, on Monday the 31st, instead of Friday, allowing full coverage of the first big Ivy weekend.