2012-13 Ivy League Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2013

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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

It should be no surprise that the team that sprinted out to a 9-1 start took home the title in the 14-Game Tournament. The only shocking part is how it happened. For the second-consecutive year, Harvard entered the penultimate weekend of the season needing to beat just one team to all but clinch the league’s NCAA bid. Just like the 2011-12 campaign, in which the Crimson fell to Pennsylvania, bringing the two teams even in the loss column, Harvard lost for the 24th consecutive time at Jadwin Gymnasium, allowing Princeton to grab a virtual tie for first place. Then, the Crimson compounded its error, losing the next night to a surging Quakers squad at The Palestra and falling behind the Tigers in the Ivy standings for the first time this season. With just two games remaining, Harvard needed a home sweep of Columbia and Cornell, as well as a Princeton loss in one of its final three road contests to force a one-game playoff at The Palestra.

It wasn't always pretty, but Tommy Amaker's crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)

It wasn’t always pretty, but Tommy Amaker’s crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)

The hangover lasted well into the following weekend, as Harvard trailed Columbia by as many as eight early in the second half in front of a lethargic crowd before news arrived from New Haven that the Tigers trailed Yale by double digits. An 11-2 run over the final two minutes allowed the Crimson to slip past the Lions, and the Bulldogs withstood a late charge from Princeton to hand Harvard back a half-game lead and an opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy title the next night. The Crimson did just that with a 65-56 win over Cornell on NBC Sports Net. A muted celebration followed, but most fans had already turned their attention to Providence, as Brown led Princeton by double-digits early in the second half. Roughly 100 fans remained in the arena with most huddled around computer screens watching the Bears-Tigers score updates. When Brown sank enough free throws to put Princeton away, Harvard had improbably clinched the Ivy title – the first time it had done so without the season-ending Pennsylvania-Princeton game mattering.

The dramatic final weekend capped off what was a surprisingly strong year for the league, after several All-Ivy caliber players unexpectedly dropped off rosters just before the season started. While the league will see its streak of three-straight years with at least three postseason invites come to an end, the Ivies still posted their second strongest showing as a conference in the Pomeroy era. The improvement came from the bottom, as the league avoided having a team rank worse than 275th nationally for the first time in at least a decade.

Conference Accolades

  • Player of the Year: Ian Hummer, F, Princeton – At the start of the season, this was Hummer’s award to lose, and all he did was put together the finest year in his stellar career. The 6’7″ senior led the league in Offensive Rating among heavy usage players and finished second in both scoring and assist rate. Hummer averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds in his two games against Harvard, single-handedly willing the Tigers to victory at Jadwin in a game that kept Princeton in the Ivy race. Hummer’s heroics often hid the struggles of his surrounding pieces. The extent to which he carried this team was never more evident than during Princeton’s final three games. After Yale successfully took him out of the game, allowing Hummer just eight shots and nine points, the Princeton captain scored 21 points against Brown, but on 5-of-15 shooting and with four turnovers. Hummer continued to struggle against the rival Quakers, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with a 16-point, second-half outburst to keep the Tigers from losing each of their last three Ivy contests.
    Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League's best player. (Princeton athletics).

    Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League’s best player. (Princeton athletics)

    Hummer’s off nights were still exceedingly rare, as he scored in double-digits in all but three games this season. His deceptive athleticism has consistently buoyed Princeton in games against higher-level opponents, giving the Tigers a player on the floor that can clearly play with the best in college basketball. While this is a Player of the Year award and not a career achievement award, it’s hard not to see this distinction as a fitting celebration of four years of a caliber of basketball that this league rarely gets to see.

  • Coach of the Year: Tommy Amaker, Harvard – The Ivy League does not give out a formal Coach of the Year award, but it would be incredibly interesting to see who the main office picked in a year with some stellar candidates, including James Jones of Yale and Mike Martin of Brown. Amaker gets the nod here not just for winning the Ivy title, but for navigating a tricky season to continue his recent history of success. After the “Intro To Congress” cheating scandal rocked the campus and left Harvard without his star guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, Amaker faced a brutally tough non-conference slate with a starting five comprised of one returning starter, three lightly used sophomores and a freshman. The Crimson still managed to go 8-6 with road wins at Boston College and California, as well as a one-point loss at Saint Mary’s and a three-point loss at Massachusetts. Amaker also guided Harvard through a roller-coaster Ivy season, keeping his team focused even after it saw its lead slip away – a steady approach that led the Crimson to its third-straight Ivy title.
  • Rookie of the Year: Siyani Chambers, Harvard – From start to finish, the dynamic Crimson point guard electrified the league, taking over several games with his strong scoring ability and his nifty passing. Chambers finished 64th nationally in both assist rate (32.8 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (44 percent), while ranking fourth in the Ivy League in free throw percentage and fifth in free throws made. His performance was bigger than his mere offensive output, as there were no other true point guards in the rotation, which forced Chambers to log the fifth highest percentage of team minutes of any player in the nation.

    Shonn Miller's defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)

    Shonn Miller’s defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)

  • Defensive Player of the Year: Shonn Miller, Cornell – The Ivy League has rarely had so many pure interior shot blockers and rebounders as it has at present, making the race for this award incredibly tight. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith didn’t see enough floor time to qualify, and Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah was a clear contender as well. Anyone that followed Cornell’s final four games without Miller patrolling the interior can attest to how important he was to that Big Red squad. Miller finished in the Top 100 nationally in defensive rebounding rate, block rate and steal rate – the only Ivy player to rank that highly in all three.

RTC All-Ivy First Team

  • Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard – From the moment he led the team in scoring during Harvard’s preseason trip to Italy, everyone expected big things from the 6’5″ sophomore, and he delivered. Saunders had the second-highest offensive rating of any Ivy player using 24 percent or more of his team’s possessions and ranked 52nd nationally in free throw rate. Like Chambers, Saunders played grueling minutes – roughly 92 percent of his team’s total – and still took on the challenge of defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer every night.
  • Sean McGonagill, G, Brown – After a dismal 2011-12 campaign, in which McGonagill was forced to carry a terrible offense for vast stretches at a time, the junior guard finally got enough help to push the Bears all the way into the league’s upper division. The offense still ran through McGonagill, as he finished sixth in the league in assist rate and sixth in percentage of team shots taken, but the added talent around him allowed him to pick his spots and become a more efficient player. McGonagill’s most memorable performance was his final one this season, as he racked up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists against Princeton in an 80-67 upset win.
  • Shonn Miller, F, Cornell
  • Ian Hummer, F, Princeton
  • Siyani Chambers, G, Harvard

Game of the Year – Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT) – With less than two minutes remaining, a Harvard team that had looked so strong during the non-conference slate and had been nearly invincible at Lavietes Pavilion trailed Dartmouth by a seemingly insurmountable 10-point margin. Harvard guard Christian Webster buried a three-pointer to make the deficit seven with 90 seconds to play, but the Big Green made enough free throws to hold a six-point cushion with 45 ticks left. That’s when Webster drained another three and then knocked down another following a pair of Dartmouth free throws. Big Green guard John Golden came up empty on his trip to the stripe, and Chambers’ driving layup allowed Harvard to force overtime. The Crimson scored the first six points of the extra session and never looked back, completing a comeback win that, in hindsight, was critical to its NCAA hopes.

Final Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) – Ultimately, Harvard’s Ivy title hinged on one crucial coaching decision that Amaker made in the middle of the league season. The Crimson’s solidly Top 100 defense from the non-conference slate had been torn apart through the first six games of league play to the point that Harvard ranked dead last in the Ivies on that end of the floor. Enter Kenyatta Smith. The 6’8″, 250-pound sophomore had gone from a starter at the beginning of the year to a very lightly used reserve during December and January. With Harvard getting shredded inside, Amaker rolled the dice and went to the bench, and Smith delivered with an average of 17 points, eight boards and eight blocks during a home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The Crimson allowed just two of its final eight league opponents to eclipse a point per possession offensively after allowing five of its first six to do so.

    Kenyatta Smith was a huge reason for Harvard's eventual league championship. (The Crimson)

    Kenyatta Smith was a huge reason for Harvard’s eventual league championship. (The Crimson)

  2. Princeton (17-11, 10-4) – The Tigers became only the second team in the Pomeroy era to win the conference efficiency margin battle without winning at least a share of the Ivy title (Pennsylvania, 2004). While that’s hardly consolation for a team that won all but one first place vote in the league’s preseason media poll, it does accurately convey how dominant Princeton was at times during Ivy play. Ultimately though, it was Princeton’s 3-2 mark in close games, compared to Harvard’s 6-1 showing, that proved to be the difference in the title chase.
  3. Yale (14-17, 8-6) – The Ivy League won’t get a third postseason invite this year, but the Bulldogs are certainly deserving. While Yale went 4-11 versus Division I competition in non-conference play, that mark came against the nation’s 30th most difficult schedule and included just four games against teams outside the Top 200. After a 1-3 start in league play, the Bulldogs closed with a 7-3 record, tied with Harvard and a game better than Princeton over those final 10 games. With a weaker non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs might have been looking at another appearance in the CIT.
  4. Brown (13-15, 7-7) – Speaking of teams that are postseason worthy, the Bears likely came within a blown six-point lead with two minutes remaining against Pennsylvania of making the CIT. Matt Sullivan sparked a tepid offense over the final five games of the season, allowing Brown to come within that collapse against the Quakers of going 5-0 down the stretch and hitting the .500 mark. Sullivan will graduate following this season, but the remainder of Brown’s key pieces will return, meaning the momentum should carry over to 2013-14.
  5. Pennsylvania (9-22, 6-8) – Finishing anywhere but first fails to please the Quaker faithful, but the job Jerome Allen did to guide this team to a 6-8 Ivy record is remarkable. Pennsylvania lost its best player just 10 games into the season and watched as other pieces of the rotation struggled through injuries. While points were lacking for vast swaths of time, the Quakers’ consistently solid defense kept it in games, allowing it to grab some victories even with a struggling offense.
  6. Dartmouth (9-19, 5-9) – At 2-3 with a near miss against Harvard, the Big Green looked like it was primed to leave the Ivy cellar for the first time since 2009. It ultimately accomplished the feat, but not before dropping five straight games – four by double digits – and sinking back to the bottom of the league with two weekends to go. Dartmouth’s offense saved the day, though, scoring over a point per possession in each of its final four games and running off a 3-1 record over that stretch to finish tied for sixth in the league with Cornell.
  7. Columbia (12-16, 4-10) – The 8-6 non-conference record with a win over Villanova seemed to justify the Lions’ selection as the third-place team in the Ivy preseason media poll. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. Columbia stumbled out to a 1-4 league mark before an upset win over Harvard kept the Lions’ slim postseason hopes alive. The victory was merely a mirage, though, as Columbia went 2-6 over the remaining eight games to become the most disappointing Ivy team since 2005 Princeton. With guard Brian Barbour and center Mark Cisco graduating, it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Lions to avoid the basement of the Ivy standings next year as well.
  8. Cornell (13-18, 5-9) – Three Ivy weekends ago, the Big Red was a weekend home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton away from being a legitimate contender. Cornell lost both games to dash their hopes, but then things got really strange. Starting guard Johnathan Gray had already missed two games with an unspecified injury and was soon joined by guard Devin Cherry and All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller. Heading into the final weekend of the year, sophomore Galal Cancer decided to leave the Cornell program entirely. The result was an ugly six-game losing streak to close out the season, causing the Big Red to miss out on an upper division finish that had seemed like a lock just three weekends prior.

NCAA Representative – Harvard (Seed Prediction: #14): The daunting non-conference road schedule that had Harvard facing seven Top 100 Pomeroy teams will likely pay dividends in the seeding process. Sure, the Crimson only went 2-5 in those games, but it lost two of those five at the buzzer, potentially giving the committee something to think about from the “eye test” perspective. Enough conference tournament upsets have happened to push Harvard off the 15 line, while enough quality mid-majors have won their league’s bids to keep the Crimson from sneaking onto the 13 line. Any three-seed the Crimson would face will likely have very few weaknesses, but the best opponent for Harvard would be one that fouls a fair deal defensively and isn’t overly imposing inside. For the Crimson to pull off the upset, it will need to have its three-point shooters get hot and limit the second-chances defensively.

Other Expected Postseason Representatives: Princeton (CBI or CIT) - The Tigers’ non-conference struggles have pretty much erased any hopes of an NIT bid. Princeton will definitely receive an invite to the CBI or CIT. The CBI has been quite kind to the Tigers, as they’ve racked up three wins in their last two appearances in the 16-team tournament.

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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • Players of the Year – After once again earning Ivy Player of the Week honors on Monday, Princeton senior forward Ian Hummer officially set a single-season record with six such accolades. For the third time, the title was shared with Harvard sophomore swingman Wesley Saunders, who himself has been awarded Player of the Week honors on five occasions this season. The weekly awards don’t always capture the most important performance from the previous seven days, but they’ve done a good job highlighting the two players between which coaches will be torn for Player of the Year honors at the end of the season. Hummer and Saunders are dead even in offensive rating, each contributing 110 points per 100 possessions on the offensive end, though Hummer does have the edge in usage rate, consuming just over 30 percent, while Saunders checks in at 25 percent. Both players are charged with some heavy defensive responsibilities as well, often drawing the opponent’s toughest assignment. The edge will likely go to the senior Hummer, but each should be a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection.
Harvard's Wesley Saunders Is Giving Ian Hummer A Run For Ivy League POY Honors. (gocrimson.com)

Harvard’s Wesley Saunders Is Giving Ian Hummer A Run For Ivy League POY Honors. (gocrimson.com)

  • Postseason Berths – Cornell’s disappointing weekend getting swept by Pennsylvania and Princeton officially knocked the Big Red out of the Ivy title race, leaving the Tigers and Crimson as the only teams vying for the title. Both Harvard and Princeton will be in a postseason tournament of some sort – the winner to the NCAAs and the runner-up likely to the CBI or CIT. The postseason possibilities don’t end there for the Ivy League, though. Cornell currently sits at 13-14 and would need to go 3-1 in its final four games to eclipse the .500 threshold necessary for tournament consideration. Its position outside of the Top 200 in both Pomeroy and the RPI might seem to be a disqualifier, but with the CIT expanding to 32 teams and focusing exclusively on mid-majors, the Big Red’s odds of getting selected at 16-15 are still pretty decent. Columbia has a better Pomeroy profile and better top win (at Villanova) than Cornell, but would need to win out to get to .500 in league play. The Lions only need to go 3-1 to finish at .500 overall, but the 6-8 mark in the Ivies might be too much to overcome.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) – If there was ever a time to have a promising player finally realize his potential, it would be right before the biggest game of the year against your top league rival. Kenyatta Smith provided just that for the Crimson. Having played just 46 minutes combined over Harvard first six Ivy games, Smith got a surprise start against Pennsylvania and responded with 20 points, ten blocks and nine rebounds in 31 minutes. He followed that up with 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in just 20 minutes against Princeton. That the 6’8” center provided the interior defensive presence the Crimson desperately needed shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as Smith would be leading the nation in defensive rebounding rate and block rate if he had played the few more minutes per game necessary to qualify. The only thing keeping Smith on the bench now is foul trouble, which limited the big man to just 15 minutes per game in Harvard’s sweep of Brown and Yale last weekend. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2012

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

Looking Back

  • Forgetting November – After an opening month which saw Ivy teams go 19-32 and sink into the 30s in Conference RPI rank, the league has mounted a comeback during the first week of December. Ivy teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games, including three victories by minor underdogs (Princeton at Kent State, Harvard at Boston College, and Yale at Bryant). The momentum should help as the league enters another brutal stretch. Starting with the Crimson’s visit to Storrs tonight, league teams will be at least five-point underdogs in 27 out of the next 40 games. Included in those 40 games are 11 showdowns with Power Six schools, as well as a couple meetings with high-octane mid-majors Saint Mary’s and Bucknell. The league’s overall record should continue to suffer, but from a computer ranking perspective, respectable losses should keep the Ivies rising up the Conference RPI ranking ladder and stationary in the Pomeroy Ratings.
  • Forever Young – The biggest storyline of the nascent 2012-13 season has been the quality play from the league’s freshman and sophomore classes. Those two cohorts have combined to use 54.5 percent of Ivy possessions thus far at a respectable 0.95 points per possession. The juniors and seniors have hardly been much better, as the former have used just 19.5 percent of league possessions at 0.97 points per possession with the latter sitting at 26.0 percent and 0.99 PPP. While relatively weak production from the upperclassmen doesn’t bode well for this year’s edition of the Ivy League, the rising stars in the freshman and sophomore classes should have the league back in the teens in conference ranking rather quickly.
  • Team Ivy – If the Ivy League were to institute a conference challenge, it’s most logical opponent would be its geographic and philosophical neighbor, the Patriot League. It also happens to be the conference that Ivy teams schedule the most anyway with 19 meetings slated for this season. Only six have been played thus far with each side taking three. Given this year’s results, though, the Ivies might want to think about challenging the MAC, as they have gone a perfect 4-0 with just one more contest remaining. The league has racked up the most wins (five) against the America East conference but has dropped six games in that series. While this final record is rarely pretty, it is worth noting that, even in a down year, the Ivies are still a respectable 2-6 against Power Six competition.

Ian Hummer And The Tigers Have Stumbled Early, But Still Appear To Be In Good Shape With Conference Play Approaching.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Princeton (3-4) – The win at Kent State last weekend finally showcased the Tigers team most expected to see coming into the season. Princeton yielded just 50 points to the Golden Flashes on 64 possessions, the Tigers’ third-straight game holding an opponent to 0.8 points per possession or fewer. This Princeton squad is a lot like the 2009-10 edition of the Tigers – an inconsistent and generally below average offense carried by its ability to clamp down and generate tons of stops on the other end. As usual Princeton’s offensive inconsistency derives from its reliance on the three-point shot, which it hasn’t shot well in the absence of graduated sharpshooter Douglas Davis, and its inability to get to the free throw line for a steady stream of points. Read the rest of this entry »
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