Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.
O26 Team of the Week
Saint Mary’s. It’s a full month into the season and we still didn’t know much about the Gaels before last weekend. They were transfer-laden, proficient on offense and led by Brad Waldow (21.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) down low – that much we understood – but Randy Bennett’s club had yet to play a road contest (or even leave Moraga) through its first six games. And aside from a pair of solid wins over New Mexico State and UC Irvine, Saint Mary’s most noteworthy performance prior to Saturday was a 83-71 loss to Boise State on December 6. Was this team good? Mediocre? An at-large contender? Even if the Gaels’ 71-67 victory at Creighton over the weekend doesn’t fully answer all of those questions, it does make one thing clear: These guys are going to be competitive in the WCC.
Saint Mary’s pulled off a huge road victory in Omaha. (MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD)
Creighton entered Saturday on a 24-game home winning streak, an impressive run that coach Greg McDermott probably would have assumed safe if you had told him Waldow would end up with just 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting. “Obviously, our game plan was to slow down Waldow, because he’s such a big part of their offense,” McDermott said afterwards. Unfortunately for the Bluejays, the Saint Mary’s backcourt more than picked up the slack, as Stanford-transplant Aaron Bright scored 22 points and Kerry Carter dropped in 19. Equally as important was sophomore forward Dane Pineau, who – having never reached double figures in his career – stepped up enormously in wake of Waldow’s off night, scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting and ripping down 10 boards. The Gaels withstood an early-second half Creighton surge by responding with a 12-0 run of their own, ultimately forcing an extra period – where Bright and Pineau sealed the deal. Now at 6-1 and with a marquee road victory under its belt, Saint Mary’s looks capable of challenging BYU for second-best in the WCC and putting itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion. This weekend’s victory at the CenturyLink Center could go a long way.
We have been focusing quite a bit on the academic scandals at North Carolina and Syracuse quite a bit recently, but the one that is reported to to have occurred at Southern Mississippi might lead to more immediate repercussions. According to Jason King, current Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is alleged to have used a scheme where “Prop 48″ recruits were reimbursed for tuition, living expenses, and other fees prior to qualifying for scholarships. At issue is the way these recruits were reimbursed. As Gary Parrish points out it would be relatively easy for a program to pull something similar off, but it would require more subtlety. While potential NCAA sanctions against Southern Mississippi are obviously a concern, we are almost more interested in what will happen at Tennessee where they hired Tyndall in the wake of Cuonzo Martin’s departure and are still in the shadow of Bruce Pearl’s NCAA violations. We wouldn’t put it on the level of Rutgers’ inability to vet candidates, but it might not be that far off.
If you are a regular reader of the Morning Five, you are already somewhat familiar with our opinion of the graduate transfer waiver. The rule essentially allows a player who completes an undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining to transfer to another institution without having to sit out a year as long as they are enrolling in a graduate degree program that is not available at their previous school. The NCAA decided to look into how often those individuals actually complete the degree and the numbers are not pretty. Of the graduate student transfers they were able to track between 2011 and 2012, only 32% of men’s basketball players graduated from those programs and 59% withdrew as soon as their eligibility expired. We would be interested in seeing more details on this, but these statistics add ammunition to those who question the true intent behind many of these graduate student transfers. This is not to say that the waiver should be eliminated, but that schools and coaches who claim to oppose it should probably take a better look at the apparent intents of these transfers if they want to keep talking about being educational institutions.
Many consider Ivy League sports archaic, but few would consider their rules as being detrimental to education. That is except in the case of Columbia forward Alex Rosenberg, who will miss the upcoming season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot and withdrew from school this year due to an Ivy League rule that makes it essentially impossible to get a medical redshirt. On some level we understand the theory that the student-athlete should be there for school first and staying a fifth year just to play basketball seems to be a fairly trivial thing, but in a situation like this it is actually hindering his educational experience. On the bright side, it will mean that Columbia should get Rosenberg, who was a first-team All-Ivy selection last season while averaging 16 points per game on 43 percent from 3-point range, for the full 2015-16 season rather than just part of this season at most. Given the way that the Ivy League awards its automatic bid–regular season champ–this solution might work out for the best for Columbia.
We can always count on the NCAA to make rulings much more complex than they need to be. Yesterday, Wisconsin put out a press release saying that forward Duje Dukan had regained a year of eligibility and would be able to play this season. As Eric Clark points out, the issue is more complex than that as Dukan was denied a medical redshirt for mononucleosis during the 2012-13 season, but played in a secret scrimmage and an exhibition game that year before shutting down for the season. Although the NCAA is giving Dukan his season back they are saying that he will have to sit out for two games this season (basically two games for every game he played that year with the secret scrimmage apparently not counting toward that total). In the end, Dukan missing games against Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga will not matter in the overall picture for Wisconsin’s season, but it does serve to highlight the absurdity of some of the NCAA’s rules.
With the way that everything in sports are being commercialized, we do find it a little interesting that Bill Raftery is just getting around to filing a trademark for some of his (not quite yet) trademark phrases. Raftery is applying for trademarks for the phrases “Onions” and “With a kiss” when used during a sports broadcast or on athletic apparel. Given how well Raftery is associated with those phrases it certainly makes sense for him to cash in and collect a little money for himself and his family going forward. We are a little surprised he didn’t apply for a trademark for “Send it in, Jerome”, but we guess there are not that many situations where you could use that.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @ivybball.
The Forty Year Cycle – On October 31, the AP made official what many had presumed might happen all summer, as Harvard was revealed as a Top 25 team in the preseason basketball writers’ poll. The Crimson became the first Ivy team since Penn in 1974-75 to crack the AP preseason poll, although for the Quakers that was the last of five consecutive appearances in the preseason rankings. In fact, Penn spent time in the AP poll during eight of the 10 seasons in the 1970s, reaching as high as #2 in 1972 and finishing at #3 in 1971 and 1972 after runs to the NCAA regional finals in each season. Harvard reached as high as #22 in the AP poll in 2012 before receiving votes but never cracking the list last season.
Once again, Tommy Amaker’s crew leads a talented Ivy League contingent. (Harvard Athletics)
Mourning on the Heights – It started with the departures of guard Meiko Lyles and forward Zach En’Wezoh, both of whom were removed from the roster unexpectedly last month. Lyles would be a loss that would hurt Columbia’s depth, but wouldn’t derail the Lions’ steady march to the top of the league ladder. But then, Columbia announced even more stunning news, as All-Ivy forward Alex Rosenberg fractured his foot in practice. That injury is expected to sideline Rosenberg until potentially the start of league play, leaving the 6’7″ forward with a tough decision as to whether to rush back for the 2014-15 campaign or to skip the entire season and apply for a fifth-year waiver. If Rosenberg misses the entire 2014-15 campaign, Columbia will likely struggle to hang on to a spot in the upper division of what will be an incredibly deep and talented Ivy League this season.
Preseason Praise – It’s not just Harvard earning the praise of the pundits heading into the 2014-15 campaign. In Dan Hanner and Luke Winn’s #1-#351 Division I rankings, six Ivy teams were ranked #169 or higher, including five in the Top 150. Hanner also rated the Ivy League as the strongest mid-major conference in college basketball (12th best overall). Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings were a little more conservative, but still had five Ivies in the top 200 and four rated at #135 or better. Pomeroy rated the league as the 14th best league in the country with an average Pythagorean winning percentage just shy of .500, which would be a record for the Ivies in the Pomeroy era.
The past 10 days have been especially fraught with injuries and suspensions and ineligibility rulings, many of which are sure to affect conference races across the Other 26. Let’s examine some of the major losses and their impact as the season approaches:
Isaac Fotu’s career might be over at Hawaii. (Charles Simmons/chasingthemomentphoto.com)
Isaac Fotu– F – Hawaii. Just a couple days after head coach Gib Arnold was abruptly fired, Hawaii lost its best player last week when Fotu was ruled ineligible due to an ongoing improper benefits investigation. The 6’8’’ all-conference forward averaged 14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG a year ago and figured to at least keep the Warriors competitive in the Big West. Without him, the outlook is much grimmer. Christian Standhardinger – last year’s leading scorer and rebounder – graduated and starting point guard Keith Shamburger transferred to Missouri, leaving shooting guard Garrett Nevels (13.1 PPG) as Hawaii’s lone returning starter. In fact, he will be the only returner who averaged more than five points per game in 2013-14, meaning Hawaii is effectively a collection of young, unproven players adapting to a new coach with the season opener right around the corner. If Fotu does not return – which appears to be the case, as of late Monday night – this could be a rough season in Honolulu. Read the rest of this entry »
Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Northeastern U.S: the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Northeast Conference and Patriot League.
Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-15. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Harvard – 2013-14 record: 27-5 (13-1). After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for 66 straight years, Harvard suddenly finds itself in position to reach a fourth straight Big Dance. But just as times have changed, so have expectations — not only is Tommy Amaker’s club tabbed to win another Ivy League title, many expect it to do more damage in the postseason. Those lofty expectations can be largely attributed to the return of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. Chambers is a precocious third-year point guard who has proven himself to be a gifted distributor and quality outside shooter (40.2% 3FG on his career), while Saunders is the team’s top scorer, best perimeter defender and reigning conference Player of the Year. And yet, despite those two, Harvard’s biggest strength might actually be in its frontcourt, which features a deep stable of athletic forwards who should wear down Ivy opponents in the paint. Best among them is Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6’7″ Cameroonian who logged a double-double against Michigan State in the Round of 32 last March. Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Kenyatta Smith, Zena Edosomwan — the list of expected contributors seems endless, and if the Crimson can avoid injury to its guards, a sustained presence in the Top 25 is a legitimate possibility.
Yale – 2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5). Yale was the only Ivy League unit to knock off the Crimson last season, so with the majority of its starting five back, the Bulldogs should present the most serious threat to Harvard’s crown. Most crucial among the returnees is Justin Sears, a 6’8″ junior who was something of a statistical machine last season: The forward averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game, ranked in the top 100 nationally in block rate and drew over seven fouls per 40 minutes. With Javier Duren (13.6 PPG) pacing things in the backcourt and veteran guys like Armani Cotton and Matt Townsend shoring things up down low, Yale fans can expect another top-three Ivy League finish.
Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on February 21st, 2014
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Ivy Race Reset – While 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be doled out following the sometimes wild and often thrilling conference tournaments, the remaining one gets decided during the two-month grind known as The 14-Game Tournament. The upside of the Ivy’s unique structure is that (usually) the best team represents the league. The downside is that many teams are effectively eliminated by the middle of February. While Cornell is the only Ivy squad that has been mathematically eliminated from the title chase, four more teams sitting on four or more league losses (Columbia, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth) would essentially need too much help to fathom. That leaves the co-leaders Harvard and Yale, both at 7-1, and third-place Brown (5-3) as the remaining contenders for the Ivy auto bid. The Crimson remains the odds-on favorite with a +0.22 points per possession margin in league play, well ahead of both Yale (+0.08) and Brown (+0.07). If the Ivy season were 140 games long, that efficiency differential might slowly allow Harvard to separate itself from the pack, but with just six games remaining in The 14-Game Tournament, not nearly enough time remains to assume that the Bulldogs will regress to the mean.
Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)
Historic Postseason Eligibility – During the 2011-2012 season, the Ivy League sent four teams to the postseason and nearly had a fifth until Columbia lost six out of its last seven games. It was viewed as another watershed moment for a league which had just two years earlier sent its first representative to the Sweet 16 in the 64-team era. While the league continues to play competitively at the top, as shown by Harvard’s win over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament last season, the depth of the Ivies has been the most surprising development. Princeton and Columbia sit just one win away from clinching postseason eligibility, while Yale and Brown need just two victories to join the party as well. Assuming those four clear that modest hurdle, they will join the Crimson to give the league five postseason-eligible teams for the first time in the modern era. Read the rest of this entry »
Death of #2BidIvy – Any slim hopes the league had of a second bid died in the span of just three days earlier this month, but the actual burial proceedings occurred on Tuesday of this week. Harvard had to go for its second top 50 win at Connecticut without its star Wesley Saunders on January 8, falling in Storrs by five; but the Crimson followed that up with a massive stinker in the form of a 15-point loss at Florida Atlantic. For those of you wondering at home, FAU is currently 7-12 overall and ranked #200 in the latest KenPom rankings. The Owls have lost to St. Francis (NY), DePaul, Stetson, Detroit, and Elon this season, among others. There is now no realistic scenario where the Ivy League would have a shot at a second NCAA bid, even if Princeton or another team wins the league. It appears that the dream of a two-bid Ivy will most definitely have to wait another year.
Wesley Sanders Was Back But Harvard Couldn’t Get Past FAU (Getty)
Losing Steam – The start of Ivy play couldn’t have come sooner, as the league’s hot start began to fade over winter break and into early January. After rising as high as 13th in the Pomeroy and RPI ratings, the Ivies have settled to 16th and 19th in those systems, respectively. While the actual rating is still a Pomeroy-era record, the Ivies clearly haven’t played the same level of basketball since the December exam break. Still, the league should easily receive three postseason invites (Harvard, Princeton and Columbia) with the possibility of a couple more if the Ivy wins break the right way.
On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.
Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.
Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.
For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents
A Couple Of Old Big East Friends
In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.
Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on November 6th, 2013
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Best Ivy Team Ever? Every league preview from this summer and fall seemed to start with the assumption that Harvard would not only cruise to the Ivy title, but that it could very well end up as the best team the league has ever seen. Putting aside the great Penn teams of the 1970s – one of which reached the Final Four and two others which finished third in the final AP poll – it’s extremely tenuous to predict that the Crimson will even end up as the best Ivy team of the 64-team era. The 1998 edition of the Princeton Tigers set that bar, finishing the regular season with just one loss and nabbing a #5 seed before falling to Michigan State in the round of 32. While that’s the best known example, five other Ivy teams spent some time in the national polls, including Princeton’s 1991 squad, which lost by two to Villanova as a #8 seed in the first round. Two Penn teams from the mid-90s cracked the Top 25 and one scored an NCAA win as a #11 seed, while Harvard and Cornell recently rode appearances in the Top 25 to #12 seeds with the latter advancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Given that most pundits have the 2013-14 Crimson as a fringe Top 25 team, it would seem that the hype about Harvard possibly being the best Ivy ever is mostly indicative of how soon most have forgotten the very good Ivy teams of the recent past.
There will be plenty of teams gunning for Harvard this season. (AP)
Going Digital – Just two years ago, the Ivy League office took a ton of flak as it struggled to farm out its premier basketball properties to television or even specialty streaming channels like ESPN3. Only six Ivy League contests were picked up that season, despite a dramatic race which ended where Princeton defeated the rival Quakers to send Harvard to its first NCAA Tournament in over 65 years. Last season, that number crept to nine broadcasts with the new league television deal with NBC Sports Network, but still the only way to watch Brown defeat Princeton to send Harvard back to the Big Dance was via a grainy web feed. Shortly after the season ended, however, the league announced a massive new infrastructure project to merge all of the web feeds into one Ivy Digital channel and provide professional, multi-camera, high-definition broadcasts of all events for the league’s revenue sports. Now, simply by paying one flat fee (roughly $100 for all sports), fans can watch any Ivy home contest and all league games without having to buy each individual school’s package and could access every game in one place. Add in features like quad view, which can allow viewers to watch four games at once, and the Ivy basketball fan has everything he or she needs to keep live tabs on the league race as it unfolds on Friday and Saturday nights in February and March.
Stability in an Unstable World– While the Ivy League and its core eight institutions weathered the conference realignment storm without even a joking rumor about possible new arrivals or departures, pardon the players and coaches if they stumble over the new affiliations of some of their non-conference foes this season. The four conferences that the Ivies have played the most over the past two seasons (America East, Patriot, NEC and the Atlantic 10) all underwent varying levels of changes, and that’s before considering the six games the league will play against the American Athletic Conference, which didn’t even exist last season. The result of all the chaos is a composite schedule with a diverse set of non-conference opponents, as Ivy teams will play members of 23 different leagues this season.
After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.
Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.
Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)
There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing, but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.