Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
The Not Ready For Prime Time Players
It probably started with the nationally acclaimed recruiting class. It picked up momentum in early December when Jeremy Lin and his 30 points nearly singlehandedly upset then-Big East powerhouse UConn.
It gathered steam with a victory against Boston College, followed soon by a seven-game winning streak. And it came to a boiling point with stories in Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal prior to a showdown with Cornell.
We are talking about expectations…specifically those for the Harvard Crimson. The trouble with expectations is that they rarely turn out as you would hopefully…expect. And in this case, they exploded on Jan. 30 when Cornell administered an 86-50 dose of reality. In retrospect, perhaps we were all guilty of anointing Harvard as a serious Ivy threat too soon. After all, its roster is composed of — amazingly — seven sophomores and seven freshmen. And its schedule, aside from a brutal three-game stretch against UConn, B.C. and Georgetown in December, was ultra-soft. The combined records of the schools Harvard has beaten (not counting Division III neighbor MIT and considering vanquished Ivy foes only once) stands at 152-224, and that figure is somewhat softened by William & Mary at 19-8.
In fact, Harvard has beaten only THREE teams with a winning record — the aforementioned Tribe (thrashed in their BracketBuster game by Iona), BU, and GW. None of those inspire fear. Harvard has lost to the other five teams on their schedule with winning records — Army, UConn, Georgetown, Cornell (twice), and Princeton. The latter three games represent the defining moments of Harvard’s season. Given his coaching history, Tommy Amaker is an easy target. But with a youthful roster, a resurgent and rebuilt Princeton team, and a powerhouse up in Ithaca, it is clear that all those expectations were, indeed, unrealistic.
The true measure of this team will come in succeeding seasons. Will all those recruits stay happy and keep coming — knowing that, while they will receive a superb education, they will play in relative obscurity? Cornell loses much of its strength via graduation but Princeton is back to where Princeton expects (there’s that word again) to be and Penn may be on that road as well. Harvard may likely be the sexy Ivy pick for the 2010-11 season and with it will come more … expectations.
A Non-Ivy Footnote (or, Six Degrees of Separation from Craig Robinson)
It has been a month since President Barack Obama sat down with Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg at halftime of the Georgetown-Duke game. And it got me thinking. Now, nothing against Special K, who we remember as a dominant forward for THE Ohio State University and who we regard as one of the finest nuts-and-bolts analysts of the college game. But we lament the fact that CBS decided to break up the Lundquist/Bill Raftery team. Their rapport and repartee was delightful, sometimes irreverent, and always spontaneous and unrehearsed. It was definitely good for a few laughs, especially during the most one-sided games. Imagine if they were still together for Barack Banter at halftime. We would have found out if he had suggested to his campaign contributors to “send it in”; if he addressed Congress as a group or “mantaman”; or if he tucked his daughters in at night with a “kiiisss” and if he left Michelle with some of her “lingerie on the deck”; and most importantly, could he deal with some of the problems in the Middle East with “onions!”
And now on to the power rankings. With two weekends of Ivy play remaining, the top spots, while technically still up for grabs, are sorting themselves out. The middle is a muddle. And at the bottom, even Dartmouth broke into the win column. Here’s how we see it:
- Cornell (9-1, 23-4): The Big Red recovered from the Score Heard ‘Round the World (a 79-64 loss to Penn for those of you more interested in triple salchows) with three straight workmanlike victories. They took over undisputed possession of first place by beating Princeton at their own game — holding them to 45 points and 36% shooting. Then they shot the lights out versus Harvard (50% FG, 52% from three) and Dartmouth (57% FG, 60% from three) to finish their four-game road trip. A third straight trip to the Dance should be coming soon.
- Princeton (7-2, 16-7): The loss to Cornell at home was understandable. The loss to Brown at home was inexcusable — especially for a team that was still in contention for Ivy crown. They allowed the Bears to shoot 58% and score 57 points, five more than their NCAA-leading defensive scoring average. An opportunity for atonement arrives tonight when the Tigers travel to Ithaca — a game which represents the last chance for some down-to-the-wire Ivy excitement.
- Harvard (7-3, 18-6): Only a possible shot at second place (and perhaps some post-season-play in a tourney not named NCAA) likely awaits the Crimson thanks to that Feb. 19 loss to Cornell. That shot at the runner-up spot will come on March 6 when they close the season at Princeton. It is hard to imagine a likely 20-win season being disappointing (see above) for any Ivy team, but the goals were higher in Cambridge. The good news is that while Harvard will lose Jeremy Lin, they will return 15 out of the 18 players on their roster.
- Brown (4-6,10-17): OK, so, why the Bears to round out the top half of the conference and not Penn? Here’s the logic: they have split games so head-to-head doesn’t apply. Brown has a better overall record, albeit against a weaker schedule. And while they both have games vs. Harvard and Cornell still remaining, Penn visits Princeton to end the season. So this ranking is a projection. Besides we applaud Brown’s rare (for any Ivy team over the past 30 years) southern double weekend-road wins vs. Penn and Princeton.
- Penn (4-5, 5-18): This could have been a resurgence, redemption, replacement (as in coaching) and an all-is right-with-the-world paragraph. Instead, the postgame euphoria that was evident after the Doug Gottllieb hyperbole win versus Cornell was followed by three straight home losses. With road contests against Cornell and Princeton sandwiched around a home date with Harvard, the hopes for a .500 conference record look bleak — but with almost everyone returning next season, more Palestra magic will be back again soon.
- Yale (4-6, 10-17): The Elis have exactly the same record as Brown and a better overall record than Penn. But they are kind of like 2009 football Giants — they get their wins against the teams they are supposed to beat. Their only wins in their last seven games have come at the expense of bottom-feeders Columbia and Dartmouth. And their lost loss to Penn definitively relegated them the sixth spot in the power rankings.
- Columbia (3-7, 9-15): The disappointing Lions appear to have a firm grasp of seventh place. A road win at the Palestra (thanks to Niko Scott’s 29 points and an amazing seven 3-pointers) is the only thing that has kept Columbia from a five-game losing streak. They would need to win their last four games (unlikely) to keep Coach Joe Jones’ string of .500 conference seasons intact.
- Dartmouth (1-9, 5-19): A victory on Feb. 19 vs. Columbia averted a winless conference season for the Big Green. The good news is that they have actually had at least two players in double figures in their last three games — led by junior guard Ronnie Dixon with 46 points during that span. The glass half full approach in Hanover (for a team that ranks 326 out of 347 in RPI) has to be that five out of the top six scorers return. Come to think of it, that may be the glass half empty approach as well.