Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Two-Bid Ivy – Traditionally, a second bid to the NCAA Tournament has been uniquely elusive for the Ivy League, since the lack of a conference tournament makes it hard for an at-large caliber team to miss out on the regular season title and automatic bid without doing too much damage to its profile. That paradigm began to shift in 2010-11, though, when Harvard lost an Ivy playoff to Princeton, but still had a top 40 RPI with two quality non-conference wins over bubble teams (vs. Colorado and at Boston College). The same perfect storm is brewing this season as well. Currently the Crimson boasts a top 25 RPI (supported by a top 30 Pomeroy ranking), while the Tigers snuck into the top 40 with their recent win at Penn State. The two teams are a combined 5-2 against current top 100 RPI opponents. A couple of those quality wins are expected to evaporate as the year moves forward, but both squads still have upcoming opportunities against quality non-conference foes including Harvard’s visit to Connecticut and Princeton’s trip to Las Vegas to play Pacific. It’s unlikely that both the Crimson and the Tigers will make it to Ivy play with legitimate at-large profiles, but it’s not impossible, which is pretty good for being nearly two-thirds of the way through non-conference play. 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.
Upset Alert Mainstays – Princeton said goodbye to one of its best two-way players of all time. Columbia graduated two three-year starters. Brown not only lost three senior contributors from last season, but also had to deal with the abrupt loss of swingman Tucker Halpern, who had battled injuries throughout his career and couldn’t get healthy enough to remain on the Bears’ roster. The common belief was that those three teams would spend 2013-14 rebuilding, but Butler, Michigan State and Providence would strongly disagree. Princeton trailed the Bulldogs by 11 with less than six minutes to play before missing a potential game-tying two just before the buzzer. Brown rallied from 16 points down in the second half against the Friars to lead with under five minutes to play before a Sean McGonagill missed three with six seconds to play finally ended the Bears’ hopes. Columbia easily took the biggest stage, though, leading at the half and trailing by one with just four minutes to play. Two critical shot clock violations in the final few minutes gave the Spartans the space they needed to put the game away.
In a league that is getting younger and younger, Harvard’s Kyle Casey is chugging along. (Harvard Athletics)
Youth Served — A year after losing six seniors who posted offensive ratings over 100 with a usage rate of 20 percent or more, the Ivy League has reloaded and gotten even younger while doing so. There are no seniors and three members of the sophomore and freshman classes among the five highest usage players in the league, and just two seniors are using more than 21 percent of their team’s possessions (Harvard’s Kyle Casey and Dartmouth’s Tyler Melville). The sophomore and junior classes are driving the production, as 18 of the 22 players posting an above average usage rate (over 20 percent) are from one of those two cohorts. Given that the Ivy League has settled into the No. 15 spot in Pomeroy’s conference ratings and won’t lose as many productive seniors as it has in previous years, the 2014-15 season could provide the first real shot for the league to make a push toward the Top 10.
Harvard (4-0) — While the Crimson has yet to face a Top 100 opponent, it’s not like Harvard is entirely untested to this point. The 10-point neutral site win over Holy Cross and the 18-point home victory over Bryant look a lot better when you consider that the only other losses those two squads have incurred have come against Top 25 opposition. The Crimson has managed injuries to center Kenyatta Smith and guard Brandyn Curry without skipping a beat, getting some surprising, big nights from forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis. The cupcakes are almost all behind the Crimson at this point, and the next six games heading into the winter exam break finally will provide the stiff test that everyone wants to see this Harvard team face.
Yale (2-2) — There may be no better snapshot of what this Bulldogs team is all about than its 47-14 run against Central Connecticut State in the season opener in Bridgeport. It wasn’t the magnitude of the run, but the fact that Yale scored on all but three possessions (all turnovers) over the final 13 minutes of the game to cobble together a massive comeback from 17 points down. Yale bullied its way to the free throw line and corralled every wayward shot on the offensive glass to stun a Blue Devils team that looked comfortably in control. Yale’s only losses thus far have come at Connecticut and Rutgers with the latter being decided by just a point on the final possession. Read the rest of this entry »
Although we are less than a month removed from Louisville’s win over Michigan in the National Championship game, it certainly isn’t too soon to look ahead to what the 2013-14 season has in store. With this past Sunday the deadline to declare for the June NBA Draft, we now have a much better idea who the top teams in the country should be once the ball is tipped again in November. In looking at the top of our Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25, there are three teams bunched together separated by just three votes — in fact, Louisville and Michigan State are knotted together at the top. It isn’t all too often that a team wins it all, graduates its starting point guard, has its best frontcourt player leave for the NBA, and is still perhaps the top team in the nation, but that’s the case for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals. With Russ Smith and Chane Behanan returning, Louisville will be the early favorites to win the AAC — the ACC, keep in mind, doesn’t come for UofL until 2014. Michigan State received good news on Sunday when Adreian Payne announced he would be returning to East Lansing for his senior season. Payne’s return, coupled with the return of Gary Harris — the Big Ten Freshman of the Year — and Keith Appling, make the Spartans a legitimate championship contender next season. Lastly, there’s Kentucky. Did you really think Cal & Co. weren’t going to be up there? They may not be ranked #1 at this point, but with a downright scary recruiting class incoming boasted by the Harrison twins and Julius Randle — perhaps the top Class of 2013 recruit — the Wildcats’ expectations are sky high. Despite not finishing in the Top 25 and losing at Robert Morris in the NIT, Kentucky will enter 2013-14 as a top three team in the RTC .
The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…
Quick n’ Dirty:
Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2012-13 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following four teams surged upward — and for good reason.
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.
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.
We will start off this Morning Five by talking about football or more specifically the lack of football for the rest of the college football season. We won’t try to claim that we don’t enjoy football from time to time although we still don’t quite understand America’s obsession with it. Anyways now that football season is officially over we hope the media can shift its focus to basketball as quickly as possible. So if you have friends who are huge football fans and only care about college basketball for the NCAA Tournament try to get them in on some conference basketball because they will quickly learn their is more to college basketball than the NCAA Tournament.
One of the subtle changes that will be occurring with conference realignment is the potential movement of conference tournaments from their familiar locations to more functional ones given the new geography of various conferences. In our eyes the two biggest sites are Madison Square Garden and Greensboro Coliseum. Given the disintegration of the Big East it would appear that Madison Square Garden should be opening up and it appears that the ACC is interested in moving the ACC Tournament to the New York City area. It could be a while before that happens as the deadline for bids for the 2016-21 ACC Tournaments already passed with the current bids coming from Atlanta, Charlotte, Greensboro, Tampa, and Washington D.C. Of course, the powers that be could decide to reopen the bidding if they really wanted to get to New York City so it is something to keep an eye on in the future.
Over the years we have heard a lot of questionable thing about the various basketball academies, but those criticisms are usually focused on lackluster or non-existent academics. In the case of CCSE Preparatory Academy in Roseville, California the allegations are much more concerning as at least four students are alleging that they were subjected to corporal punishment by the school’s president Francis Ngissah, who was arrested and released on $100,000 bail. The students, who pay $10,000 per year for tuition and another $5,000 per year for boarding, but as the link notes there are several questionable aspects about the school not the least of which is its 24 year-old president, who claims he graduated from Harvard, but Harvard couldn’t verify his attendance which the school’s spokesman explains by saying that Ngissah attended Harvard under another name, but refuses to release that name. At this point all we can say is that we continue to question whether the supposed need for these training academies is worth all of the shady activity at them given how lightly regulated they are.
Speaking of students who actually attended Harvard the scandal the rocked the school and took away any chance of its basketball team being a player on the national stage this season appears to be winding down. According to the school, more than half of the approximately 125 students (approximately 1% of the total undegraduate student body) were required to withdraw from the school for an unspecified period of time. Approximately another quarter received disciplinary probation while the other students did not receive any further punishment. We have not heard which group Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry fell into, but would assume that the punishment would not extend beyond this academic year so t hey should probably be able to return to the team next season.
While the Manti Te’o circus may have opened up the public’s eyes to the world of catfishing it appears that some programs were aware of it and tried to teach its players how to avoid it. According to some reports Michigan may have engaged in catfishing some of its football players. While some individuals are trying to avoid using the term “catfish” when they describe what happened to their players it appears that they did end up catfishing the players. Our favorite part of the story is a quote attributed to Brady Hoke who describes the female who was used to lure in the football players in this way: “she was hot, now; a very, very nice looking young lady”.
The question of whether states other than Nevada will allow legalized sports gambling reached a key decision point on Tuesday as the US Department of Justice intervened in a case brought by the NCAA and the four major professional leagues against New Jersey disputing a 1992 law that prohibits betting on sports. The Garden State passed a law last year (signed by Governor Chris Christie) that would allow sports gambling in its casinos and race tracks statewide, but the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL along with the NCAA, citing “significant harm” to their leagues, filed suit against the state questioning its constitutionality under federal law. Tuesday’s decision by the federal government to intervene on the side of the plaintiffs gives additional weight to the side that supports the ban. Although not unprecedented, it’s somewhat unlikely that the DOJ would stake its reputation in federal court on a case where it stands to come out on the losing side of the matter. As a result, if you live in New Jersey and are hankering for a legal method to place a wager on future Big East Tournament games involving league stalwarts South Florida and East Carolina, you may want to go ahead and book those annual March trips to Las Vegas for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t appear that you will have the option in New Jersey.
Harvard has been kind of under the radar this season after being the team du jour last season and part of that reason is because of the loss of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who withdrew for school a year after they were implicated in a wide-reaching cheating scandal. We had not heard what the two were doing as they waited to return to school next year, but The New York Times was able to catch up with them. Both of them returned to their hometown with Casey working for a nonprofit group and Curry selling life insurance. It will be interesting to see how the two adjust to rejoining a Harvard team that they were expected to lead this season, but has grown to play without them.
We have reached the point of the season where John Gasaway publishes his weekly Tuesday Truths. Last week was technically the first week he did it, but there was so little data that I didn’t think it was worth linking to. For those of you who are not familiar with the column it looks at the difference in a team’s offensive and defensive points per possession to calculate an efficiency margin (more details here). In this week’s edition, Gasaway goes through the conference’s per his usual routine taking particular interest in Florida‘s dominance of the SEC. We will be completely honest that while we find the numbers interesting and somewhat enlightening we don’t find it to be quite the revelation that many of our colleagues seem to think the Tuesday Truths are.
For a different type of weekly recap, Pat Forde offers his Forde Minutes, which is similar to his Forde Yard Dash that he writes when he is covering college football. While this lacks the number-crunching of Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths, it offers an equally comprehensive look at what is happening in college basketball. Of course, since it relies more on words than numbers it has to work off a central theme and this week’s theme is Brad Stevens and his emotional reaction (or lack of) following Butler’s thrilling win on Saturday night. Forde also offers an all-encompassing look at the player of the year and freshman of the year of races as well as who is hot and who is not.
At the beginning of the season college basketball writers obsessed over the triangle of basketball power between Indiana, Louisville, and Kentucky. While that area may still be the strongest in the country (substituting Butler for Kentucky at the present time), Matt Norlander feels that the designation of best basketball state should go to the state of Kansas. In addition to boasting the always solid Jayhawks, the state also has two other potential powers in Kansas State and Wichita State. As Norlander points out part of the state’s strength is its impressive win percentage which is bolstered by only have three Division I teams in the state. As you can imagine there are a few states which have not taken too kindly to this analysis and you can see a sampling of their thoughts in the comment section.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at@mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Holiday Revival: Heading into the winter exam break, things looked pretty bad for the Ivies. The league had seven combined wins against the top 200 and nearly two times as many losses against teams outside that range. Then, Princeton grabbed a huge upset at home against top 50 Bucknell and a cascade of strong performances followed. Brown secured the Ivy League’s first win in a game broadcast by its new television partner, NBC Sports Network, by knocking off Providence, and Harvard followed with a road win at California. Even the performances in losses were impressive. Pennsylvania lost in overtime at Wagner before playing No. 17 Butler close. Yale led Iowa State for 30 minutes before falling by 10 points. Harvard led St. Mary’s for 39 minutes before losing by one. In its wins and losses, the Ivy League has shown some considerable improvement over the past two weeks.
Welcome to Monte Carlo: With league play about to begin, it’s time to refresh the Ivy prediction model and simulate the upcoming campaign based on the quality of each team’s non-conference results. For those unfamiliar with the practice, using Pomeroy-style ratings to measure the quality of each Ivy team, a winning percentage for each league game can be generated, and thousands of seasons can be simulated to find the most common results:
Both Harvard and Princeton are expected to finish at 11-3.
Columbia clocks in two games behind at 9-5.
The rest of the league is a jumble with Cornell and Yale expected to go 6-8 and Penn and Brown expected to land at 5-9.
Dartmouth falls to the basement, two games back at 3-11.
With ties allowed, the Crimson wins the title 58 percent of the time and Princeton 54 percent, while Columbia snags a share in seven percent of simulations. Without ties, Harvard wins 41 percent of solo titles, while Princeton grabs 37 percent and Columbia just three percent. An Ivy playoff for the NCAA bid is expected in 19 percent of simulations, so the league office might be actively shopping sites in March for a third straight season.
Mike Martin And The Bears Notched An Historic Upset Of Providence (AP)
Signature Win: Since the 1989-90 season, Ivy teams not named Pennsylvania or Princeton have won just 25 non-conference games against top 100 opposition. Brown has been responsible for four of those notable victories, picking up its fourth last week with a thrilling 69-68 win over Providence, in which the Bears trailed by seven with under a minute to play. The win gave first-year coach Mike Martin his first signature win at the helm of a Division I team. Common threads abound, but the most interesting one is that all of Brown’s top 100 wins have had the Friars as the victim. The most recent one prior to this season occurred in 2006-07, when Craig Robinson, also in his rookie year coaching the Bears, navigated his squad to an ugly 51-41 victory. Robinson would take his team to the CBI Tournament the next year and would leave to take the Oregon State job after that season. Brown fans have to be hoping that Martin, who was a former standout guard for the Bears from 2001-04, will lead them down the former path without exploring the latter.
Harvard (7-5) – Over the past 17 seasons, there have only been seven regularly used freshmen with a usage rate of 20 percent or greater to post an offensive rating of over 1.1 points per possession. The two most recent members of that lofty group were Amaker recruits Kyle Casey and Laurent Rivard and a third, Siyani Chambers, is currently on pace to join them. After a disastrous performance in the Crimson’s 67-62 victory over California, Chambers finished with 16 points and seven assists against St. Mary’s, nearly willing the team to a second-straight upset. Ultimately, some extremely poor execution down the stretch left Harvard on the losing end of a thrilling 70-69 nail-biter, but the Crimson and its freshman point guard have made it quite clear that the road to the Ivy title still runs through Boston. 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.
Pencil, Not Ink:In the Ivy Summer School piece, one of the top storylines was devoted to the important roster changes that had occurred since the final whistle blew in March. Looking back, that blurb was merely foreshadowing. In early September, the Harvard cheating scandal broke, and shortly after, four names dropped off the Crimson’s published roster, including All-Ivy seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. Around the same time, forward Dockery Walker disappeared from the Brown roster, as he will miss the season with a knee injury – a huge blow considering All-Ivy caliber forward Andrew McCarthy already left the team prior to what would have been his senior season. Princeton’s already threadbare backcourt took a hit when Jimmy Sherburne decided to take the season off to recover from a shoulder injury. Dartmouth, a team that needs as much talent as it can find, dropped its third-leading scorer R.J. Griffin from its roster before what would have been his senior season. Finally, Meiko Lyles fell off the Columbia roster earlier this month then returned to it a few days later, an important development after Noruwa Agho decided not to use his fifth year of eligibility to return to the squad for the upcoming season. Final rosters have been posted for a while now, but thus far, the term “final” has merely been a suggestion.
Curry & Casey Became Household Names For the Wrong Reasons This Fall
GOV 1310: Introduction To Chaos: The novelty of seeing Ivy basketball plastered all over popular publications and seeing air time on SportsCenter has long since passed, as the 2010 Cornell squad, Tommy Amaker-led Harvard teams and Linsanity have afforded the league publicity far beyond what a normal one-bid conference could expect. For the first time since the initial media explosion, though, the breaking story would hardly paint Harvard or the Ivy League in a positive light. Roughly 125 students were being investigated for cheating on a take-home exam in Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. Among the accused were a few Harvard basketball players, including two of the league’s best – Curry and Casey. While the story elicited editorial commentary of both a supportive and condemning nature, from a basketball perspective, the subsequent withdrawals of both student-athletes turned the Ivy race upside down. Curry was the lone returning point guard on the team, and Casey’s presence in the frontcourt was supposed to ease the pain of losing former Ivy Player of the Year Keith Wright. Now, with 10 freshmen and sophomores and just five juniors and seniors combined, the Crimson has become one of the league’s least experienced squads.
Live Streaming, But On Cable: For the first time since the Ivy deal with YES expired after the 2007-08 season, the league has a national media partner for men’s basketball. In renewing its Ivy football rights this past spring, NBC Sports Network also agreed to pick up as many as 10 basketball games per year, putting the league in almost 80 million homes nationally. In its inaugural season, the channel formerly known as Versus nabbed the maximum number of allotted games with three non-conference contests and seven Ivy showdowns. Including the Harvard-Yale game on February 23, which NBC sublicensed to CBS Sports Network, the package will provide the league with one game on national television every week but one from December 28 to the end of the season. Ivy squads are also scheduled to appear on the ESPN family of networks 11 times (five of those on ESPN3), the Pac-12 network twice and the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports Net once each.
Another day, another scandal involving the, ahem, good name of college basketball. With all the allegations getting tossed around the sport in recent months, we’re starting to wonder if the best course of action is simply to burn the whole thing down and start completely over. After Tuesday’s disappointing news that even the nation’s top academic institution, Harvard, isn’t immune from student-athletes behaving badly, you’ll forgive us if we’re feeling a little more than down about our game. The skinny: SI.com’s Luke Winn has reported that senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry — two of the Crimson’s best three players — have been implicated in a cheating scandal along with over a 100 other students for acts in a class about Congress “ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism, on a take-home final exam.” With the fall semester enrollment deadline pending this week, Casey and Curry are expected to withdraw from school for the entire 2012-13 academic year in an effort to preserve their final year of eligibility after their cases have been adjudicated. And with those withdrawals goes much of the hope surrounding the Crimson basketball program next season — the Crimson had more than enough talent and experience to win the Ivy League again and make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. More to come on this later today…
How’s about some better news to focus on with your coffee this Wednesday morning? Mike DeCourcy has us covered with his column discussing six important factors that could shape the upcoming season. Most of his points revolve around the significant loss of elite talent from last season, but keep in mind that going into 2011-12 many people thought that the return of the likes of Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones would dominate discussion throughout the year. Although each player’s team made it to at least the Elite Eight, such a notion turned out to not be true. The talk last year mostly revolved around Kentucky’s precocious freshmen, Syracuse’s deep and athletic juggernaut, the resurgence of Indiana, and both Bill Self and Frank Haith’s coaching mastery. DeCourcy’s comment that “we’ll find something to enjoy” is absolutely spot on — predicting what that will be is the hard part.
It wouldn’t be a Morning Five this month without some mention of Billy Gillispie, so here’s the latest on the wild saga involving the Texas Tech head coach. On Tuesday two new pieces of information were released. First, an ambulance was called to Gillispie’s house on Monday of this week after a 911 call was made from the residence, but local hospitals had no record of Gillispie getting admitted anywhere. Next, in a text message sent to the AP Tuesday night, Gillispie himself stated that he plans on a treatment plan for high blood pressure “amongst other things” at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In the meantime as he deals with his health issues, Texas Tech has named associate head coach Chris Walker as the man in charge of the day-to-day operations of the team and told Gillispie in no uncertain terms that he is not to engage with the program in any way until he’s ready to sit down with the administration and discuss his future.
If you’re a fan of the chaos theory of sports — that basically, the best possible scenario is the worst possible scenario — you’re going to love where the Lance Thomas case at Duke appears to be headed. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, not only is the New York City jeweler who extended Thomas nearly $70,000 in credit three years ago not talking to much of anyone, but in order for the NCAA to actually pursue what appears to be an obvious violation, they will have to do so by the end of 2013. So there are twin pressures building on the organization, but unless some degree of on-record information comes out through trial (highly unlikely), the NCAA will have to find a rat or some other documentation willing to assist them in this investigation. Chaos theorists loves this stuff, because it (mostly) leaves everyone outraged and upset.
Looking back at Thursday’s games in the Albuquerque regional from a Friday night perspective, my thoughts turn more to Montana, Harvard, South Dakota State, and UNLV than the teams that advanced from those first round games. We will have plenty of time to enjoy Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Baylor, and Colorado on Saturday afternoon and evening, but for right now, let’s talk about the good things that these four teams, whose seasons ended on Friday, did on Thursday and throughout the year.
After struggling through a non-conference schedule, everything came together for Montana in conference play, where they ripped off 15 wins in 16 games and then swept to the Big Sky’s automatic bid in relatively easy fashion. And on Thursday, for roughly 18 minutes, they gave Wisconsin a battle. They came out hot early, scored 18 points on the first 13 possession against a stingy Badger defense and had the numerous Grizzly fans who made the trip down to support their team dreaming of big things. There were forced turnovers, acrobatic finishes and lots of excitement created early for an undermanned team. However, once the Wisconsin defense locked down, the Grizzlies went cold and headed home early. Still, this is a program that has made three straight postseasons (including two NCAA bids) under head coach Wayne Tinkle and returns 66.3% of its scoring from this year, including talented backcourt combo Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. And clearly, Tinkle’s got the community buying into the team and is well on the way to making Montana as much a basketball school as it is a football power.
What can you say about this Harvard team? First NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 60 years, a sparkling 26-4 record and at least a piece of the regular season Ivy League title for two years running. Better still, this is a program that shows all the signs of being in it for the long haul. Head coach Tommy Amaker is building for the future here, not just taking advantage of a flash in the pan. And, perhaps best of all, this has been a truly entertaining team to watch. I saw them in person twice this season and came away feeling good about the Crimson on both occasions. Amaker loses big man Keith Wright and hyper-efficient guard Oliver McNally, but they return plenty of experienced players for a team that should be the favorite in the Ivy again next year. Sophomore Laurent Rivard is an absurdly entertaining and confident shot-maker who earned the respect of Vandy’s players and fans by knocking down three after ridiculous three in the face of excellent defense. Junior forward Kyle Casey may be a bit undersized, but he cleans the glass for Amaker and just seems to be around the ball to make plays on a regular basis. Junior point guard Brandyn Curry is one of the best assist men in the nation and a scrappy defensive playmaker, while freshman Wesley Saunders is an athletic ball of energy with loads of upside. Add in the fact that Amaker has made Harvard a legitimate destination for recruits and it appears that the Crimson are on the verge of being an every-year type of team.
South Dakota State may have been the darling of the Albuquerque Thursday. Not only did the scrappy Jackrabbits battle a clearly athletically superior Baylor team tooth and nail for 40 minutes, but their fans, supporting a team from the state of South Dakota in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, were an asset to the entire atmosphere in The Pit. Just as Baylor’s team showed up expecting to advance to the next round on the basis of their talent alone, the Bear fans strolled in from the parking lot at a leisurely rate, not even filling up their section until SDSU had run out to an early 12 point lead. Meanwhile, Jackrabbit fans made their way into the arena as early as the possibly could (the doors weren’t opened for the second session until 30 minutes before tip-off), loaded up their section and then some, and were loud and supportive throughout the game. They had plenty to cheer for as junior guard Nate Wolters led an inspired effort against one of the biggest, most athletic squads in Division I. Even after they booted away that 12-point first-half lead in a flurry of first half turnovers and seemed destined for a blowout, the Jackrabbits, fans and team alike, responded strong in the second half and at least put a good scare into the Bears. While Wolters gets most of the press, guys like sophomore reserve wing Chad White (15 points, five threes in 30 minutes), senior forward Griffan Callahan (seven points, two steals in a full 40 minutes of action), sophomore forward Jordan Dykstra (five points, three boards), junior forward Tony Fiegen (two points, five boards, five assists) and sophomore guard Brayden Carlson (nine points, five assists) deserve at least a mention, with Callahan, Fiegen and Dykstra all deserving extra props for contending with, and generally containing, the imposing Baylor frontline. In the end, it was a 27-8 record on the year for the Jackrabbits, the best in the history of the school. And with everyone but Callahan expected to return next year, South Dakota State could again claim a spot on the national stage.
Lastly, there’s UNLV, the most celebrated of the four losers on Thursday night. While Montana, Harvard and South Dakota State can all come away from their NCAA Tournament experience feeling okay about their seasons, for the Runnin’ Rebels, this is a disappointment, not solely because they were upended by a lower seed. This marks the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament loss for the proud program and sends seniors Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, and Brice Massamba off to graduation without a tournament win on their resume (fellow senior Kendall Wallace redshirted last season and was a small part of the 2008 team that beat Kent State in the first round). And, for the third consecutive year, this was a Rebel team that played its best basketball of the season in November and December and never improved as much as the other teams around them. And, perhaps most galling of all for a proud fanbase, the UNLV supporters were out-traveled and out-voiced throughout the game by Colorado fans, relative upstarts. Things need to change in Vegas next season. And the good news is, all the parts are there for the change to be made. Head coach Dave Rice will be heading into his second season as a head coach and should be able to build upon his experience this year. Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall, the first and third leading scorers on this team should return (provided Moser doesn’t do anything stupid and declare for the NBA Draft), along with plenty of other strong parts, including Division I transfers Bryce Jones and Khem Birch. Marshall will take over the leadership role for this team once and for all (a role he battled with Bellfield and Stanback over this year), and the team should be better for that. And, there is a buzz about the program that has been largely missing since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. In short, the future is bright in Las Vegas, even if the present is full of regrets over missed opportunities on Thursday.
Vanderbilt Struggles To Close. The Commodores led by as much as 18 in the second half, but struggled to close out against a game Harvard team late. The Crimson used a 14-3 run over 2:30 to get back within five late, but an ill-timed turnover killed the momentum. Still, for a Vanderbilt team with a history of losing opening round NCAA Tournament games, their performance down the stretch was not confidence-inspiring. In the final five minutes, they turned the ball over three times and missed three free throws while Harvard hit clutch shots. Now that the Commodores have that NCAA win under their belt, maybe they’ll finish stronger in the future.
Too Much Size and Athleticism. At one point in the middle of the second half, Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor picked the pocket of a Harvard guard, leading to a breakaway on which he threw down a massive, soaring dunk. And throughout the game, Festus Ezeli blocked shots, rebounded and scored above the rim, while being able to step out and challenge shots away from the basket. While these types of athletes may not be typical for Vanderbilt, they were certainly the difference today.
Six-Point Swing. At the start of the second half, Harvard junior forward Kyle Casey blew a dunk that led to a Vanderbilt breakout, on which John Jenkins pulled up and hit a three-pointer in the process of getting fouled. The made free throw turned it into a six-point swing in the Commodore favor, a total that could have made the pressure on Vanderbilt even tighter in the end-game.
Star of the Game. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt. Jenkins was the one guy to finish the game with confidence, knocking down game-sealing free throws on top of his effort in the meat of the game. The final line says it all: 27 points, six boards, three assists, and three three-pointers in helping the Commodores earn their first NCAA Tournament win since the 2007 Sweet 16 team.
Sights & Sounds. Despite the fact that Albuquerque’s own Lobos were playing during this game, The Pit was mostly full during action, and with plenty of locals among the crowd. While Vandy and Harvard each had chunks of the fans in the crowd, there were quite a few people in the crowd wearing New Mexico shirts keeping track of the game in Portland by phone or word-of-mouth. The score was announced regularly throughout the game, to nervous reaction from Lobo fans, but once the final was announced, The Pit exploded in approval.
Wildcard. Harvard’s sophomore wing Laurent Rivard had a busy day, not only having to shadow Taylor throughout the game, but also providing a big scoring threat for the Crimson. Rivard hit six increasingly improbable three-pointers (the last a fall-away, shot-clock-beating dagger in Jenkins’ face) that helped keep the Crimson in the game.
Quotable. Jenkins on Rivard: “I hadn’t seen somebody get that hot in a long time. He was making them from everywhere, no matter how deep they were and the shot clock going down, it was money. So it was very impressive.”
What’s Next? Vanderbilt will face Wisconsin Saturday in what should be a heck of a game. They will need to close with a lot more confidence and they will need to do a better job on the glass in order to advance to the Sweet 16.
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.