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 »
Saturday was full of great college basketball action with plenty of upsets and late-game heroics, but the biggest event of the day was Brandon Ashley injuring his foot in a loss to Cal. X-rays in Tucson on Sunday confirmed Arizona’s worst fears as Ashley had suffered a fracture and will be out for the remainder of the season. As Andrew Murawa noted before Arizona officially announced Ashley’s injury, the Wildcats are equipped to deal with Ashley’s absence, but it is unquestionably a big loss for them. Arizona has the two Oregon schools visiting them this week in Tucson so we should get a better idea of where they stand within a week.
In one of the more surprising results on Saturday, Oklahoma State lost at home to Baylor, but their bigger loss may have come later that night after freshman backup point guard Stevie Clark was arrested for “outraging public decency.” If you are unfamiliar with that phrase apparently it means that Clark was urinating out the window of a vehicle. This is the second arrest for Clark in a month as he was arrested on New Year’s Day for possession of marijuana and also was suspended in November for a violation of team rules. Oklahoma State has not released an official comment on this yet, but we would suspect that Clark will be sitting for a while.
Harvard still has a chance at making this a historic season with a NCAA Tournament run, but those odds appear to be getting longer. Kenyatta Smith, who was expected to be their top interior player, is out for the season after fracturing his right foot. This is the same foot that had a hairline fracture that made Smith miss the first 17 games of the season before he came back to play two minutes against Dartmouth before breaking a bone in practice the next day. Since the Crimson had already played most of the season without him they will not necessarily need to make any major adjustments, but Smith’s absence does lower their ceiling considerably.
After a promising start to the season the wheels have come off in Little Rock as Arkansas is starting to fall apart. Having lost four of their past five and six of their past eight, the school announced that they had suspended Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris indefinitely. Given the contributions of Qualls (11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) and Harris (9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) this is a huge loss for a team in free fall even with their relatively weak SEC schedule (yes, we know that is redundant). The school has not offered much information on why they were suspended outside of the usual PR release so there is a chance that the suspensions will only last for a relatively short period of time.
When teams make deep NCAA Tournament runs we always hear about the financial windfall the school gets with the increased application rates. According to Forbes that was not the case for Wichita State at least in the short term as the school lost money last season from their NCAA Tournament run. The school will almost definitely make more money as the result of this a few years down the road (assuming they make reasonable financial decisions), but it is interesting to see some of the short-term predicaments that smaller programs can find themselves in.
Well that didn’t take long. Less than a month after suspending Chane Behanan indefinitely and saying that his return to the team was “not probable”, Rick Pitino reinstated Behanan to the team. Pitino has a reputation for overstating his position or changing his mind (or something less euphemistic), but this is a pretty impressive about-face on a national stage. [Ed. Note: We are sure that Big Blue Nation can give a full list of every such instance for Pitino.] Behanan could possibly play as early as tonight in Louisville’s game against Hofstra. Apparently, Behanan did enough during 25 or 30 days (depending on who is counting) to earn his way back onto the team. Or maybe Pitino realized that he needs an interior presence.
At this point we would hesitate to call Harvard a sleeper team even though most of the public probably would not even consider them a threat in the NCAA Tournament, but they took a bit of a hit recently as they announced that Kenyatta Smith (Harvard) will be out indefinitely with a foot injury. Given the depth that the Crimson have they should be able to handle the temporary loss of Smith, 6’8″ center who averaged 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game last season, much better than you would expect. The one game that it might affect them (and could alter their season) is a game at Colorado on November 24. November games are rarely that meaningful, but for Harvard’s hopes of getting a reasonable NCAA seed they need to win that game. Now, Harvard has not set a timetable for Smith’s return, but we are assuming that their definition of indefinite is a little different than Rick Pitino’s.
It is not quite Miami’s “Big Three”, but for college basketball it might as well be. This Friday, three of the top five prospects in the class of 2014–Jahlil Okafor (#1), Cliff Alexander (#3), and Tyus Jones (#5)–are all expected to announce their college decisions. Okafor and Jones have repeatedly said that they will be a package deal and many believe that Kansas and Duke are the leaders with Duke being the slight favorite. As for Alexander, who at one time was considered to be part of a package deal with Jaquan Lyle, he is reportedly down to four schools with one of them being Kansas. We have no idea how Okafor/Jones might coordinate with Alexander, but there exists the realistic possibility that Bill Self could land a haul on Friday that would blow away anything that Andrew Wiggins could be expected to do in his one year in Lawrence.
Most Syracuse fans are probably more focused on the state of their team this year as they adjust to the ACC, but should probably pay attention that was is going on with their class of 2014 signee Chris McCullough, who was dismissed from Brewster Academy for a violation of school rules. We have no idea where McCullough is headed, but for his sake hopefully it is a place where he will be able to finish with enough credits to be academically eligible for the 2014-15 season. If he is not, that would be a huge loss for Syracuse as McCullough, a five-star forward, is expected to be the centerpiece of the incoming Syracuse class.
With the new polls coming out that can only mean one thing: a new year of Gary Parrish’s Poll Attacks. Before we get into Gary’s attack(s) we should point out that it is pretty ridiculous to come out with a new poll after one game especially since most of the games were against cupcakes. Anyways, they decided to do it and some people decided to be dumb with their votes. Gary’s targets this week in the AP Poll was Jon Wilmer who made the curious decision to rank Colorado 16th and not rank Baylor even though Baylor beat Colorado by 12 in the only game either team has played this year. His attack on the Coaches’ Poll is more of an attack on the system that lets Mark Fox rank Georgia 25th even though they are probably a bottom-tier SEC team. Honestly, it is way too early in the year to really care about polls (actually polls are always sort of ridiculous since they do not have any affect on the championship), but it is amusing to see some people be so careless with it or make a mockery out of the entire system.
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Round of 32 game between #6 Arizona and #14 Harvard at the Salt Lake City pod this afternoon.
Three Key Takeaways.
It Was Great While It Lasted…
Physical Mismatch. It was clear just a couple of minutes into the game that Harvard was going to need to catch a lot of breaks to keep up in this game. As good as Wesley Saunders has been all year, he had no chance guarding Solomon Hill in the post. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith was tough on Thursday against the New Mexico bigs, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley were a whole different ball game. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers looked overmatched and intimidated early by Mark Lyons, while Nick Johnson and Hill largely stuck with the Crimson’s shooters Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster, using their length, athleticism and confidence in the rest of their team’s defense to limit any good looks. In short, barring some seriously strange goings-on, Harvard never really had a chance in this one.
Is Arizona Playing Well?. At times, as the lead hovered somewhere around 20 for the final three-quarters of the game, the Wildcats lost focus and let up some. Kevin Parrom wound up inexplicably fouling out in just 14 minutes of action. Grant Jerrett bruised an elbow early in the first half and never returned. Johnson attempted just three field goals in the 34 minutes of action (to be fair, he made two threes in those attempts). Ashley again showed glimpses of excellence intermingled with frustrating decision-making. But in a game where the talent mismatch was so apparent, it was really hard to gauge just how well this team was playing as a whole. But, give them credit for doing to Harvard exactly what a team with this size and talent should have done to Harvard.
New Mexico Redux. If anybody associated with the New Mexico program watched this game, from Steve Alford on down to the lowliest Lobo fan, they had to be going absolutely crazy. A Harvard team that shot a 61.9 eFG% on Thursday night shot 31.9% tonight. The Lobos definitely didn’t have quite the athletic advantage that Arizona did, but it was pretty close. But, the Lobos failed to close out on shooters, couldn’t stop Chambers’ dribble penetration and never found a guard who could make an impact against inferior defenders. Can’t feel too bad for the Lobos.
Star of the Game. Mark Lyons, Arizona. The much-maligned Wildcat point guard had perhaps the best game of his time in Tucson today, getting past Harvard defenders with ease, knocking down threes whenever the mood struck him and zipping up Chambers defensively. With Aaron Craft potentially looming next week in Los Angeles, things are about to get much more difficult, but Lyons has certainly picked a perfect time to peak.
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #3 New Mexico and #14 Harvard in Salt Lake City.
Three Key Takeaways.
The Great Equalizer. For a program with no NCAA Tournament wins in their history, you need a special performance to get your first. And if you ain’t got great size and athleticism, there’s one thing you can do make up for your weaknesses: knock down threes. And Harvard did that in abundance tonight, getting five threes from Laurent Rivard and three from Christian Webster, mostly all on drive-and-kick opportunities. But eight threes isn’t enough to pull off an upset of this size and the Crimson did plenty of other things to get themselves over the top. Perhaps it was in part due to the fact that some early threes opened things up inside for them, but as it turns out, Harvard wound up shooting 14-of-24 from inside the three-point arc, getting scoring from Wesley Saunders, Kenyatta Smith and Siyani Chambers inside. The three-point shooting will get the pub, but the Crimson played a complete game.
Harvard players run off the bench and celebrate after beating New Mexico during a second round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City Thursday. (AP)
Inconsistent Scoring From Guards. I’ve harped on it all season long, but these New Mexico guards are awful hard to trust. When things are going good for them, the trio of Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood are about as fine of a trio as you’ll find in college basketball. But when things aren’t going well, they can get hard to notice. Take Williams for example. You probably remember Williams going for 46, or maybe you remember him sending in a 360 dunk to seal the Lobos Mountain West tournament title game against UNLV. Or even an inexplicable MW Player of the Year award. Tonight he was nearly invisible en route to just eight points, along with no assists. And Snell? He was much better than Williams, but after the Mountain West tournament he was the toast of the town. Tonight just 4-of-12 shooting and 1-of-6 from deep for nine points. All told, the three New Mexico guards combined for 17 points on 21 field goal attempts with just four assists.
Mountain West Gone South. We’ve heard all about how the Mountain West is one of the best conference’s in the country, second in the RPI, deep and talented and with several teams capable of making runs in March. Well, to put it nicely, today was not a good day for the conference. The teams with arguably the best chances of making deep runs – New Mexico and UNLV – bowed out. Coupled with Boise State’s loss last night, the conference’s only bit of good news was Colorado State’s win over Missouri today. San Diego State plays tomorrow, but for a conference with an abysmal record in NCAA Tournament play, this has been a terribly depressing couple of days for the conference.
Star of the Game. Kenyatta Smith, Harvard. On a team built around a quick point guard and a bunch of three-point shooters, you need someone to do the dirty work, especially against a team with as much size inside as New Mexico features. And tonight, Smith did that dirty work with pride, standing up to Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow time and time again as the Lobos repeatedly tried to take advantage of the undersized Crimson inside. Kirk and Bairstow got their points, although not often in the 19 minutes Smith played, and Smith made them work for it. And, despite picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, Smith stuck around long enough to make some key plays down the stretch.
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.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
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)
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.
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 »
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Princeton’s Collapses – Ken Pomeroy just added another stellar feature to his site – an advanced stat box score for past games as well as the scoring by 10-minute increments that he labels “quarters.” The Tigers might not want to look at that latter piece of information, especially the numbers under Q4. In the four games prior to last night’s convincing win over Rider, Princeton was outscored 74-50 in the final 10 minutes of games and blew leads of eight (at Wagner), six (vs. Drexel) and 11 points (vs. Fordham). Throwing in the Northeastern game, where Princeton lead by 10 with 10 minutes to play, the Tigers could be looking at a completely different record if it could just salt away games in which it has big leads. That’s also the reason why it would be foolish to underestimate Princeton on the basis of its 4-6 mark to this point.
Winner Winner – Harvard clawed back from eight points down early in the second half and three points behind with just five minutes to play, only to watch Boston University’s D.J. Irving hit a jumper with 19 seconds left to stake the Terriers to a one-point lead. Then came another chapter in a storybook rookie season for the Crimson’s Siyani Chambers. The 6’ point guard attacked the paint looking to set up a teammate for a good look, but came up empty and was forced almost to the short corner. The Boston University defenders went flying by, leaving Chambers all alone to nail a game-winning jumper. The basket gave Chambers 21 points on the night – the second time in three games he hit that mark. For a position that was supposed to be Harvard’s Achilles heel heading into the season, the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball has turned it into one of its strengths.
Strength Against Strength – There are several ways to illustrate the split between the Ivy League’s top three teams and its bottom five squads. None may be more striking than the results against Power Six competition. In five games against Power Six opponents, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton are 2-3 with an average scoring margin of zero. The remaining five teams have an average scoring margin of -21 over eight games, and none of those contests finished within single digits. There are still six such games left to be played for the Ivies this year (five by the bottom five), so that stat is still subject to some change, but with over two-thirds of the contests already having been played, it’s unlikely the gap will close significantly.
Freshman guard Siyani Chambers Is Widening Eyes Throughout The Ivy. (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/AP)
Harvard (5-4) – It’s not that the Crimson has necessarily overachieved, but rather that fellow favorites Columbia and Princeton have stumbled so badly at times that pushes Harvard back to the top spot. The Crimson is hardly without flaws, especially on the defensive end. Starting forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith have struggled in all facets of the game, leaving Harvard to turn to a four-guard lineup with only 6’6” forward Jonah Travis anchoring the paint. Still, the Crimson has managed to be the league’s best defensive rebounding team and, while it is second-to-last in two-point field goal percentage allowed, it balances that out by refusing to put opponents on the free throw line. The efficiency in converting missed shots into stops and forcing turnovers has made Harvard an above-average defensive team. Combine that with the best offense in the league by over five points per 100 possessions, and it’s clear why the Crimson has slowly become the Ivy favorite. Read the rest of this entry »
Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC and one of that conference’s microsite writers.
Question: Will Harvard Finally Break Through to the NCAA Tournament?
One word says it all: yes. Barring serious injury, there is no reason Harvard shouldn’t attend the Big Dance this season. But before we break down why the Crimson will get there, let’s look at where they come from.
Unlike most would have you believe, Harvard has in fact played in the NCAA Tournament before. It was the 1945-46 season, and conference schedules were a thing of the future. Ivy League opponents were few and far between, as head coach Floyd Stahl’s squad only faced Brown (twice) and Yale. In the end Harvard finished with a 19-3 overall record, but I would be remiss not to mention that three Crimson victories came against the not-so-mighty Chelsea Naval Hospital team. Harvard’s lone regular season loss came at the hands of Massachusetts rival Holy Cross. Unfortunately, the Crimson’s regular season success held no good omens for the postseason, as the Crimson fell quickly to Ohio State in the first round of the Tournament and followed that up with a regional consolation loss to NYU. Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State) went on to win the 1946 championship, beating North Carolina 43-40 in the finals.
Harvard Was Only a Couple of Ticks Away Last Year (credit: Harvard Crimson)
The Crimson never made it back. Head coach Tommy Amaker inherited a program with one postseason appearance and no winning coaches since Edward Wachter left Cambridge in 1933. He inherited a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 nor a winning conference season since 1996-97. To this point the athletic department was content with .500 Ivy League seasons every few years, mostly trying only to avoid embarrassment instead of actually compete. But in 2007 after he was fired by Michigan, Harvard called up Amaker: “The Ivy League was appealing to him. He was drawn to Harvard’s tradition of excellence, to the New England area, to the opportunity to flourish in such a strong academic environment.” But the drawbacks I mentioned above–along with tough Ivy League restrictions–pushed the other side of the scale.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.