Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.
Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)
Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.
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
In by far the toughest Ivy since the 1970s, Harvard delivered exactly as expected, slogging through the treacherous league slate with a 12-2 mark and a second Ivy title. What wasn’t expected was the company the Crimson would have at the top. The average expectation had no other Ivy teams eclipsing the 10-win plateau, but Penn paid no heed to those projections. After losing to Harvard 56-50 at home to fall two games off the pace, the Quakers ripped off an amazing stretch of seven straight wins to climb even in the loss column after the final Ivy back-to-back weekend. But tradition left Penn with work to do. Its second-most difficult game of the season still remained – the annual meeting with rival Princeton after the rest of the league’s regular seasons had already drawn to a close. The Tigers double-teamed Quaker star Zack Rosen all game, stifling the Penn offense, and executed efficiently on the other end, cruising to a 10-point victory and ending the Quakers’ title hopes.
It was a historic year for the league by a variety of metrics. The league has never posted a higher Pomeroy Rating in the efficiency era, has never had seven non-conference wins over Pomeroy Top 100 teams in a season, and has never had a higher ranked team in the Pomeroy era than Harvard at No. 37. It is also currently hanging on to the 13th spot in the Conference RPI rankings, which would eclipse the 2001-02 mark of 14th, and could have as many as four teams earn postseason bids. With so many pivotal seniors, it will be hard for the Ivies to avoid a collective step back, but with a solid incoming freshman class, don’t expect a return to the dark ages of 2008 and 2009.
Tommy Amaker and Harvard Paced An Outstanding Ivy League Campaign (AP)
Yale and Princeton each posted solid campaigns, flirting with the RPI Top 100 for most of the season and building postseason-worthy resumes – the former by its quantity of wins and the latter with its quality. Columbia had a great non-conference run followed by an incredibly unlucky Ivy campaign, while Cornell did just the opposite, stumbling a bit outside the league, before putting together a solid 7-7 mark in Ivy play. Brown and Dartmouth had forgettable seasons, but the Bears will return several players from injury and ineligibility while the Big Green will see its talented freshmen continue to grow and mature.
Matt Patton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Saturday’s Harvard-Penn game in Cambridge.
With just under two minutes and thirty seconds left to play in the biggest Ivy League matchup of the season, Zack Rosen cut Harvard‘s lead over Penn to one. The lead had gradually dwindled from nine points six and a half minutes earlier, despite four opportunities for the Crimson to push the lead to double digits. Forty seconds later Henry Brooks fouled out, sending Kyle Casey to the charity stripe where he re-upped Harvard’s lead to three. Rosen answered again. A missed three from Harvard senior co-captain Oliver McNally meant the Quakers possessed the ball with just under a minute left only down one.
Zack Rosen Scored Penn's Last 9 Points to Lead the Quakers over Harvard. (credit: Meghan Cadet / Daily Pennsylvanian)
This was Harvard’s year. The Crimson are the most deep, talented, and experienced team in the Ivy League. Talk to coach Tommy Amaker and he’ll praise the team’s “bench and balance” repeatedly. Prior to conference play, the only true slip-up for the Crimson was their loss at Fordham. Amaker’s team (which didn’t lose any players from last year’s team) blitzed the nonconference slate compared to its prospective challengers. Princeton started the season 1-5 before finally righting the ship; Yale fared slightly better, but against far worse competition; and Penn couldn’t crack .500. After drubbing Yale on the road 65-35, the Harvard hype grew to an all-time high.
After Fran Dougherty grabbed an offensive board, Penn coach Jerome Allen called a timeout. Everyone in sold out Laveites Pavilion knew where the ball was headed. Rosen owned the Quakers’ last seven points. This was his moment. The senior inbounded the ball, immediately stepping in and taking a handoff from Rob Belcore near halfcourt. Rosen proceeded to drive straight past Brandyn Curry, the Ivy League’s best on-ball defender, forcing Casey to send him to the line with 23 seconds left.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Perfect No More: Heading into last weekend’s back-to-back, Harvard held a one-game lead and an undefeated mark in Ivy play. The trip to Penn and Princeton claimed the latter, but the Crimson survived with the former intact, as Harvard remains a game ahead of both Penn and Yale in the loss column and two games up on Princeton and Cornell. The Crimson got its most important win of the season on Friday night at The Palestra, as freshman Corbin Miller scored 17 points in just 18 minutes and Kyle Casey added 15 to hold off a pesky Quaker squad 56-50. Miller and Casey combined to shoot 11-19 from the field and 4-8 from three, while the remaining players from both squads connected at an anemic 28% clip. Casey and Miller continued their solid play the following night at Jadwin Gym against Princeton and even got some help from Brandyn Curry and Keith Wright, who combined for 31 points on 12-21 shooting. It was the defense that betrayed the Crimson against the Tigers though as Princeton shredded the Harvard defense with effective back door cuts and well-executed post isolation mismatches. The Crimson cut a 10-point Tigers lead to four with under a minute to go, but Princeton went 7-8 from the line to clinch a 70-62 victory. Harvard had been looking for its first win at Jadwin since 1989 and first road sweep of Penn and Princeton since 1985. Ivy teams have combined for just seven sweeps of the Quakers and Tigers on the road in league history.
Collapse Of All Collapses: Don’t take a look at this Ken Pomeroy Win Probability chart if you are a Columbia fan, but otherwise prepare to be astonished. Just ten minutes away from having to turn its attention to the postseason’s smaller dances, Yale ripped off a 26-5 run to end the game, overcoming a 20-point deficit and keeping itself in the midst of the Ivy race. The Lions might have long been out of the title chase, but the loss was still incredibly damaging. With five teams from the Ivy League likely to finish above .500, the race for postseason slots will be incredibly competitive and Columbia’s profile is one of the weakest of that group. Getting swept by the other team with a weak profile (Yale) is probably the best way to ensure being the odd man out in the selection process.
RTC Ivy Award Favorites
Player of the Year – Zack Rosen, Penn: He’s been the front-runner from start to finish. Rosen is second in points produced per game (a metric that includes all contributions to offense, not just points scored) and has an Adjusted Offensive Rating of 107 on 28% usage during league play. Watch Out For: Brian Barbour, Columbia; Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton
If The Season Ended Today, Penn's Zack Rosen (1) Would Be Our RTC Ivy League Player of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year – Brandyn Curry, Harvard: He leads the league by a mile in Defensive Plus-Minus and has been great at generating steals and forcing five-second calls. Since its inception, the award has gone to forwards and centers, but this might be the first time that a guard takes home the hardware. Watch Out For: Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton
Rookie of the Year – J’Vonte Brooks, Dartmouth: This one has turned into a two-horse race for the title with Cornell’s Shonn Miller being very deserving as well. Brooks has given Ivy defenses fits as he has bullied his way to the free throw line early and often, posting a Free Throw Rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) of 94%. His turnover rate is alarmingly high, but on a team without many offensive creators, that’s a drawback that Dartmouth can easily accept. Watch Out For: Shonn Miller, Cornell
Coach of the Year – Jerome Allen, Penn: It’s hard to argue with the statement that the Quakers have overachieved the most this season, though Kyle Smith and Columbia would have a case if the Lions hadn’t fallen so quickly in league play. Allen might be unfairly benefiting from Rosen’s unbelievable offensive performance, but he’s a win away from setting the high-water mark in victories since Penn last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Watch Out For: Kyle Smith, Columbia; Mitch Henderson, Princeton
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Contenders and Pretenders: The first Ivy League back-to-back weekend is in the books, though for only half of the league’s teams. In true 14-game tournament fashion, it took just one weekend for the Ivy title race to change pretty drastically. With a road sweep of Cornell and Columbia, Pennsylvania immediately vaulted into the number one contender spot behind Harvard. The New York trip will be the second-toughest in the Ivies this season (the Princeton/Philadelphia swing will be slightly more treacherous), so escaping it with a 2-0 mark puts the Quakers in great shape to hang around the title race deep into the season.
Zack Rosen And The Quakers Hope They Have All Their Kinks Ironed Out So They Can Make A Run At Harvard.
The weekend wasn’t as kind to Columbia, which had two separate comeback bids fall short against Pennsylvania and Princeton, losing both games by a combined six points. The Lions had entered Ivy play at 9-1 in their last ten games, but all it takes is one rough back-to-back to see title hopes get dashed. Columbia still has a chance at a postseason berth in one of the 16-team events, but will likely need to close with eight or nine wins in its final 12 games – a slate that includes two meetings with Harvard.
The Tigers and Big Red emerged from the weekend alive, but endangered.Princeton is in better shape than Cornell, as road splits are excusable, while home splits can be deadly. The Tigers face the daunting task of playing their first five games on the road, which also means seven of the final nine at home, so Princeton can fall a little behind early and still maintain a realistic hope to catch the leaders down the stretch. Cornell doesn’t have that luxury. The Big Red must sweep travel partner Columbia over the next two weeks to stay in the race and set the table for a battle with preseason favorite Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion.
Yale survived a surprising scare at home against lowly Brown, trailing by seven at the half and six with just over three minutes to go before closing the game on a 13-3 run. The Bulldogs look to complete the sweep this weekend to remain perfect heading into their meeting with Harvard on January 27. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Defense Reigns Supreme: A year after having five teams scoring more than one point per possession, the Ivies have struggled out of the gate this season with just one team over that mark. The league has compensated with defense and in a big way. While three teams are allowing more than one point per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, removing his preseason weighting reveals that only one (Brown) is above that line based on this season’s performance alone. Considering that from 2004-11, only seven Ivy teams total had allowed less than a point per possession, the defensive transformation this season has been nothing short of remarkable.
The league’s best defensive unit thus far has been preseason favorite Harvard. The Crimson’s potent offense hit the brakes in the Bahamas, but it more than compensated by suffocating opponents on the opposite end of the floor. Harvard scored just 14 points in the first half against Florida State, but that was good enough for a share of the lead. The Crimson continued the staunch defense in the second half, closing out a 46-41 win over the then-#22 Seminoles. It was the second-consecutive game where Harvard held its opponent to under 50 points, a streak which would continue in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Central Florida and through the next week at Vermont. Seattle finally broke the streak in a big way, putting up 70 on the Crimson, but on 70 possessions, it just barely the first time the Crimson had allowed an opponent to hit a point per possession this season.
Harvard isn’t the only Ivy shutting teams down on the defensive end of the court though. Princeton held a Top 100 Buffalo squad to just 0.76 points per trip in a 61-53 victory, and Cornell also held the Bulls to just 0.95 points per possession earlier in the year, but couldn’t score enough to avoid a nine-point defeat. Columbia has held its last four Division I opponents to 0.67, 0.93, 0.88 and 0.71 points per trip, and three of those four contests were road or neutral site games.
Poll Position: It’s not common to have a Top 25 section in an Ivy League Check In, but this week, the Crimson cracked the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #24 and the AP Poll at #25. It was the first time that an Ivy squad made either poll since 2010, when Cornell finished at #17 in the Coaches Poll, and the first time a league team made the AP Poll since 1998, when Princeton climbed as high as #8. Harvard’s entrance marks the first time in school history that it has been ranked in either poll, leaving Brown as the only Ivy team never to have made the cut.
Struggling and Absent Stars: If the Ivies want to hang on to a conference rating in the teens, they will have to do it without some injured stars and some other pivotal players who have slightly to drastically underperformed expectations thus far. Columbia senior guard Noruwa Agho, who made First Team All-Ivy last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Brown junior forward Tucker Halpern, who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy last season, has yet to play, and there are no indications that he will be back any time soon. Finally, Cornell junior forward Errick Peck, who was poised for a breakout campaign, has yet to hit the floor for the Big Red. To compound matters, some freshmen of whom big things were expected, including Penn forward GregLouis and Bears center Rafael Maia, have lost the season due to injury and foreign transfer eligibility rules, respectively.
While the three remaining returnees from the First Team All-Ivy squad – Quakers guard ZackRosen, Yale center Greg Mangano and Crimson center Keith Wright – have carried over their stellar play, the remainder of last year’s All-Ivy team has posted some mixed results. Big Red guard Chris Wroblewski has shot an anemic 32.0 eFG% from the field and Harvard guards Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry haven’t hit at much higher clips (37.0 and 38.3 eFG%, respectively), though Curry’s solid assist rates have kept his offensive rating afloat. All told, that’s three graduations, two extended injuries and three underperforming stars from last year’s 14-player All-Ivy roster. That the league has managed to exceed last season’s performance thus far is a testament to the strong freshman class and the quality of the Ivies’ depth.
Kyle Casey Is In The Middle Of The Buzz Surrounding Harvard. Will They Stay Ranked After Thursday's Loss To Connecticut?
Harvard (8-1) – It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the Crimson has taken care of business every time out, with the lone setback being Thursday night’s loss at Connecticut. The biggest difference between this year and last has been the depth provided by Tommy Amaker’s talented 2011 class. Forward Steve Moundou-Missi provides strong defense and good finishing skills around the rim, while swingman Wesley Saunders can shut down opposing perimeter players and is hard to defend on drives to the basket. The contributions from the rookies don’t end there, though. Forward Jonah Travis put up a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against Seattle and guard CorbinMiller has knocked down seven of his first 10 threes. Both went quiet against the Huskies, but expect more consistent performances once the competition falls back to its usual level.
Yale (7-2) – The four-man unit of guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite and big men JeremiahKreisberg and Greg Mangano has been as good as any top four in the league. Depth, however, is lacking. Coach James Jones has given 11 different guys at least 10 percent of team minutes thus far and has yet to find a group of rotation players that can help on the offensive end consistently. The Bulldogs have taken care of business during a weak stretch, winning each of its last five contests to head into the exam break at 7-2 on the year. With the brutal back-to-back Ivy schedule, it is imperative that Yale find some options off the bench if it hopes to join the conversation with Harvard at the top of the league.
Pennsylvania (5-5) – Senior guard Zack Rosen has been all that’s stood between the Quakers and disaster this season, but it’s been enough to make Pennsylvania a bit of a surprise. The Quakers’ record isn’t all that impressive, but its worst loss is to Pomeroy Top 150 James Madison, and it has already posted a Top 100 win over Robert Morris. Having been a Big 5 punching bag lately, Pennsylvania took Temple to overtime and lost at Villanova by eight – strong showings in what will be a competitive race for the title of Best in Philly.
Princeton (4-5) – The question isn’t whether there are championship pieces here; rather, the question is whether there are enough. Senior guard Doug Davis and junior forward Ian Hummer have combined to use over 50 percent of Princeton’s possessions at an offensive rating over 100 when they’re on the floor, but the offense has still stagnated, as the Tigers haven’t been able to come close to replacing the output of graduated stars Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox. Princeton has played the second-best defense in the league thus far, which has kept it oddly competitive at times, but it is only 3-2 in D-I games when it holds the opponent under a point per possession, meaning that no matter how good the Tigers are at generating stops, improvement on the offensive end is necessary to win games consistently.
Cornell (3-4) – Exam time has rolled around in Ithaca, but the Big Red went into its break with a bang, knocking off a very good Lehigh team at Newman Arena. Things get a lot tougher after finals, though, with visits to BCS teams Illinois, Penn State and Maryland on the horizon along with road dates at Stony Brook and Bucknell. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski has struggled thus far, shooting relatively poorly and turning the ball over much more than last year. Freshman Shonn Miller got off to a hot start for the Big Red, but despite cooling off a bit, his defensive rebounding abilities have been invaluable for a team that struggled to control the paint last season.
Columbia (6-4) – Coming off a solid showing at Connecticut to start off the season, the Lions led Furman for 30 minutes before being dealt a huge blow, as senior guard Noruwa Agho suffered a season-ending knee injury. Columbia dropped the game to the Paladins and a couple more, but has come on strong as of late. Stingy defense has led the Lions to four-straight wins over Division I competition. Junior guard Brian Barbour has picked up the slack in Agho’s absence, taking on a huge possession load and leading the Lions to road wins over Manhattan and Loyola Marymount.
Dartmouth (2-5) – After having spent the last four years mired in the 300s, the Big Green has begun to take visible steps toward respectability. Freshman forward Gabas Maldunas has given Dartmouth a legitimate interior presence and the backcourt led by upperclassmen R.J. Griffin and David Rufful has played well at times. Sure there is only one Division I win at this point (at home against Bryant), but the Big Green only fell to a solid San Francisco by two points in the Great Alaska Shootout and lost at Rutgers by just six in the season opener. There’s still a long way to go, but Paul Cormier is bringing Division I talent back to Hanover, and that’s a start.
Brown (4-7) – Some bad fortune has landed the Bears in the Ivy cellar, as Brown hasn’t had the services of Tucker Halpern and Rafael Maia for reasons discussed above. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Sean McGonagill, transfer Stephen Albrecht and swingman Matt Sullivan have combined to forge a decent starting backcourt, but with no depth and more questions than answers at the forward spots, the Bears have struggled to avoid getting blown out by the top half of Division I teams. The schedule has been and will continue to be light enough for Brown to post a respectable record, but that won’t fool anyone that makes SOS adjustments.
Finals loom for many of the league’s teams, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of December is without its fair share of interesting matchups and potential statement games.
12/10 – Pennsylvania at UCLA (Fox Sports West) – The Bruins will be without Reeves Nelson, who was suspended by UCLA coach Ben Howland this week. The Quakers might have a loss of their own though, as sophomore guard Miles Cartwright missed Pennsylvania’s last outing against Delaware. Despite struggling a bit this season, the Bruins should be healthy favorites in this one. The Quakers can win if they keep a cold shooting UCLA team from finding its stroke, but the game will likely hinge on whether Zack Rosen can successfully carry the team on his back as he’s been doing all season.
12/10 – Columbia vs. Long Island – It took the Lions a little time to find themselves after losing Noruwa Agho, but Columbia has been on a tear recently. The Blackbirds will be the best team the Lions have faced other than Connecticut thus far though, and Long Island’s potent offense will provide a great test for Columbia’s suddenly stifling defense. If the Lions get by the Blackbirds, it will be hard not to make the argument that this team is better off without Agho than with him.
12/14 – Princeton at Rider – This is a game the Tigers should win, but it’s hard to argue that the league’s most high variance team to this point “should” do anything. Princeton loses by two at North Carolina State and returns home to dismantle Buffalo, but falls to Elon at home and Morehead State at a neutral site before knocking off Rutgers in a game which itself exhibited violent swings. For the Tigers to be taken seriously as a contender in the consistency endeavor that is the 14-Game Tournament, they need to be able to take care of non-Top 200 squads on the road.
12/18 – Yale at Rhode Island – The oddsmakers would have this as a near coin flip at this point, but it’s a game that the Bulldogs need to prove they can win, since the bulk of the Ivy League will likely hover in the same range. Greg Mangano should have a field day with a Rams frontcourt defense that’s allowing opponents to shoot 56.7 percent from two. If Yale can keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass – the only real positive for the Rams this season – it should be able to leave Kingston with a victory.
12/21 – Cornell at Penn St. (Big Ten Network) – It’s the second Big Ten matchup for the Big Red in three days (after a trip to Illinois on Dec. 19), but this one should be a fair deal easier than the showdown with the #22 Illini. The Nittany Lions, who would be a notably bad Power Six conference team if it weren’t for many others that were already the standard bearers, just fell to Lafayette this week. If Cornell can keep Penn State’s offense dormant, it will have a great chance to put a Big Ten scalp on the Ivy mantle.
After a few weeks of huge commitments this week was a little more quiet as it seems like most of the big pieces have committed with the exception of Quincy Miller, LeBryan Nash, and Adonis Thomas, but don’t forget that none of the currently committed players have done more than verbally commit and we all know how fickle teenagers can be so we could see some minds change between now and Signing Day. Having said that there were a few notable commitments this week and other news worth following.
After losing what seemed to be his entire roster after arriving at Oregon, Dana Altman is finally starting to add players to his roster as he secured a commitment from Jabari Brown, a top 25 player in this year’s class. Brown’s all-around game should help fill the Oregon’s holes all-around the floor.
Georgetown got a commitment from Mikael Hopkins, a 6’9″ forward out of the famed DeMatha Catholic program. Interestingly Hopkins cited Georgetown’s “tradition of getting big men to the [NBA]”, which must be a reference to the mid-to-late ’80s and early ’90s as we don’t think he was referring to Roy Hibbert.