Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Not Your Older Brother’s Ivy League: By Adjusted Pythagorean Winning Percentage – the same method used by Ken Pomeroy to rank teams – this year’s Ivy League is far and away the best since roaring ’70s, which culminated with Penn’s Final Four run. Turns out, the RPI isn’t far behind. The previous high-water mark for the league was 2002, when Penn won the league in a three-way playoff with Princeton and Yale. That year, the Quakers finished with the highest RPI ranking (#37) that any league team has had since Princeton’s amazing 1998 season. The Tigers wrapped up the season at #79 and the Bulldogs closed their campaign at #98, marking the first time the Ivies had three Top 100 RPI teams. The league’s average RPI was #160, best in the era for which data is available, barely edging last season’s average of #173.
After a rough start, this year’s edition of the league has made an assault on that 2002 mark. Harvard sits comfortably in the RPI Top 50, while Penn, Princeton and Yale are hovering on the cusp of the Top 100 to make four Ivies in the Top 125. The 2012 average RPI currently stands at #169, but that’s primarily because all eight 2002 squads finished ahead of this year’s laggards Brown and Dartmouth. While it’s completely within the Crimson’s control to track down the 2002 Quakers for best RPI since the 1998 Princeton squad, the league’s teams will need a bit of help from their non-conference opponents to claim the mark for best average, since league play tends to be mostly a zero-sum game from a rankings perspective.
As Teams Like Brown Drop From Contention, Keith Wright And The Crimson Continue To Hold The Keys.
Given that the Ivy League does not have a conference tournament, there is no second chance to save a season once a team falls out of the league race. With each Ivy Check-In for the rest of the year, this section will break down which squads’ seasons came to a premature end, and which are sliding quickly into the danger zone.
MAYBE NEXT YEAR:
Dartmouth (0-4): The Big Green has been full of surprising moments all year, including holding a seven-point lead in the second half at Harvard in each school’s Ivy opener. But Dartmouth got outscored 90-51 over the next 55 minutes to drop both ends of the travel partner series to the Crimson and then blew second-half leads at both Brown and Yale to fall to 0-4.
Brown (1-3): After getting swept by Yale to kickoff the Ivy campaign, the Bears narrowly avoided the cellar by grabbing a comeback win over Dartmouth at home. Brown had to have a win over league favorite Harvard the next night to stay in the race and hung in with the Crimson for 20 minutes before a 13-0 run gave the visitors all the cushion they would need to cruise to victory. Now the Bears have been relegated to the role of spoiler with Penn and Princeton coming to town next weekend.
Columbia (1-3): A 20-6 run to pull even with Cornell at 53 seemed to give the Lions new life in what was quite properly referred to as an Ivy elimination game. The Big Red responded with big bucket after big bucket over the final six minutes to withstand the charge and edge Columbia, 65-60.
THE WAITING ROOM:
Cornell (2-2): A series of mediocre results has the Big Red alive heading into its trip to Boston next Friday, but a win over Harvard is an absolute must to stay in the race. An upset there could give the Big Red a clear shot at 6-2, which would keep it in the thick of things heading into back-to-back road trips including dates with Penn, Princeton and Yale.
Princeton (1-2): The results weren’t expected to be great for a team with five-straight road games to start Ivy play, but two losses are still just as damaging if they come against good teams or bad. The Tigers now need to sweep a tricky road swing to Yale and Brown and take care of Dartmouth at home to set up an opportunity to get back into the race with a visit from Harvard.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Contenders and Pretenders: The first Ivy League back-to-back weekend is in the books, though for only half of the league’s teams. In true 14-game tournament fashion, it took just one weekend for the Ivy title race to change pretty drastically. With a road sweep of Cornell and Columbia, Pennsylvania immediately vaulted into the number one contender spot behind Harvard. The New York trip will be the second-toughest in the Ivies this season (the Princeton/Philadelphia swing will be slightly more treacherous), so escaping it with a 2-0 mark puts the Quakers in great shape to hang around the title race deep into the season.
Zack Rosen And The Quakers Hope They Have All Their Kinks Ironed Out So They Can Make A Run At Harvard.
The weekend wasn’t as kind to Columbia, which had two separate comeback bids fall short against Pennsylvania and Princeton, losing both games by a combined six points. The Lions had entered Ivy play at 9-1 in their last ten games, but all it takes is one rough back-to-back to see title hopes get dashed. Columbia still has a chance at a postseason berth in one of the 16-team events, but will likely need to close with eight or nine wins in its final 12 games – a slate that includes two meetings with Harvard.
The Tigers and Big Red emerged from the weekend alive, but endangered.Princeton is in better shape than Cornell, as road splits are excusable, while home splits can be deadly. The Tigers face the daunting task of playing their first five games on the road, which also means seven of the final nine at home, so Princeton can fall a little behind early and still maintain a realistic hope to catch the leaders down the stretch. Cornell doesn’t have that luxury. The Big Red must sweep travel partner Columbia over the next two weeks to stay in the race and set the table for a battle with preseason favorite Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion.
Yale survived a surprising scare at home against lowly Brown, trailing by seven at the half and six with just over three minutes to go before closing the game on a 13-3 run. The Bulldogs look to complete the sweep this weekend to remain perfect heading into their meeting with Harvard on January 27. Read the rest of this entry »
Soaring To Glory: Five expectations for Boston College in the upcoming year. To make a long story short, the Eagles will get better and win more games (especially next season). Favorite expectation: “Victories in ACC game(s)”. I love it because it’s vague. If it’s just one game, are the rest moral victories? Halftime victories? The possibilities are endless. I do agree the Eagles should get much better as the season goes on. I’m not sure whether that’s worth two ACC wins, though the bottom of the conference is certainly weak enough.
Independent Weekly: Looking for a rant about Duke pasting Pennsylvania? You’ve come to the right place. Clearly, Adam Sobsey is tired of guarantee games that largely finance smaller athletic departments (seriously, check out Grambling State’s schedule starting with nine of 10 games on the road). Oh, it also has Star Wars references.
At one point, Penn head coach Jerome Allen (a former four-year star player for the Quakers in the 1990s) could be heard calling a defensive set to his charges. He may have been saying ‘double flex’ or something like that, but mixed into the minor din of the sedate New Year’s Day crowd at Cameron, it sounded for all the world like he was shouting, ‘Boba Fett! Boba Fett!’ And indeed it would have taken a hired gun, a clone specimen, a rogue bounty hunter from the Dark Side, to give the Quakers a fighting chance last night. But, of course, Duke is the Evil Empire, right? Krzyzewski (and Calipari et al) have already recruited all the Boba Fetts. They go by names like John Wall and Austin Rivers—very obviously aliases. Some of them, like the Plumli, are even clone specimens.
Testudo Times: This article reads like a giant exhalation. And Maryland fans should be very pleased with the team’s December performance after a rocky start. Additionally, Pe’Shon Howard‘s return and Alex Len‘s debut give Mark Turgeon two more talented players to introduce into the rotation. The most interesting thing about the duo’s addition is the team’s new tempo. Without Howard and Len, Turgeon’s team looked like one of his past teams and was significantly below average in adjusted pace. Against Albany the Terrapins picked up the pace significantly, adding seven possessions (which would place them near the top of D-I). Keep an eye on this team’s style of play going into conference action.
Fayetteville Observer: Check out the key players for each ACC team as the conference looks to improve on a lackluster start. Personally, I totally forgot about Florida State’s Ian Miller (who failed to academically qualify last semester); he scored 17 in the Seminoles’ loss to Princeton.
The Sporting News: Old, wise coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams made the cut (and Gary Williams would’ve certainly made it had he not retired) — choose to avoid non-conference road games. To be clear, the coaches’ success probably plays an important role in being able to keep respect while avoiding the crapshoots that are road games. Invites to the NCAA Tournament are mainly about conference performance (for power conference teams at least).
GIF of the Day: Miami struggled to put UNCG away last night. This guy had a lot to do with it.
Awesome UNCG Alley-Hoop Against Miami (Mocksession)
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
Turnaround Experts: Unless your school’s name was Harvard, November wasn’t the best month. High expectations had been placed on a league that suffered relatively few key graduation losses and had vaulted into the teens in the conference rankings. As the calendar flipped to December, however, the Ivies had just two teams above .500 and the league’s overall record against Division I competition was a disappointing 21-28 with one of the nation’s worst strength of schedule ratings to boot. Led by Columbia’s and Yale’s 4-0 Division I mark in December thus far, the Ivy League has gone 20-14this month and currently has six teams in Pomeroy’s Top 200. Even some of the losses have been impressive, which has buoyed the conference rating in the possession-based ranking systems. Pennsylvania played both Villanova and UCLA tough on the road before ultimately falling, and Princeton gave Drexel all it could handle in Philadelphia before losing by four. Meanwhile, Harvard has paced the league with a 10-1 mark, hanging around the Top 25 in almost every type of ranking and keeping the Ivies in the national spotlight.
Quality Wins: With almost three-quarters of the non-conference season in the books, the Ivy League has racked up some wins that would make any one-bid conference jealous. Harvard has led the way with neutral-site victories over Florida State and Central Florida en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. The Crimson hasn’t been the only team taking down quality opponents, though. The Quakers have come close to a few major upsets – none closer than their overtime loss to Temple – but still have a win over Top 100 Robert Morris to their name. Princeton joined the party with wins over Buffalo and Rutgers and like Pennsylvania came close to a couple others. Finally, Cornell and Columbia have each knocked off some quality teams from the one-bid leagues – Lehigh and Manhattan, respectively. Depending on the rating system, the Ivies have registered as many as 21 of their 41 wins against the Top 200, including 10 in road or neutral settings, and the average ranking of the league’s wins is roughly 210. That profile makes the Ivy League the #13 conference in the country according to the Pomeroy Ratings. It also has this year’s edition of the league on pace to be the toughest top-to-bottom since the inception of the Academic Index Floor (a test-score and GPA based system for ranking the academic qualifications of potential admits) in the early 1980s.
Top Performers: With Harvard cracking the Top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll again this week, you might expect to see a bunch of Crimson players in a section on the league’s top players. Harvard has been so balanced this year though that its highly efficient offensive players including forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and guard Laurent Rivard haven’t been able to post the raw stats that would lead to recognition. Any discussion about Player of the Year to this point starts and ends with Pennsylvania guard Zack Rosen. He’s the only Ivy player to be on the floor for more than 90% of his team’s minutes, and his output has been historically strong with an offensive rating close to 130 and a usage rate of nearly 25%. His backcourt mate, Tyler Bernardini, has been having a stellar senior campaign as well with efficiency and usage rates that may not match Rosen’s but are still easily All-Ivy caliber. Princeton’s Ian Hummer has been carrying the Tigers this season, using 33% of his team’s possessions and establishing himself as the league’s second most productive player behind Rosen. Yale big man Greg Mangano has to be part of the POY discussion, though he’s had a little more support as guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite, along with forward Jeremiah Kreisberg, have all played very well this season. Some other guys to watch as league play approaches are Columbia’s Brian Barbour, Brown’s Sean McGonagill and Cornell’s Drew Ferry, who has stabilized a Big Red team that has yet to get the usual high quality output from its star Chris Wroblewski to this point.
Greg Mangano Enters The Ivy POY Discussion With Averages of 17 Points And Nearly Nine Rebounds Per Game To Go Along With A Low Turnover Rate.
Cousy Award Watch List: Over sixty players made the annual list of the top point guards and combo guards in the nation, including four from the Ivy League. Seniors Chris Wroblewski and Zack Rosen made the cut along with Columbia junior Brian Barbour and Harvard junior Brandyn Curry. The list of quality point/combo guards in the league hardly stops there. Brown sophomore Sean McGonagill was last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year and is having a fine sophomore campaign. Princeton’s Douglas Davis has struggled a bit before having a monster game last night in a loss at Siena. Finally, Yale’s Austin Morgan has quietly put up First-Team All-Ivy numbers that rival any of the league’s four players that made the Cousy List.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Defense Reigns Supreme: A year after having five teams scoring more than one point per possession, the Ivies have struggled out of the gate this season with just one team over that mark. The league has compensated with defense and in a big way. While three teams are allowing more than one point per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, removing his preseason weighting reveals that only one (Brown) is above that line based on this season’s performance alone. Considering that from 2004-11, only seven Ivy teams total had allowed less than a point per possession, the defensive transformation this season has been nothing short of remarkable.
The league’s best defensive unit thus far has been preseason favorite Harvard. The Crimson’s potent offense hit the brakes in the Bahamas, but it more than compensated by suffocating opponents on the opposite end of the floor. Harvard scored just 14 points in the first half against Florida State, but that was good enough for a share of the lead. The Crimson continued the staunch defense in the second half, closing out a 46-41 win over the then-#22 Seminoles. It was the second-consecutive game where Harvard held its opponent to under 50 points, a streak which would continue in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Central Florida and through the next week at Vermont. Seattle finally broke the streak in a big way, putting up 70 on the Crimson, but on 70 possessions, it just barely the first time the Crimson had allowed an opponent to hit a point per possession this season.
Harvard isn’t the only Ivy shutting teams down on the defensive end of the court though. Princeton held a Top 100 Buffalo squad to just 0.76 points per trip in a 61-53 victory, and Cornell also held the Bulls to just 0.95 points per possession earlier in the year, but couldn’t score enough to avoid a nine-point defeat. Columbia has held its last four Division I opponents to 0.67, 0.93, 0.88 and 0.71 points per trip, and three of those four contests were road or neutral site games.
Poll Position: It’s not common to have a Top 25 section in an Ivy League Check In, but this week, the Crimson cracked the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #24 and the AP Poll at #25. It was the first time that an Ivy squad made either poll since 2010, when Cornell finished at #17 in the Coaches Poll, and the first time a league team made the AP Poll since 1998, when Princeton climbed as high as #8. Harvard’s entrance marks the first time in school history that it has been ranked in either poll, leaving Brown as the only Ivy team never to have made the cut.
Struggling and Absent Stars: If the Ivies want to hang on to a conference rating in the teens, they will have to do it without some injured stars and some other pivotal players who have slightly to drastically underperformed expectations thus far. Columbia senior guard Noruwa Agho, who made First Team All-Ivy last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Brown junior forward Tucker Halpern, who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy last season, has yet to play, and there are no indications that he will be back any time soon. Finally, Cornell junior forward Errick Peck, who was poised for a breakout campaign, has yet to hit the floor for the Big Red. To compound matters, some freshmen of whom big things were expected, including Penn forward GregLouis and Bears center Rafael Maia, have lost the season due to injury and foreign transfer eligibility rules, respectively.
While the three remaining returnees from the First Team All-Ivy squad – Quakers guard ZackRosen, Yale center Greg Mangano and Crimson center Keith Wright – have carried over their stellar play, the remainder of last year’s All-Ivy team has posted some mixed results. Big Red guard Chris Wroblewski has shot an anemic 32.0 eFG% from the field and Harvard guards Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry haven’t hit at much higher clips (37.0 and 38.3 eFG%, respectively), though Curry’s solid assist rates have kept his offensive rating afloat. All told, that’s three graduations, two extended injuries and three underperforming stars from last year’s 14-player All-Ivy roster. That the league has managed to exceed last season’s performance thus far is a testament to the strong freshman class and the quality of the Ivies’ depth.
Kyle Casey Is In The Middle Of The Buzz Surrounding Harvard. Will They Stay Ranked After Thursday's Loss To Connecticut?
Harvard (8-1) – It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the Crimson has taken care of business every time out, with the lone setback being Thursday night’s loss at Connecticut. The biggest difference between this year and last has been the depth provided by Tommy Amaker’s talented 2011 class. Forward Steve Moundou-Missi provides strong defense and good finishing skills around the rim, while swingman Wesley Saunders can shut down opposing perimeter players and is hard to defend on drives to the basket. The contributions from the rookies don’t end there, though. Forward Jonah Travis put up a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against Seattle and guard CorbinMiller has knocked down seven of his first 10 threes. Both went quiet against the Huskies, but expect more consistent performances once the competition falls back to its usual level.
Yale (7-2) – The four-man unit of guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite and big men JeremiahKreisberg and Greg Mangano has been as good as any top four in the league. Depth, however, is lacking. Coach James Jones has given 11 different guys at least 10 percent of team minutes thus far and has yet to find a group of rotation players that can help on the offensive end consistently. The Bulldogs have taken care of business during a weak stretch, winning each of its last five contests to head into the exam break at 7-2 on the year. With the brutal back-to-back Ivy schedule, it is imperative that Yale find some options off the bench if it hopes to join the conversation with Harvard at the top of the league.
Pennsylvania (5-5) – Senior guard Zack Rosen has been all that’s stood between the Quakers and disaster this season, but it’s been enough to make Pennsylvania a bit of a surprise. The Quakers’ record isn’t all that impressive, but its worst loss is to Pomeroy Top 150 James Madison, and it has already posted a Top 100 win over Robert Morris. Having been a Big 5 punching bag lately, Pennsylvania took Temple to overtime and lost at Villanova by eight – strong showings in what will be a competitive race for the title of Best in Philly.
Princeton (4-5) – The question isn’t whether there are championship pieces here; rather, the question is whether there are enough. Senior guard Doug Davis and junior forward Ian Hummer have combined to use over 50 percent of Princeton’s possessions at an offensive rating over 100 when they’re on the floor, but the offense has still stagnated, as the Tigers haven’t been able to come close to replacing the output of graduated stars Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox. Princeton has played the second-best defense in the league thus far, which has kept it oddly competitive at times, but it is only 3-2 in D-I games when it holds the opponent under a point per possession, meaning that no matter how good the Tigers are at generating stops, improvement on the offensive end is necessary to win games consistently.
Cornell (3-4) – Exam time has rolled around in Ithaca, but the Big Red went into its break with a bang, knocking off a very good Lehigh team at Newman Arena. Things get a lot tougher after finals, though, with visits to BCS teams Illinois, Penn State and Maryland on the horizon along with road dates at Stony Brook and Bucknell. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski has struggled thus far, shooting relatively poorly and turning the ball over much more than last year. Freshman Shonn Miller got off to a hot start for the Big Red, but despite cooling off a bit, his defensive rebounding abilities have been invaluable for a team that struggled to control the paint last season.
Columbia (6-4) – Coming off a solid showing at Connecticut to start off the season, the Lions led Furman for 30 minutes before being dealt a huge blow, as senior guard Noruwa Agho suffered a season-ending knee injury. Columbia dropped the game to the Paladins and a couple more, but has come on strong as of late. Stingy defense has led the Lions to four-straight wins over Division I competition. Junior guard Brian Barbour has picked up the slack in Agho’s absence, taking on a huge possession load and leading the Lions to road wins over Manhattan and Loyola Marymount.
Dartmouth (2-5) – After having spent the last four years mired in the 300s, the Big Green has begun to take visible steps toward respectability. Freshman forward Gabas Maldunas has given Dartmouth a legitimate interior presence and the backcourt led by upperclassmen R.J. Griffin and David Rufful has played well at times. Sure there is only one Division I win at this point (at home against Bryant), but the Big Green only fell to a solid San Francisco by two points in the Great Alaska Shootout and lost at Rutgers by just six in the season opener. There’s still a long way to go, but Paul Cormier is bringing Division I talent back to Hanover, and that’s a start.
Brown (4-7) – Some bad fortune has landed the Bears in the Ivy cellar, as Brown hasn’t had the services of Tucker Halpern and Rafael Maia for reasons discussed above. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Sean McGonagill, transfer Stephen Albrecht and swingman Matt Sullivan have combined to forge a decent starting backcourt, but with no depth and more questions than answers at the forward spots, the Bears have struggled to avoid getting blown out by the top half of Division I teams. The schedule has been and will continue to be light enough for Brown to post a respectable record, but that won’t fool anyone that makes SOS adjustments.
Finals loom for many of the league’s teams, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of December is without its fair share of interesting matchups and potential statement games.
12/10 – Pennsylvania at UCLA (Fox Sports West) – The Bruins will be without Reeves Nelson, who was suspended by UCLA coach Ben Howland this week. The Quakers might have a loss of their own though, as sophomore guard Miles Cartwright missed Pennsylvania’s last outing against Delaware. Despite struggling a bit this season, the Bruins should be healthy favorites in this one. The Quakers can win if they keep a cold shooting UCLA team from finding its stroke, but the game will likely hinge on whether Zack Rosen can successfully carry the team on his back as he’s been doing all season.
12/10 – Columbia vs. Long Island – It took the Lions a little time to find themselves after losing Noruwa Agho, but Columbia has been on a tear recently. The Blackbirds will be the best team the Lions have faced other than Connecticut thus far though, and Long Island’s potent offense will provide a great test for Columbia’s suddenly stifling defense. If the Lions get by the Blackbirds, it will be hard not to make the argument that this team is better off without Agho than with him.
12/14 – Princeton at Rider – This is a game the Tigers should win, but it’s hard to argue that the league’s most high variance team to this point “should” do anything. Princeton loses by two at North Carolina State and returns home to dismantle Buffalo, but falls to Elon at home and Morehead State at a neutral site before knocking off Rutgers in a game which itself exhibited violent swings. For the Tigers to be taken seriously as a contender in the consistency endeavor that is the 14-Game Tournament, they need to be able to take care of non-Top 200 squads on the road.
12/18 – Yale at Rhode Island – The oddsmakers would have this as a near coin flip at this point, but it’s a game that the Bulldogs need to prove they can win, since the bulk of the Ivy League will likely hover in the same range. Greg Mangano should have a field day with a Rams frontcourt defense that’s allowing opponents to shoot 56.7 percent from two. If Yale can keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass – the only real positive for the Rams this season – it should be able to leave Kingston with a victory.
12/21 – Cornell at Penn St. (Big Ten Network) – It’s the second Big Ten matchup for the Big Red in three days (after a trip to Illinois on Dec. 19), but this one should be a fair deal easier than the showdown with the #22 Illini. The Nittany Lions, who would be a notably bad Power Six conference team if it weren’t for many others that were already the standard bearers, just fell to Lafayette this week. If Cornell can keep Penn State’s offense dormant, it will have a great chance to put a Big Ten scalp on the Ivy mantle.
Every March the topic of scheduling rears its ugly head as fans and analysts rip teams for their soft non-conference schedules. Did you ever wonder how teams come up with those schedules? Surely it involves putting together the team statistician, the chairman of mathematics, and the chairman of computer sciences at the university to crunch the numbers to come up with the optimal schedule to allow their school to appease that all-important Selection Committee on Selection Sunday, right? It turns out that it really isn’t that advanced. In some ways, it comes down to a representative of the basketball program putting up a request and basically announcing “call me if you are interested”.
It's cupcake city, baby!
As John Ezekowitz noted it is basically “NCAA Basketball’s Craigslist” where teams try to figure out how to fill their schedules and potentially offer monetary incentives in what are commonly known as “guarantee games”. Essentially a guarantee game is one in which a lesser team is paid (often rather handsomely) to travel to a better team’s arena for a game (read Kyle Whelliston’s account of one such game for more details). These games have often been derided as being against the spirit of the game. Obviously the financial incentive for the proverbial “sacrificial lamb” is a little unseemly and viewed by some as unsportsmanlike. Then there is the competitiveness issue as these games often are blowouts. Some coaches, including Lefty Driesell in our interview with him before this season, have expressed unhappiness at the fact that it does not allow for the traditional home-and-home match-ups that could generate a lot of buzz and ticket revenue for the smaller program, but the bigger program does not want to do so because frankly there is nothing in it for them. If they go on the road and win, who cares? They beat a team that means nothing on the national level and they lost the ability to sell themselves in front of a major recruit. And if they lose on the road? The world ends for a few days as boosters and fans call for the coach’s head and the players have their Facebook walls and Twitter accounts bombarded by all sorts of profane messages.
Game #175. Ancient Ivy League rivals meet in the Palestra to determine if there will be a playoff on Saturday for the title.
Rivals Penn and Princeton have both won 25 Ivy League titles, so it’s almost fitting that only Penn stands in the way from Princeton capturing No. 26. With a win tonight at the historic Palestra, the Tigers would earn a share of the Ivy crown and a spot in a one-game Ivy playoff vs. co-champ Harvard to determine the league’s auto bid. For Penn, winning its final game of the 2010-11 season would secure a .500 overall record and a tie for third place in the league — but more important it would send its biggest rival to the NIT while giving Harvard its first NCAA berth since 1946. In other words, for one night, the only people rooting for Penn harder than Quakers fans will be Harvard supporters.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)
Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win
The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
He’ll coach in the Big 12 Tournament, but after that, you can run down the curtain on the Pat Knight era at Texas Tech. The school released Knight on Monday after a three-year run that resulted in no NCAA Tournament trips and an overall 50-60 record. Now, we know in terms of basketball tradition, Texas Tech is not Indiana, but following Bobby Knight at any coaching job is certainly an unenviable position, and we’re intrigued to see how Pat does as the top dog someplace where his father’s influence never reached, a place where he can stake his own claim and not be known simply as the default-hire son of the legend who preceded him. The linked article also explains how Knight the Younger knew this was coming.
Knight is unfortunately not the only coach to endure the fall of the axe (or at least the prod in the back) on Monday. Pat Kennedyresigned at Towson after seven seasons; Kirk Earlywine was dismissed from Eastern Washington; and Kennesaw State released Tom Ingle, citing academic shortcomings of Ingle’s players rather than the 8-20 record posted by the Owls this season (Ingle was 248-215 overall). That’s the only negative about March: coaches lose jobs, and the coaching carousel begins.
On a much lighter note, for any coach who finds him/herself without employment over the next few weeks, for renewal of purpose, we submit this story from Jeff Goodman about Greg Lansing. He’s headed to the Tournament as the honcho at Indiana State, tournament champions from the Missouri Valley Conference. Just a few years ago, he was fired from his assistant position by Steve Alford when the two were at Iowa. There’s also an interesting tidbit in there about the positive omen Lansing received on Saturday, the day before his squad beat Missouri State for the MVC tournament title.
Texas is taking some punches from hoops fans everywhere, these days. Not surprising, when you consider that they dropped three of their last five games this season, and upon remembering that Hindenberg of a stretch run last year. A burnt child shuns fire, after all. But if you think the late-season missteps this year indicate a return of last season’s problems, senior Gary Johnson says it’s a mistake, but invites you keep on thinking that if you wish. Others within the Texas basketball family evidently join him in that sentiment, and contend that UT is still a national title contender.
Big game in the Ivy League tonight, as Princeton travels to Penn for the last game of the Ancient Eight’s regular season. If Penn wins, Harvard clinches the Ivy title and goes to their first NCAA Tournament in 65 years. If Princeton wins, the Tigers would sit tied atop the league table with Harvard and force a one game playoff (which would be played at Yale) on Saturday. If that’s not cool enough for you, tonight’s Princeton-Penn game is at The Palestra — the home of the Quakers, and one of the most regal, venerable buildings in our sport (P.S.: we can’t wait to get there!).
In last week’s article I touched on the notion of parity and how great it is within the world of sports. After analyzing many of the Other 26 conferences this week, I could not help but notice how in several of the conference there is not one team that has distinguished themselves from the pack yet, and we are already nearing mid-February. In some cases, there are not even two or three teams that are running away with the league. Competitiveness or mediocrity? Well, does it really matter? All this means is that conference tournament week becomes that much more unpredictable and exciting. Here are a few of the conferences that are still completely wide open:
Atlantic 10: Four teams—Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, and Richmond—have records between 8-2 and 8-1.
CAA: Four teams—George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Hofstra—have records between 12-2 and 10-4.
The A10 and CAA are both very similar as each have four teams in legitimate contention, and both appear to be two-bid leagues at the moment.
Conference USA: Six teams—UTEP, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa—have records between 6-2 and 7-3.
Horizon League: Five teams—Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Wright State, Butler, and Wisconsin Milwaukee—have records between 10-3 and 9-5.
MAC: Eight teams—Kent State, Buffalo, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Ball State, and Western Michigan—have records between 7-2 and 5-4.
Southern Conference: Four teams—Charleston, Furman, Wofford, and Chattanooga—have records between 11-2 and 10-3.
Southland Conference: Nine teams—Northwestern State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Texas State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, UTSA, and Texas Arlington—have records between 7-3 and 5-4.
Very elaborate, I know. But, it is pretty remarkable the balance in the leagues. Of these seven conferences, there are a total of 40 teams who can still say they are capable and have a legit shot at winning their conference. What does this all mean? A great week of basketball during the conference tournaments, followed by more weeks of deliciousness during the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.
Matt Patton, a junior at Harvard University, is an RTC contributor.
Loving sports comes with ups and downs. College sports especially come with the knowledge that no matter how good a player is, eligibility only lasts so long. Some programs feel like they’re on perpetual highs, rarely enduring a bad season. We plot winning streaks, consecutive NCAA bids, and even dynasties for these programs. Then there are those less fortunate streaks: Northwestern’s historical absence from the NCAA tournament, Clemson’s perfect record of defeats in Chapel Hill, and Harvard’s empty space where years should represent Ivy League championships.
Harvard Hoops is On the Rise
For some fans these streaks produce incredible pain (Northwestern); for some they produce apathy (Clemson); and for others they scare them off altogether (Harvard). Two years ago there was no such thing as a bandwagon Harvard fan. The hiring of former Duke All-American Tommy Amaker infused a little life in the program. But even in the winter of 2008-09, the games still felt like high school games. There was little local interest and even less student interest. I went to a game my freshman year with most of the student section to myself. My interest had been piqued when the Crimson beat Boston College, who was just coming off a huge upset over #1 North Carolina (the eventual national champions). The games were enjoyable, but most students were content to talk about the win over Boston College rather than make the short voyage to Lavietes Pavilion. Harvard finished 6-8 in Ancient Eight play.
2009-10 introduced the first “bandwagon” fans with the Jeremy Lin show. After a torrid start, Lin started getting attention from the national media, and students took note. Harvard beat Boston College for the second year in a row, and suddenly the basketball team was one of the hottest on campus. The student newspaper was abuzz with articles hinting at the possibility of winning the Ivy League for the first time in school history. Lavietes was packed night in and night out. Coach Amaker praised the student section’s tenacity, and the Princeton and Cornell home games had to lottery student tickets. Unfortunately, Jeremy Lin couldn’t do it alone. The team was stacked with young talent, but as most fans know, youth breeds inconsistency. The Crimson finished 10-4 in Ivy League play (good for third in the conference) en route to the team’s first 20-win season ever.
The Lede. It was a big night of college basketball around the landscape, but there wasn’t much too surprising among the top teams; no, tonight’s focus is mostly on the unranked folks — teams like Colorado State, Marshall, Indiana State and Memphis. Oh, and a 6’9 senior who some are touting as a NPOY candidate — him too.
JaJuan Johnson Gets It Done (AP/M. Conroy)
Your Watercooler Moment. JaJuan Johnson Saves Purdue, Enters NPOY Debate. The hope for players who make it all the way to their senior season is that they improve their game every year. Purdue’s Johnson has shown exactly that kind of progression, going from a spot-minute backup to a dominant force in the paint in three-plus seasons. Oh, and also outside the paint — you see, JJJ has added a jumper to the point where he’s taken 22 threes and made seven (31.8%) this year, which may not seem all that impressive until you realize that he had put up an oh-fer in his previous three seasons (0-10). In tonight’s game against Penn State, with his team desperately needing to avoid a three-game losing streak, Johnson received a pass on the right elbow just a shade inside the arc. In years past, he may have hesitated or looked to pass; this year he confidently shot the ball at the rim where it found nothing but net, giving Purdue a one-point lead and essentially the win with three seconds left. With his season averages of 21/8/2 BPG on 51% shooting, Johnson has re-opened his consideration as a serious NPOY candidate. We’re certainly not against the idea — other than perhaps Jared Sullinger, there’s probably no better big man in the country. With six weeks left in the season, if the impressive young center can put the Boilermakers on his back and lead them to a Big Ten title, he’ll certainly be right there with the others in a wide-open field. Check out his superb evening in the clip below.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Ohio State at #1. The Buckeyes wore it well. After several closer-than-expected games in the last two weeks, Ohio State dominated Iowa tonight by turning up the defense and holding the Hawkeyes to only 48 points tonight in an easy win. Things will change quickly, however, as seven of OSU’s next nine opponents are currently ranked beginning with a trip to Champaign this weekend where we predicted earlier today that Thad Matta’s team will take its first loss of the year.
Texas. Wow. We knew there was a reason somewhere inside our head why we threw $10 on the Horns to win it all last weekend. When Texas is hitting shots like they were tonight against Texas A&M — and especially Jordan Hamilton, who was 10-14 — they’re an excellent basketball team. Among the teams hovering around the top ten, we’d argue that Rick Barnes’ team might have the most upside of any team in the second half of the season. They already defend like crazy, holding TAMU to 42% tonight but ultimately winning the game in the first five minutes by running out to a dominant early 20-5 lead; the only issue is the occasionally spotty offense, but with Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Gary Johnson all capable of putting up numbers, we’re slowly starting to really warm up to this team. Big time home win tonight against the streaking Aggies.p
Louisville’s Resilience. We’re not sure how they’re continuing to do it, but they’re continuing to do it. Louisville has been banged up and rotating new players into the lineup all season, and yet they continue to win games in remarkable ways. Just a few days after the amazing comeback win over Marquette, the Cardinals ripped apart St. John’s, using Pitino’s trademark pressure defense and (what else?) three-point shooting (13-26) to terrorize Steve Lavin’s guards. We’ve said it before, but this Louisville team reminds us more and more of some of Pitino’s early Kentucky teams — you wondered where the talent on the floor was, and before you knew it, you were down fifteen points after a barrage of turnovers and threes. At 4-1 already in the Big East, you have to give him credit for another tremendous start under duress.