As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.
Game of the Week
Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)
Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot. It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether. For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11thnationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.
Death of #2BidIvy – Any slim hopes the league had of a second bid died in the span of just three days earlier this month, but the actual burial proceedings occurred on Tuesday of this week. Harvard had to go for its second top 50 win at Connecticut without its star Wesley Saunders on January 8, falling in Storrs by five; but the Crimson followed that up with a massive stinker in the form of a 15-point loss at Florida Atlantic. For those of you wondering at home, FAU is currently 7-12 overall and ranked #200 in the latest KenPom rankings. The Owls have lost to St. Francis (NY), DePaul, Stetson, Detroit, and Elon this season, among others. There is now no realistic scenario where the Ivy League would have a shot at a second NCAA bid, even if Princeton or another team wins the league. It appears that the dream of a two-bid Ivy will most definitely have to wait another year.
Wesley Sanders Was Back But Harvard Couldn’t Get Past FAU (Getty)
Losing Steam – The start of Ivy play couldn’t have come sooner, as the league’s hot start began to fade over winter break and into early January. After rising as high as 13th in the Pomeroy and RPI ratings, the Ivies have settled to 16th and 19th in those systems, respectively. While the actual rating is still a Pomeroy-era record, the Ivies clearly haven’t played the same level of basketball since the December exam break. Still, the league should easily receive three postseason invites (Harvard, Princeton and Columbia) with the possibility of a couple more if the Ivy wins break the right way.
On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.
Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Two-Bid Ivy – Traditionally, a second bid to the NCAA Tournament has been uniquely elusive for the Ivy League, since the lack of a conference tournament makes it hard for an at-large caliber team to miss out on the regular season title and automatic bid without doing too much damage to its profile. That paradigm began to shift in 2010-11, though, when Harvard lost an Ivy playoff to Princeton, but still had a top 40 RPI with two quality non-conference wins over bubble teams (vs. Colorado and at Boston College). The same perfect storm is brewing this season as well. Currently the Crimson boasts a top 25 RPI (supported by a top 30 Pomeroy ranking), while the Tigers snuck into the top 40 with their recent win at Penn State. The two teams are a combined 5-2 against current top 100 RPI opponents. A couple of those quality wins are expected to evaporate as the year moves forward, but both squads still have upcoming opportunities against quality non-conference foes including Harvard’s visit to Connecticut and Princeton’s trip to Las Vegas to play Pacific. It’s unlikely that both the Crimson and the Tigers will make it to Ivy play with legitimate at-large profiles, but it’s not impossible, which is pretty good for being nearly two-thirds of the way through non-conference play. Read the rest of this entry »
It was final exams for many schools across the country this past week, meaning a relatively light college hoops schedule leading up to Saturday. But once the weekend kicked into gear, there proved to be plenty of intriguing match-ups, weird semi-neutral court games played in NBA arenas, standout performances and altogether surprising results to pass out weekly awards to deserving O26 performers. Heck, even the thinly-populated weekday slate offered up a noteworthy upset and a fine example of early-season coaching.
O26 Team of the Week
T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)
Princeton. It is official: the Ivy League has two legitimate contenders in 2013-14. For all the recognition Harvard has received nationally — which is certainly well deserved, considering the team’s loaded roster and excellent start to the season — there has been another Ivy squad lurking under the radar, playing great basketball and looking like a bona fide threat to challenge the Crimson this year. That team is Princeton, and last week was its ‘hello, world’ moment. It started Wednesday night in Piscataway when the Tigers took on Route 1 rival Rutgers, a team starving for a victory in the wake of three straight losses. After trading leads for much of the contest, Princeton took firm control of things at around the 10-minute mark by doing what it has done so often this season — calmly finding seams in the opposition, penetrating and kicking out for open threes on the perimeter. In all, the Tigers hit 16 of their 34 attempts from behind the arc, and T.J. Bray — the senior point guard who was suspended for the previous game — scored 15 of his 23 points in the final nine minutes to put the game away for Mitch Henderson’s seasoned group. The 78-73 victory was a nice one, moving Princeton to 7-1 and furthering its case as the best team in New Jersey. Yet, it was Saturday’s win at Penn State that turned the heads of many college basketball fans.
Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.
Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.
One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.
The 2013-14 college basketball season is off and running, and it was a really interesting week for the Big East conference, which saw a number of teams compete in big non-conference games. Only half of the teams in the league remain unscathed, so there may be some shuffling in our power rankings this week.
Few players in the entire nation have had the start that Doug McDemott has this season.
Week One Power Rankings
10.) DePaul (2-1), Last Week (10): The Blue Demons very nearly knocked off a Southern Miss team that many expect to be among the top squads in Conference USA, falling to the Golden Eagles, 75-68. Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are off to strong starts.
9.) Butler (2-0), LW (9):After handling Lamar, the Bulldogs had a close call with Princeton, knocking off the Tigers, 70-67. Butler is getting even scoring across the board, with five players averaging at least nine points per game.
8.) Seton Hall (2-1), LW (7): Things haven’t been easy for the Pirates. After participating in the game that launched a thousand referenda on refereeing in 2013, Seton Hall edged by Kent State by two before dropping a game at Mercer in double overtime. Fuquan Edwin and Sterling Gibbs look very good early, but with the Pirates sitting at 231st in the nation in assists at 11.7 per game, they need to do a better job of moving the ball.
7.) Xavier (3-0), LW (8): Unsurprisingly, Semaj Christon is good at scoring the basketball. The Musketeers are glad to have Dee Davis back after missing two games—the junior guard had a well-rounded game against Morehead State, scoring seven points, grabbing five rebounds, and doling out nine assists in 35 minutes.
6.) Providence (3-0), LW (6): The Friars’ opening night win against Boston College doesn’t look quite as good with the Eagles going on to drop games to UMass and Toledo, but they’ll have chances to prove themselves with games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky rapidly approaching. Providence has an array of scorers, headlined by the consistent Bryce Cotton, and as a team hits free throws at an 85 percent clip. Don’t foul these guys, America.
5.) St. John’s (1-1), LW (5): The young Red Storm nearly came away with a big win against Wisconsin in their first game. D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson look very good through two games, while Steve Lavin and company are still waiting for freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan to put everything together.
Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on November 6th, 2013
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Best Ivy Team Ever? Every league preview from this summer and fall seemed to start with the assumption that Harvard would not only cruise to the Ivy title, but that it could very well end up as the best team the league has ever seen. Putting aside the great Penn teams of the 1970s – one of which reached the Final Four and two others which finished third in the final AP poll – it’s extremely tenuous to predict that the Crimson will even end up as the best Ivy team of the 64-team era. The 1998 edition of the Princeton Tigers set that bar, finishing the regular season with just one loss and nabbing a #5 seed before falling to Michigan State in the round of 32. While that’s the best known example, five other Ivy teams spent some time in the national polls, including Princeton’s 1991 squad, which lost by two to Villanova as a #8 seed in the first round. Two Penn teams from the mid-90s cracked the Top 25 and one scored an NCAA win as a #11 seed, while Harvard and Cornell recently rode appearances in the Top 25 to #12 seeds with the latter advancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Given that most pundits have the 2013-14 Crimson as a fringe Top 25 team, it would seem that the hype about Harvard possibly being the best Ivy ever is mostly indicative of how soon most have forgotten the very good Ivy teams of the recent past.
There will be plenty of teams gunning for Harvard this season. (AP)
Going Digital – Just two years ago, the Ivy League office took a ton of flak as it struggled to farm out its premier basketball properties to television or even specialty streaming channels like ESPN3. Only six Ivy League contests were picked up that season, despite a dramatic race which ended where Princeton defeated the rival Quakers to send Harvard to its first NCAA Tournament in over 65 years. Last season, that number crept to nine broadcasts with the new league television deal with NBC Sports Network, but still the only way to watch Brown defeat Princeton to send Harvard back to the Big Dance was via a grainy web feed. Shortly after the season ended, however, the league announced a massive new infrastructure project to merge all of the web feeds into one Ivy Digital channel and provide professional, multi-camera, high-definition broadcasts of all events for the league’s revenue sports. Now, simply by paying one flat fee (roughly $100 for all sports), fans can watch any Ivy home contest and all league games without having to buy each individual school’s package and could access every game in one place. Add in features like quad view, which can allow viewers to watch four games at once, and the Ivy basketball fan has everything he or she needs to keep live tabs on the league race as it unfolds on Friday and Saturday nights in February and March.
Stability in an Unstable World– While the Ivy League and its core eight institutions weathered the conference realignment storm without even a joking rumor about possible new arrivals or departures, pardon the players and coaches if they stumble over the new affiliations of some of their non-conference foes this season. The four conferences that the Ivies have played the most over the past two seasons (America East, Patriot, NEC and the Atlantic 10) all underwent varying levels of changes, and that’s before considering the six games the league will play against the American Athletic Conference, which didn’t even exist last season. The result of all the chaos is a composite schedule with a diverse set of non-conference opponents, as Ivy teams will play members of 23 different leagues this season.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
A Look Back
It should be no surprise that the team that sprinted out to a 9-1 start took home the title in the 14-Game Tournament. The only shocking part is how it happened. For the second-consecutive year, Harvard entered the penultimate weekend of the season needing to beat just one team to all but clinch the league’s NCAA bid. Just like the 2011-12 campaign, in which the Crimson fell to Pennsylvania, bringing the two teams even in the loss column, Harvard lost for the 24th consecutive time at Jadwin Gymnasium, allowing Princeton to grab a virtual tie for first place. Then, the Crimson compounded its error, losing the next night to a surging Quakers squad at The Palestra and falling behind the Tigers in the Ivy standings for the first time this season. With just two games remaining, Harvard needed a home sweep of Columbia and Cornell, as well as a Princeton loss in one of its final three road contests to force a one-game playoff at The Palestra.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Tommy Amaker’s crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)
The hangover lasted well into the following weekend, as Harvard trailed Columbia by as many as eight early in the second half in front of a lethargic crowd before news arrived from New Haven that the Tigers trailed Yale by double digits. An 11-2 run over the final two minutes allowed the Crimson to slip past the Lions, and the Bulldogs withstood a late charge from Princeton to hand Harvard back a half-game lead and an opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy title the next night. The Crimson did just that with a 65-56 win over Cornell on NBC Sports Net. A muted celebration followed, but most fans had already turned their attention to Providence, as Brown led Princeton by double-digits early in the second half. Roughly 100 fans remained in the arena with most huddled around computer screens watching the Bears-Tigers score updates. When Brown sank enough free throws to put Princeton away, Harvard had improbably clinched the Ivy title – the first time it had done so without the season-ending Pennsylvania-Princeton game mattering.
The dramatic final weekend capped off what was a surprisingly strong year for the league, after several All-Ivy caliber players unexpectedly dropped off rosters just before the season started. While the league will see its streak of three-straight years with at least three postseason invites come to an end, the Ivies still posted their second strongest showing as a conference in the Pomeroy era. The improvement came from the bottom, as the league avoided having a team rank worse than 275th nationally for the first time in at least a decade.
Player of the Year: Ian Hummer, F, Princeton– At the start of the season, this was Hummer’s award to lose, and all he did was put together the finest year in his stellar career. The 6’7″ senior led the league in Offensive Rating among heavy usage players and finished second in both scoring and assist rate. Hummer averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds in his two games against Harvard, single-handedly willing the Tigers to victory at Jadwin in a game that kept Princeton in the Ivy race. Hummer’s heroics often hid the struggles of his surrounding pieces. The extent to which he carried this team was never more evident than during Princeton’s final three games. After Yale successfully took him out of the game, allowing Hummer just eight shots and nine points, the Princeton captain scored 21 points against Brown, but on 5-of-15 shooting and with four turnovers. Hummer continued to struggle against the rival Quakers, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with a 16-point, second-half outburst to keep the Tigers from losing each of their last three Ivy contests.
Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League’s best player. (Princeton athletics)
Hummer’s off nights were still exceedingly rare, as he scored in double-digits in all but three games this season. His deceptive athleticism has consistently buoyed Princeton in games against higher-level opponents, giving the Tigers a player on the floor that can clearly play with the best in college basketball. While this is a Player of the Year award and not a career achievement award, it’s hard not to see this distinction as a fitting celebration of four years of a caliber of basketball that this league rarely gets to see.
Coach of the Year: Tommy Amaker, Harvard – The Ivy League does not give out a formal Coach of the Year award, but it would be incredibly interesting to see who the main office picked in a year with some stellar candidates, including James Jones of Yale and Mike Martin of Brown. Amaker gets the nod here not just for winning the Ivy title, but for navigating a tricky season to continue his recent history of success. After the “Intro To Congress” cheating scandal rocked the campus and left Harvard without his star guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, Amaker faced a brutally tough non-conference slate with a starting five comprised of one returning starter, three lightly used sophomores and a freshman. The Crimson still managed to go 8-6 with road wins at Boston College and California, as well as a one-point loss at Saint Mary’s and a three-point loss at Massachusetts. Amaker also guided Harvard through a roller-coaster Ivy season, keeping his team focused even after it saw its lead slip away – a steady approach that led the Crimson to its third-straight Ivy title.
Rookie of the Year: Siyani Chambers, Harvard – From start to finish, the dynamic Crimson point guard electrified the league, taking over several games with his strong scoring ability and his nifty passing. Chambers finished 64th nationally in both assist rate (32.8 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (44 percent), while ranking fourth in the Ivy League in free throw percentage and fifth in free throws made. His performance was bigger than his mere offensive output, as there were no other true point guards in the rotation, which forced Chambers to log the fifth highest percentage of team minutes of any player in the nation.
Shonn Miller’s defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)
Defensive Player of the Year: Shonn Miller, Cornell – The Ivy League has rarely had so many pure interior shot blockers and rebounders as it has at present, making the race for this award incredibly tight. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith didn’t see enough floor time to qualify, and Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah was a clear contender as well. Anyone that followed Cornell’s final four games without Miller patrolling the interior can attest to how important he was to that Big Red squad. Miller finished in the Top 100 nationally in defensive rebounding rate, block rate and steal rate – the only Ivy player to rank that highly in all three.
RTC All-Ivy First Team
Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard – From the moment he led the team in scoring during Harvard’s preseason trip to Italy, everyone expected big things from the 6’5″ sophomore, and he delivered. Saunders had the second-highest offensive rating of any Ivy player using 24 percent or more of his team’s possessions and ranked 52nd nationally in free throw rate. Like Chambers, Saunders played grueling minutes – roughly 92 percent of his team’s total – and still took on the challenge of defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer every night.
Sean McGonagill, G, Brown – After a dismal 2011-12 campaign, in which McGonagill was forced to carry a terrible offense for vast stretches at a time, the junior guard finally got enough help to push the Bears all the way into the league’s upper division. The offense still ran through McGonagill, as he finished sixth in the league in assist rate and sixth in percentage of team shots taken, but the added talent around him allowed him to pick his spots and become a more efficient player. McGonagill’s most memorable performance was his final one this season, as he racked up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists against Princeton in an 80-67 upset win.
Shonn Miller, F, Cornell
Ian Hummer, F, Princeton
Siyani Chambers, G, Harvard
Game of the Year – Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT) – With less than two minutes remaining, a Harvard team that had looked so strong during the non-conference slate and had been nearly invincible at Lavietes Pavilion trailed Dartmouth by a seemingly insurmountable 10-point margin. Harvard guard Christian Webster buried a three-pointer to make the deficit seven with 90 seconds to play, but the Big Green made enough free throws to hold a six-point cushion with 45 ticks left. That’s when Webster drained another three and then knocked down another following a pair of Dartmouth free throws. Big Green guard John Golden came up empty on his trip to the stripe, and Chambers’ driving layup allowed Harvard to force overtime. The Crimson scored the first six points of the extra session and never looked back, completing a comeback win that, in hindsight, was critical to its NCAA hopes.
Final Power Rankings
Harvard(19-9, 11-3 Ivy) – Ultimately, Harvard’s Ivy title hinged on one crucial coaching decision that Amaker made in the middle of the league season. The Crimson’s solidly Top 100 defense from the non-conference slate had been torn apart through the first six games of league play to the point that Harvard ranked dead last in the Ivies on that end of the floor. Enter Kenyatta Smith. The 6’8″, 250-pound sophomore had gone from a starter at the beginning of the year to a very lightly used reserve during December and January. With Harvard getting shredded inside, Amaker rolled the dice and went to the bench, and Smith delivered with an average of 17 points, eight boards and eight blocks during a home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The Crimson allowed just two of its final eight league opponents to eclipse a point per possession offensively after allowing five of its first six to do so.
Kenyatta Smith was a huge reason for Harvard’s eventual league championship. (The Crimson)
Princeton (17-11, 10-4) – The Tigers became only the second team in the Pomeroy era to win the conference efficiency margin battle without winning at least a share of the Ivy title (Pennsylvania, 2004). While that’s hardly consolation for a team that won all but one first place vote in the league’s preseason media poll, it does accurately convey how dominant Princeton was at times during Ivy play. Ultimately though, it was Princeton’s 3-2 mark in close games, compared to Harvard’s 6-1 showing, that proved to be the difference in the title chase.
Yale(14-17, 8-6) – The Ivy League won’t get a third postseason invite this year, but the Bulldogs are certainly deserving. While Yale went 4-11 versus Division I competition in non-conference play, that mark came against the nation’s 30th most difficult schedule and included just four games against teams outside the Top 200. After a 1-3 start in league play, the Bulldogs closed with a 7-3 record, tied with Harvard and a game better than Princeton over those final 10 games. With a weaker non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs might have been looking at another appearance in the CIT.
Brown(13-15, 7-7) – Speaking of teams that are postseason worthy, the Bears likely came within a blown six-point lead with two minutes remaining against Pennsylvania of making the CIT. Matt Sullivan sparked a tepid offense over the final five games of the season, allowing Brown to come within that collapse against the Quakers of going 5-0 down the stretch and hitting the .500 mark. Sullivan will graduate following this season, but the remainder of Brown’s key pieces will return, meaning the momentum should carry over to 2013-14.
Pennsylvania(9-22, 6-8) – Finishing anywhere but first fails to please the Quaker faithful, but the job Jerome Allen did to guide this team to a 6-8 Ivy record is remarkable. Pennsylvania lost its best player just 10 games into the season and watched as other pieces of the rotation struggled through injuries. While points were lacking for vast swaths of time, the Quakers’ consistently solid defense kept it in games, allowing it to grab some victories even with a struggling offense.
Dartmouth (9-19, 5-9) – At 2-3 with a near miss against Harvard, the Big Green looked like it was primed to leave the Ivy cellar for the first time since 2009. It ultimately accomplished the feat, but not before dropping five straight games – four by double digits – and sinking back to the bottom of the league with two weekends to go. Dartmouth’s offense saved the day, though, scoring over a point per possession in each of its final four games and running off a 3-1 record over that stretch to finish tied for sixth in the league with Cornell.
Columbia(12-16, 4-10) – The 8-6 non-conference record with a win over Villanova seemed to justify the Lions’ selection as the third-place team in the Ivy preseason media poll. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. Columbia stumbled out to a 1-4 league mark before an upset win over Harvard kept the Lions’ slim postseason hopes alive. The victory was merely a mirage, though, as Columbia went 2-6 over the remaining eight games to become the most disappointing Ivy team since 2005 Princeton. With guard Brian Barbour and center Mark Cisco graduating, it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Lions to avoid the basement of the Ivy standings next year as well.
Cornell(13-18, 5-9) – Three Ivy weekends ago, the Big Red was a weekend home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton away from being a legitimate contender. Cornell lost both games to dash their hopes, but then things got really strange. Starting guard Johnathan Gray had already missed two games with an unspecified injury and was soon joined by guard Devin Cherry and All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller. Heading into the final weekend of the year, sophomore Galal Cancer decided to leave the Cornell program entirely. The result was an ugly six-game losing streak to close out the season, causing the Big Red to miss out on an upper division finish that had seemed like a lock just three weekends prior.
NCAA Representative – Harvard (Seed Prediction: #14): The daunting non-conference road schedule that had Harvard facing seven Top 100 Pomeroy teams will likely pay dividends in the seeding process. Sure, the Crimson only went 2-5 in those games, but it lost two of those five at the buzzer, potentially giving the committee something to think about from the “eye test” perspective. Enough conference tournament upsets have happened to push Harvard off the 15 line, while enough quality mid-majors have won their league’s bids to keep the Crimson from sneaking onto the 13 line. Any three-seed the Crimson would face will likely have very few weaknesses, but the best opponent for Harvard would be one that fouls a fair deal defensively and isn’t overly imposing inside. For the Crimson to pull off the upset, it will need to have its three-point shooters get hot and limit the second-chances defensively.
Other Expected Postseason Representatives: Princeton (CBI or CIT) – The Tigers’ non-conference struggles have pretty much erased any hopes of an NIT bid. Princeton will definitely receive an invite to the CBI or CIT. The CBI has been quite kind to the Tigers, as they’ve racked up three wins in their last two appearances in the 16-team tournament.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
With regular season action having wound down, we’ll dispense with our standard format this week in favor of a streamlined focus on five key Championship Week storylines, along with, as always, our updated top 10 rankings. I joined the RTC Podblast crew on Wednesday for a full-fledged preview of TO26 conference tournament action, talking about the most exciting tournaments, the most anticipated matchups, potential bid stealers, and more. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the sweet, dulcet sounds of my voice for more on those big picture topics, and instead offer five less obvious storylines to follow.
Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)
Will Cinderella Show up Early? — If you love to cheer on Cinderella squads as they try to knock off highly-seeded favorites, there’s no need to wait for the Big Dance. The conference tournaments comprise more than two dozen Little Dances, in which a Cinderella run is as likely as it is later in March. Last year, Western Kentucky managed to snare the Sun Belt’s automatic bid, despite entering the postseason tournament with a #7 seed and an 11-18 record. Can anyone manage the feat this year? Already, we have a great underdog story brewing in the WCC, where Loyola Marymount, which went 1-15 in regular season conference play, has won two tournament games to secure a semifinal berth. It will take a true miracle to overcome their next obstacle — the number one team in the country, Gonzaga — but miracles are what March is for.
Can New Mexico Secure a #2 Seed? — Gonzaga appears poised to plant the TO26 banner on the top seed line, but is it possible that another TO26 team could find itself just one line down? Our latest bracketology hands the Lobos a #2 seed, though many other projections predict a #3 seed. A run through the MW Tournament — on the heels of a two-loss regular season in what is the conference’s deepest, most competitive year in memory — would, one would hope, be enough to give the Lobos their highest seed in school history (they twice notched a #3 seed, including in 2010). And it would be the first time that two TO26 squads landed two of the top eight seeds since 2004, when St. Joseph’s and Gonzaga each managed the feat.
Will Akron Regroup? — A week ago, Akron was riding a 19-game winning streak, was undefeated in MAC play, and was two games clear of Ohio in the East Division standings with three games left. The Zips fell last Saturday in a surprising 81-67 loss to Buffalo, in which they were torched by Javon McCrea for 28 points. But that was a mere bump in the road compared to what happened next. On Thursday, it was announced that junior point guard Alex Abreu had been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on felony charges of marijuana trafficking, and in their first game without him last night, the Zips fell at home to Kent State, 66-61. Worse than blowing their lead atop the East Division (if Ohio wins Saturday, the teams will end the regular season tied), the Zips are now limping into the postseason with little chance of an at-large bid and needing to win three straight MAC tournament games without Abreu to make good on their once-promising March prospects. How important is Abreu to this team? He’s third in scoring, at 10.3 points per game, and shoots a team-leading 39.4 percent from three-point range. But more than that, he is the facilitator that makes Akron’s offense go, notching six assists per game, for which he ranks in the top 20 nationally. Read the rest of this entry »