2012-13 Ivy League Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2013

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Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Reader’s Take

 

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)

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.

Conference Accolades

  • 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).

    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)

    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

  1. 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)

    Kenyatta Smith was a huge reason for Harvard’s eventual league championship. (The Crimson)

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • No Experience Necessary – For a league that doesn’t routinely grab players from the scouting services’ Top 100 lists, breakout freshmen are usually just lightly sprinkled around the league with only a few really contending for the title of Rookie of the Year. This year, however, the Ivies might need an All-Rookie Team. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers has gotten the most publicity with back-to-back 14-point, seven-assist performances against Massachusetts and Manhattan, but he’s not the only Ivy freshman to impress. Yale’s Justin Sears has managed a workhorse-like 27 percent usage rate, while mustering an offensive rating above 100, and Brown rookie Rafael Maia has been a dominant interior presence for a team so badly in need of one. Cornell and Dartmouth have a pair of talented freshmen guards in Nolan Cressler and Alex Mitola, respectively, while Penn has two of its own in Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis, who have played well aside from struggling to shooting the ball to start the season.
  • Slip-Sliding – Sure, Yale blew a 24-point lead to Sacred Heart before losing in overtime, but that was about all Ivy fans could complain about after the first weekend, which saw the league go 7-1 with three road victories. Read the rest of this entry »
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 30th, 2012

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Top Storylines

  • 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.
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Checking In On… The Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2012

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Perfect No More: Heading into last weekend’s back-to-back, Harvard held a one-game lead and an undefeated mark in Ivy play. The trip to Penn and Princeton claimed the latter, but the Crimson survived with the former intact, as Harvard remains a game ahead of both Penn and Yale in the loss column and two games up on Princeton and Cornell. The Crimson got its most important win of the season on Friday night at The Palestra, as freshman Corbin Miller scored 17 points in just 18 minutes and Kyle Casey added 15 to hold off a pesky Quaker squad 56-50. Miller and Casey combined to shoot 11-19 from the field and 4-8 from three, while the remaining players from both squads connected at an anemic 28% clip. Casey and Miller continued their solid play the following night at Jadwin Gym against Princeton and even got some help from Brandyn Curry and Keith Wright, who combined for 31 points on 12-21 shooting. It was the defense that betrayed the Crimson against the Tigers though as Princeton shredded the Harvard defense with effective back door cuts and well-executed post isolation mismatches. The Crimson cut a 10-point Tigers lead to four with under a minute to go, but Princeton went 7-8 from the line to clinch a 70-62 victory. Harvard had been looking for its first win at Jadwin since 1989 and first road sweep of Penn and Princeton since 1985. Ivy teams have combined for just seven sweeps of the Quakers and Tigers on the road in league history.
  • Collapse Of All Collapses: Don’t take a look at this Ken Pomeroy Win Probability chart if you are a Columbia fan, but otherwise prepare to be astonished. Just ten minutes away from having to turn its attention to the postseason’s smaller dances, Yale ripped off a 26-5 run to end the game, overcoming a 20-point deficit and keeping itself in the midst of the Ivy race. The Lions might have long been out of the title chase, but the loss was still incredibly damaging. With five teams from the Ivy League likely to finish above .500, the race for postseason slots will be incredibly competitive and Columbia’s profile is one of the weakest of that group. Getting swept by the other team with a weak profile (Yale) is probably the best way to ensure being the odd man out in the selection process.

RTC Ivy Award Favorites

  • Player of the Year – Zack Rosen, Penn: He’s been the front-runner from start to finish. Rosen is second in points produced per game (a metric that includes all contributions to offense, not just points scored) and has an Adjusted Offensive Rating of 107 on 28% usage during league play. Watch Out For: Brian Barbour, Columbia; Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton

    If The Season Ended Today, Penn's Zack Rosen (1) Would Be Our RTC Ivy League Player of the Year

  • Defensive Player of the Year – Brandyn Curry, Harvard: He leads the league by a mile in Defensive Plus-Minus and has been great at generating steals and forcing five-second calls. Since its inception, the award has gone to forwards and centers, but this might be the first time that a guard takes home the hardware. Watch Out For: Greg Mangano, Yale; Ian Hummer, Princeton
  • Rookie of the Year – J’Vonte Brooks, Dartmouth: This one has turned into a two-horse race for the title with Cornell’s Shonn Miller being very deserving as well. Brooks has given Ivy defenses fits as he has bullied his way to the free throw line early and often, posting a Free Throw Rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) of 94%. His turnover rate is alarmingly high, but on a team without many offensive creators, that’s a drawback that Dartmouth can easily accept. Watch Out For: Shonn Miller, Cornell
  • Coach of the Year – Jerome Allen, Penn: It’s hard to argue with the statement that the Quakers have overachieved the most this season, though Kyle Smith and Columbia would have a case if the Lions hadn’t fallen so quickly in league play. Allen might be unfairly benefiting from Rosen’s unbelievable offensive performance, but he’s a win away from setting the high-water mark in victories since Penn last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Watch Out For: Kyle Smith, Columbia; Mitch Henderson, Princeton
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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2012

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Contenders and Pretenders: The first Ivy League back-to-back weekend is in the books, though for only half of the league’s teams. In true 14-game tournament fashion, it took just one weekend for the Ivy title race to change pretty drastically. With a road sweep of Cornell and Columbia, Pennsylvania immediately vaulted into the number one contender spot behind Harvard. The New York trip will be the second-toughest in the Ivies this season (the Princeton/Philadelphia swing will be slightly more treacherous), so escaping it with a 2-0 mark puts the Quakers in great shape to hang around the title race deep into the season.

Credit: PennAthletics.com

Zack Rosen And The Quakers Hope They Have All Their Kinks Ironed Out So They Can Make A Run At Harvard.

The weekend wasn’t as kind to Columbia, which had two separate comeback bids fall short against Pennsylvania and Princeton, losing both games by a combined six points. The Lions had entered Ivy play at 9-1 in their last ten games, but all it takes is one rough back-to-back to see title hopes get dashed. Columbia still has a chance at a postseason berth in one of the 16-team events, but will likely need to close with eight or nine wins in its final 12 games – a slate that includes two meetings with Harvard.

The Tigers and Big Red emerged from the weekend alive, but endangered.Princeton is in better shape than Cornell, as road splits are excusable, while home splits can be deadly. The Tigers face the daunting task of playing their first five games on the road, which also means seven of the final nine at home, so Princeton can fall a little behind early and still maintain a realistic hope to catch the leaders down the stretch. Cornell doesn’t have that luxury. The Big Red must sweep travel partner Columbia over the next two weeks to stay in the race and set the table for a battle with preseason favorite Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion.

Yale survived a surprising scare at home against lowly Brown, trailing by seven at the half and six with just over three minutes to go before closing the game on a 13-3 run. The Bulldogs look to complete the sweep this weekend to remain perfect heading into their meeting with Harvard on January 27. Read the rest of this entry »

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