Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe there are only three weekends remaining in the Ivy season. The past fortnight saw some amazing comebacks (Harvard down 22 at the half vs. Brown at home; Penn rallying three consecutive games from double-figure deficits); difficulty on the road (unless the home team was Dartmouth); some outstanding individual performances (Greg Mangano, Keith Wright, Sean McGonagill, Ian Hummer); and the wheat separating itself from the chaff, beginning with….

The Clash of the Titans: On February 4, Harvard strode into Jadwin Gym for the Ivy version of Kansas vs. Texas. Both the Crimson and the Tigers were undefeated in conference and just about every pre-season prediction had one or the other as probable league champs. The likelihood was that this game, as well as the season-ending return match a month later would determine who would be dancing in March. It would be an upset if either team stumbled significantly before that.  Before Harvard could entertain any shining moments, they had to stop playing second banana and get the monkey off their back; the monkey in the form of a 21-game road losing streak to Princeton. Certainly the Crimson wanted to avoid any slip-ups this time.  Harvard out-shot the Tigers from the field, 44% to 39%, were basically even from the FT line and outrebounded Princeton 32-26. But as all baseball fans know, box scores don’t tell the story and in fact the Tigers prevailed 65-61 in round #1 of the Clash. Sixteen Harvard turnovers and frontcourt foul trouble more than likely contributed to the defeat. The Cambridge contingent already have endured their toughest trip while Princeton has yet to play their first league road game. It is up to both teams to navigate the rest of the schedule unscathed before their March 5 rematch.

Working Overtime: A four-game win streak, which included the seniors celebrating their first Big Five victory in four years and a 3-0 start out of the gate in the Ivy League, had the Penn faithful dreaming of another banner-hoisting in the Palestra. And with the opportunity to put a stamp on their credentials with back-to-back games against the Ivy elite–Harvard and Princeton–Quaker students and alums could be forgiven if they were clearing their mid-March schedule for NCAA first round travel plans. Seventy-two excruciating hours in February pretty much unpacked everyone’s bags.  Harvard entered the Palestra the night after a tough loss to Princeton dropping them into second place. Penn on the other hand had a bunch of well-rested starters-nobody saw more than 28 minutes of action-after a 31 point demolition of Dartmouth. However it was the more talented Crimson squad that took advantage of the shaky Quakers to open up what seemed to be an insurmountable 18 point second half lead. But Zack Rosen’s two free throws with 10 seconds left completed the improbable comeback and tied the game at 64. It sent the game into overtime and the 6283 in attendance dancing with glee (minus Brittney and Quinn). Rosen wasn’t finished with his heroics, as his jumper at the buzzer of OT #1 sent the game to an additional five minutes. This time however it was not to be. The Crimson rode the tide of Oliver McNally’s final basket to an 83-82 victory.  A rare mid-week game and a visit to travel partner Princeton was next on tap for Penn. Playing their first road game, the Quakers must have experienced déjà vu all over again as with eight minutes to go they found themselves down 13. However a 21-8 run sent the game into, you guessed it, overtime, and gave the Tiger faithful pause. Penn forged in front only to go scoreless the rest of the way, endure a Chris Webber-esque timeout-less moment, and watched the Tigers convert late from the line en route to a 62-59 defeat.  It gets worse, though.  A trip to Ithaca to face an unsettled Big Red squad seemed just what the doctor ordered to get Penn healthy. In a game of wild swings, Cornell led by 16, at 29-13, with 7:08 to go in the first half, before the Red and Blue countered with a run of their own to go up 52-43 with 8:41 left in the second and left the Quakers feeling their oats. But destiny being what it is, the game came down to the final seconds-make that the final second. Cornell missed on what they thought would be the last play of regulation only to see Conor Turley get fouled in the rebounding scramble with time still left on the clock. Clank. Into overtime for the third straight game. This time there were no heroics, no last second misses. The extra five minutes belonged to Cornell as they emerged with an 82-71 victory.  Three losses snatched from the jaws of victory. Three games where Penn had to dig themselves out of an early hole only to stick their nose in front–two of them on the road. Five points away from being undefeated and alone atop the Ivy standings. This Valentine’s Day, if you see a Penn coach or rabid fan, give them a hug. As for the players, they wont need your heart as they have plenty of that to go around.

Player of the Week: As mentioned, there are plenty of deserving candidates. Over the last four games, Greg Mangano of Yale has averaged about 21 points-including 30 in their win over Dartmouth- and eight rebounds a game; Ian Hummer, 15 and eight; Keith Wright has led Harvard in scoring each of the last four ,averaging 19 and nine. But it is our wont to spread the wealth; to recognize as many different players as possible in a league that doesn’t get much national ink. So this week we head up to Providence and honor Sean McGonagill of Brown. The 6’1 freshman from Illinois, who has started since Day 1, began his run to glory with an amazing 39 point effort against Columbia; a total which tied the gym scoring record. Over the last four games, he as played 34 minutes a game, shot 53% from the field, 44% from beyond the arc, and 86% (18-21) from the stripe. In fact, his 7-7 performance from the line helped the Bears seal the deal against the Big Green.. Besides his scoring, McGonagill contributed 17 rebounds and 22 assists during Brown’s 2-2 stretch. Partnered with sophomore Tucker Halperin, the Bears look to have a solid one-two punch for the next three years. And McGonagill, along with fellow frosh backcourt stars Miles Cartwright of Penn and Laurent Rivard of Harvard, represent, for the Ivy League, a changing of the…guard.

Power Rankings

1. Princeton (7-0, 19-4)–Yes they are undefeated in conference play, (five of them at home) and winners of nine in a row and 17 out of 18- very impressive. A closer look however shows that they have had four close calls, winning games by 4, 4, 3, and 2. Poor shooting has been the problem. The Tigers will need more consistency if they hope to remain perfect before their rematch with…

2. Harvard (7-1, 18-4)–At times, it appears the Crimson feel they need only show up to win. Cases in point–squandering an 18 point lead vs. Penn; sputtering to a three point win vs. Yale; and the topper–finding themselves down 21 points at home at the half vs. Brown. The amazing comeback notwithstanding, coach Tommy Amaker needs to get his squad to focus and cut down on turnovers if they hope to catch Princeton.

3. Yale (5-3, 12-10)–A bit of surprise to find the Elis above .500 but it should be none if they stay. After all they have played their three toughest road games (Penn, Princeton, Harvard) and were competitive- close losses all. And they have probably the most dangerous inside/outside combination in the league in Austin Morgan and Greg Mangano. Look for Yale to have a say in the league outcome as they get those same three teams in New Haven.

4. Penn (3-4, 9-12)–Their travails have been chronicled above and one cannot argue that with a few breaks, the Quakers could be right up there. But looking at the glass half empty there have been road losses like the one at Columbia ( 3-9 overall away from home), the rebounding issues (destroyed by the Lions 34-18) and the bit of a step backward by their star, Zack Rosen. A year away?

5. Columbia (4-4, 13-9)–The future looked bright for the Lions as they began league play 2-0 and winners of eight of nine. Coach Kyle Smith was getting some local pub and in some circles their resurgence was being compared to that of fellow city resident, St.Johns. However, after an excusable loss to Harvard and a win vs. Dartmouth, there followed two damaging losses to Brown and Yale and a 30 point home drubbing vs. Princeton. Leading scorer Norwua Agho was virtually invisible the first two defeats.

6. Cornell (2-6, 6-16)–This is the same Cornell that this column buried earlier; and no, we are not buckling under the pressure from prominent alumni. They were one of the few teams not named Harvard and Princeton to get a road win. And might have had a three game win streak if not for Kareem Maddox’s jump shot with 10 seconds to play. Coach Bill Courtney continues to struggle with combinations and players will play 30 minutes one night and ten the next. But the worst of the growing pains may be over

7. Brown (2-6, 9-13)–Up and down but not without promise. They have a roster infused with youth (see McGonagill and Halperin) and coach Jesse Agel looks like he knows what he is doing by looking at the big picture. One wonders how much the meltdown vs. Harvard will affect the Bears going forward.

8. Dartmouth (1-7, 5-17)–Too easy to knock the (not-so) Big Green, so we will focus on the positives. They will not go winless. They were competitive against Harvard and in their last two home games vs. Brown and Yale. And the home attendance figures are creeping towards four figures (982 at the Yale game). So now how does Paul Cormier convince any talent to come play in Hanover?

A Look Ahead

  • Princeton may face a stern test Friday at Yale before heading home to Jadwin where they are undefeated. Harvard must navigate around four road games before season ending home contests versus Penn and Princeton which could decide the Ivy title.
  • It’s “put up or shut up” time for Yale as they get the big boys at home.
  • Could we have a new player as we march toward March? Penn must repair their collective psyches and put the brakes on their four-game skid. Reveling in the role of spoiler may be their only motivation left.
  • Columbia may be back on track and it would not be out of the question to see them in a battle for third place.
  • The game this Friday at home vs. Harvard will go a long way in seeing how far Cornell has come back.
  • If the RTC Player of the Week award has not changed Sean McGonagill (wait -how can such a prestigious “trophy” not go to your head?), it will be interesting to see the progress he and his young teammates make at Brown. Dartmouth, unfortunately will have to wait until March 4 before attempting to break that elusive 1000-fan barrier.
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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 31st, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League

A Look Back

Let the Games Begin: For the teams in the power conferences, February is the time when jockeying for position begins. Regular season conference games are used for conference tournament and NCAA seeding purposes. But for the Ivy League, whose season got into high gear this past weekend, these games are precious, for this is a one-bid league with no conference tournament. Only the regular season champ will begin the Road to the Final Four in March.

Poll Position: Last year, Cornell, after some impressive non-conference performances, made an appearance in the Top 25. While an early season conference loss knocked them out, they continued to receive votes each week. And given their NCAA Tournament success, the votes proved to be warranted. Trying to follow in the footsteps of the Big Red, Harvard (15-3, 4-0) received a vote last week in the AP Top 25. What have they done to impress? An eight-game winning streak and opening up 4-0 in conference helps. But it is what they have accomplished outside the Ivy which has swayed the scribes. Their three losses have come at the hands of George Mason (17-5, 9-2, currently second in the CAA) in the opening game without Kyle Casey; Michigan, a young, improving Big Ten team and recent conqueror of MSU; and #5 UConn (17-3, 5-3 in the Big East). And all of those losses came on the road. The Crimson also own wins over Colorado, who themselves have beaten both Missouri and Kansas State in the Big 12; and BC (14-7, 4-3; 4th in the ACC). Can Harvard duplicate Cornell’s tournament run? Perhaps. But first they must find away to get past Princeton and win their first ever Ivy League crown.

Is the Bloom Off the Rose-n?: In 2010, RTC named Zack Rosen of Penn as the Ivy League Player of the Year. It was a somewhat controversial choice, as most gave the award to Jeremy Lin of Harvard. Either way, most observers thought Rosen would run away with the title this season. And he still may. After all, he is second in the league in scoring (15.3 points per game) and is shooting 45% from the field and close to 50% from beyond the arc, as Penn closes in on Harvard and Princeton. However, a closer look at the box score is in order. Penn has played five non-conference foes of note: Pittsburgh, Villanova, Kentucky, Drexel and Temple. Only against ‘Nova did Rosen perform up to par, scoring 20 points on 7-14 shooting. Against the other four combined,  he shot 9-25 (36%), including 6-14 from deep (42%) for a total of 37 points (9.1 per game). A disturbing trend? Maybe, but he was facing superior athletes than those he will see in conference games. But when Penn was going to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis, guys like Onyekwe and Jabber would save their best performances for the biggest games and toughest competition. While it is definitely not yet time to pack the tack on Zack, the jury is still out.

Player of The Week: A difficult choice this time as there are some very worthy candidates, with the nicknames to match. There is Errick (Bushel and A) Peck who seems to be blossoming amidst the Cornell disaster; Jack (Scrambled) Eggleston who has become a stat sheet stuffer for the Quakers; Greg (“The Eater”) Mangano of Yale who leads the league in rebounding and is averaging a double/double. But this week, the rosters were combed to honor an unsung hero; a player who has emerged as a more than a capable running mate for Noruwa Agho at Columbia and is responsible for the Lions rise to first division status. And that is none other than Brian Barbour, who wins the award by a hair. In Columbia’s first four conference games (3-1) the 6’1 sophomore from California has averaged 19 points per game on 45% shooting. Over that span, he has also converted an astounding 27 of 29 free throw attempts. So rise from your chair, Mr. Barbour, and do an Argentine Tango while accepting the trophy.

Power Rankings

1. Harvard (15-3, 4-0)–An eight game winning streak; a six-man rotation that is as solid as they come; a mention in the AP Top 25; undefeated so far in conference. It is easy to see why they are # 1. This coming weekend will be a test and Friday at Princeton could be a game for the ages, and for the conference championship.

2. Princeton (14-4, 2-0)—It’s difficult to assess the Tigers as they have only played four games in a month and none of them versus tough competition. Their top six is equal to that of the Crimson and perhaps have the experience edge. Jadwin Gym should be rocking on Friday.

3. Columbia (12-6, 3-1)–Winners of nine of their last 11; an unlucky one-point loss to Elon and a loss at league elite Harvard are the only speed bumps for the Lions. Kyle Smith has to be the front-runner for Coach of the Year and Barbour and Agho clearly the top backcourt in a league full of quality guards.

4. Penn (8-8, 2-0)– The third of the league’s undefeated, the Quakers did what they had to do beating the bottom feeders at home, albeit in overtime over Brown. Two more home games followed by a five-game road trip should go a long way in determining where Penn’s landing will be. The good news is that they get Harvard on the rebound following their titanic clash against in New Jersey.

5. Yale (9-9, 2-2)–Two wins versus travel partner Brown followed by competitive losses in their toughest road trip against Princeton and Penn. Greg Mangano has been a beast, a POY candidate,  and with six home games in their next eight, the Bulldogs have a real chance for a top-four finish.

6. Brown (7-11, 0-4)–Two competitive losses versus travel partner Yale and an OT loss at Penn have contributed to their winless record. Sophomore forward Tucker Halperin is one of the bright spots in the league.

7. Dartmouth (5-13, 1-3)–Many thought the Big Green would go winless; the same people thought Cornell would be contenders. However, Friday’s game put an end to both parts of that speculation, as Dartmouth broke a five-game losing streak with a seven-point victory against the Big Red. Unfortunately, Paul Cormier may not get another conference win.

8. Cornell (4-14, 0-4)—I wonder how many that watched Ryan Wittman and company get to the Sweet 16 last year thought the descent would be so rapid. Peck, Ferry, and Wroblewski can play. But can Bill Courtney coach? He’ll have time, but his squad’s four victims? Wofford, Delaware, Stony Brook, and Albany. ‘Nuff said.

A Look Ahead

The loser of this Friday’s clash between league powerhouses Harvard and Princeton will have to wait a month (March 5) for a rematch. It is not unreasonable to assume a head-to head split and an early March playoff to determine league supremacy and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Princeton experience vs. Harvard athleticism.  Tommy Amaker vs. Sydney Johnson. Hummer, Maddox, Davis, Mavraides vs. Wright, Casey, Curry, and Webster.  Catch it if you can.

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

A Look Back

A ho-hum two weeks to begin 2011 in the land of the Ancient Eight. Overall, the league went 11-8 and saw their Conference RPI drop to a more realistic #14. With non-league games dwindling to a precious few, it is unlikely that ranking will change much from now until March.  Still two weeks to go before the Ivies get into league play, and most of the members used the time to fatten up on inferior competition (i.e. Baruch, Lyndon St, Union). All except Penn and Harvard, who ventured into the SEC and ACC, respectively, for a couple of memorable games.

Pardon the Inter-Rupp-tion: A trip to the Bluegrass State to open the new year; a glimpse of Kentucky’s thoroughbreds — both human and equine; a national television appearance on ESPNU; and, a matchup of two storied programs, each in the top ten all-time in victories. All of that for the Penn Quakers to ring in 2011.

Except someone forgot to tell the Red and Blue that they were also supposed to be fodder for the #11 Wildcats, who were coming off a dismantling of neighboring rival Louisville. For the first 15 minutes, it was the Quakers who looked like the nationally ranked team. Riding the hot hand of Tyler Bernardini and the floor generalship of Zack Rosen, Penn opened up a 12-point lead which, left John Calipari screaming on the sidelines, wondering how Miles Cartwright had slipped through his recruiting fingers, and gave Jerome Allen flashback visions of his own great teams. It was then where things began to unravel, thanks in large part to some Kentucky defense and rebounding. A 14-1 Wildcat run to end the half gave Kentucky a lead they would never relinquish and finally allowed the 21,681 in the sea of blue to, if you’ll excuse the expression, e-Rupp-t.

The second half proved to be not much more than a scrimmage for Kentucky. They hit 12 of their first 13 shots en route to an 18-22 clip over the final 30 minutes. The rebounding numbers were even more lopsided, 36-15, in favor of the Wildcats, thanks to a workmanlike effort from Josh Harrelson. The only good news for the Quaker faithful was that the 86-62 final score meant that ,with apologies to Warner Wolf, if you had Penn and 25 you won!

Familiarity Breeds…: Three years ago, just days after Boston College had upset then #1 North Carolina, Harvard came in and beat the Eagles. A natural letdown was the explanation. Last year, despite protests from the Al Skinner and the BC players that things would be different, the result was the same. So this year, it should have come as no surprise when Harvard traveled across the Charles to Chestnut Hill and came away with a gutsy 78-69 victory. And to sweeten the (bean) pot, the congratulatory post-game handshake that Tommy Amaker received came from none other than old Cornell nemesis, Steve Donahue. And this against a BC team that had won eight out of nine and at 3-0 is currently atop the ACC leader board (that’s right, Dookies). The Crimson led just about every step of the way. BC cut an 11 point lead to five with two minutes remaining but could creep no closer. Amaker used only seven players with six getting significant minutes. The leading scorer for the Crimson…..

Player of the Week: Laurent Rivard, Harvard -Based on his name, he should either be a ski resort in the mountains of Quebec, a new Dior eau de toilette, or a left wing for Les Habitants. But freshman Laurent Rivard of Harvard (kind of rhymes) is instead this week’s RTC Ivy League Player of the Week. In the three Crimson victories, the 6’5 guard from Saint-Bruno, Quebec, averaged 16 points in 31 minutes per game. More importantly, it has become evident that he is the only one who is seeing significant minutes off Tommy Amaker’s shortened bench. So hissez le trophée Monsieur Rivard. You are well on your way to becoming the Ivy Sixth Man of the Year.

Power Rankings

With this being the last power poll before league play commences, it is time to separate the wheat from the chaff. To begin:

Prepping for March: It is difficult to separate or look beyond:

1. Harvard (11-3, 1-0)–the Crimson reclaim the top spot thanks to their 3-0 record which included the aforementioned victory over BC. The return of Kyle Casey and the rapid development of Laurent Rivard gives Harvard six players capable of scoring in double digits and who compare very favorably with the six from…

2. Princeton (11-4)—The Tigers relinquish #1 primarily because of inactivity (finals), with just a victory over Marist in the last two weeks. The quartet of Douglas Davis, Dan Mavraides, Ian Hummer, and Kareem Maddox can hold their own with any team this side of Cameron Indoor or Allen Fieldhouse. The head-to-head meetings with Harvard February 4 and March 5) should decide league supremacy.

Can Make Some Noise:

3. Columbia (9-5)–winners of six of their last seven, albeit against weak competition, the Lions look to be much improved under Kyle Smith. Led by Ivy scoring leader Noruwa Agho (16.4 PPG), Columbia next faces travel partner Cornell in home-and-home games that will go a long way in determining if the Lions are worthy of first division status.

4. Penn (5-7)—There are a lot of reasons to think the Quakers can make a run at the title. They have probably the most complete player in the league in Zack Rosen, (two rebounds and three assists short of an unheard of triple double before fouling out vs. LaSalle) a freshman comparable to Laurent Rivard in Miles Cartwright, and a veteran supporting cast. Furthermore, they have shown flashes of brilliance against nationally ranked opponents Kentucky and Villanova. But then there are games like those against Marist and Manhattan. The jury is still out.

5. Cornell (4-10)–What, you say? Make noise? A team tied with lowly Dartmouth for the cellar and a team that endured an eight game losing streak? Well, perhaps we ARE going too far back into their past performances. But it is hard to believe that a team which features veterans like Chris Wroblewski and Errick Peck who have known only success, won’t make some sort of an impact in the league race.

On The Outside Looking In:

6. Yale (7-7)–Perhaps an underrated and overlooked squad. Next to Penn, Yale played probably the most demanding non-conference schedule. The Elis did conquer BC and played Big East foe Providence tough. They will go as far as Greg Mangano and Austin Morgan take them.

7. Brown (6-7)—Games against their in-state rivals Rhode Island and Providence were the only two real tests the Bears have faced. And in each case, they didn’t pass, losing by 25 and 27 points, respectively. Peter Sullivan has been a bright spot averaging nearly 14 points and six rebounds per game.

8. Dartmouth (0-1, 4-10)–Wondering if Paul Cormier is having second thoughts about leaving the NBA for a return engagement in New Hampshire?  At least the relatives and friends of the players are happy, as there are ten members of the Big Green seeing double digit minutes.

A Look Ahead

Brown faces home-and-home travel partner Yale before going south for a Penn/Princeton weekend. The Bears could be staring at an 0-4 to open up. Columbia has the aforementioned battles with travel partner Cornell before heading to New England for Harvard and Dartmouth. Can they win three of those? Cornell has the opportunity to put their pre-conference disasters behind them as they have three winnable games before facing Harvard on the 29th. Would anyone be shocked to see the Big red atop the standings at 3-0 before that game?  Assuming they will not go 0-14, where will victories come for Dartmouth? Their first home weekend vs. Cornell and Columbia? Doubtful.

Harvard actually has an interesting game at GW before three soft league home games. It is expected that the Crimson will enter the Feburary 4 game against Princeton unblemished.  Penn must complete their rugged Big 5 schedule against old  friend Fran Dunphy and his Owls and then the St. Joseph’s Hawks. If they are not worn out from all the flapping, they should begin league play 2-0 with their softest home weekend.  A weird scheduling quirk has Princeton opening with five straight league home games. If they are perfect, the race may be over early. Yale needs to beat up on travel partner Brown before they too swing south for a trip to the Palestra and Jadwin Gym.

Note: Once league play begins, there will be games only on Friday and Saturday, for the most part. Therefore, this column will next appear in two weeks, on Monday the 31st, instead of Friday, allowing full coverage of the first big Ivy weekend.

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