2012-13 Ivy League Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2013

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

It should be no surprise that the team that sprinted out to a 9-1 start took home the title in the 14-Game Tournament. The only shocking part is how it happened. For the second-consecutive year, Harvard entered the penultimate weekend of the season needing to beat just one team to all but clinch the league’s NCAA bid. Just like the 2011-12 campaign, in which the Crimson fell to Pennsylvania, bringing the two teams even in the loss column, Harvard lost for the 24th consecutive time at Jadwin Gymnasium, allowing Princeton to grab a virtual tie for first place. Then, the Crimson compounded its error, losing the next night to a surging Quakers squad at The Palestra and falling behind the Tigers in the Ivy standings for the first time this season. With just two games remaining, Harvard needed a home sweep of Columbia and Cornell, as well as a Princeton loss in one of its final three road contests to force a one-game playoff at The Palestra.

It wasn't always pretty, but Tommy Amaker's crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)

It wasn’t always pretty, but Tommy Amaker’s crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)

The hangover lasted well into the following weekend, as Harvard trailed Columbia by as many as eight early in the second half in front of a lethargic crowd before news arrived from New Haven that the Tigers trailed Yale by double digits. An 11-2 run over the final two minutes allowed the Crimson to slip past the Lions, and the Bulldogs withstood a late charge from Princeton to hand Harvard back a half-game lead and an opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy title the next night. The Crimson did just that with a 65-56 win over Cornell on NBC Sports Net. A muted celebration followed, but most fans had already turned their attention to Providence, as Brown led Princeton by double-digits early in the second half. Roughly 100 fans remained in the arena with most huddled around computer screens watching the Bears-Tigers score updates. When Brown sank enough free throws to put Princeton away, Harvard had improbably clinched the Ivy title – the first time it had done so without the season-ending Pennsylvania-Princeton game mattering.

The dramatic final weekend capped off what was a surprisingly strong year for the league, after several All-Ivy caliber players unexpectedly dropped off rosters just before the season started. While the league will see its streak of three-straight years with at least three postseason invites come to an end, the Ivies still posted their second strongest showing as a conference in the Pomeroy era. The improvement came from the bottom, as the league avoided having a team rank worse than 275th nationally for the first time in at least a decade.

Conference Accolades

  • Player of the Year: Ian Hummer, F, Princeton – At the start of the season, this was Hummer’s award to lose, and all he did was put together the finest year in his stellar career. The 6’7″ senior led the league in Offensive Rating among heavy usage players and finished second in both scoring and assist rate. Hummer averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds in his two games against Harvard, single-handedly willing the Tigers to victory at Jadwin in a game that kept Princeton in the Ivy race. Hummer’s heroics often hid the struggles of his surrounding pieces. The extent to which he carried this team was never more evident than during Princeton’s final three games. After Yale successfully took him out of the game, allowing Hummer just eight shots and nine points, the Princeton captain scored 21 points against Brown, but on 5-of-15 shooting and with four turnovers. Hummer continued to struggle against the rival Quakers, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with a 16-point, second-half outburst to keep the Tigers from losing each of their last three Ivy contests.
    Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League's best player. (Princeton athletics).

    Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League’s best player. (Princeton athletics)

    Hummer’s off nights were still exceedingly rare, as he scored in double-digits in all but three games this season. His deceptive athleticism has consistently buoyed Princeton in games against higher-level opponents, giving the Tigers a player on the floor that can clearly play with the best in college basketball. While this is a Player of the Year award and not a career achievement award, it’s hard not to see this distinction as a fitting celebration of four years of a caliber of basketball that this league rarely gets to see.

  • Coach of the Year: Tommy Amaker, Harvard – The Ivy League does not give out a formal Coach of the Year award, but it would be incredibly interesting to see who the main office picked in a year with some stellar candidates, including James Jones of Yale and Mike Martin of Brown. Amaker gets the nod here not just for winning the Ivy title, but for navigating a tricky season to continue his recent history of success. After the “Intro To Congress” cheating scandal rocked the campus and left Harvard without his star guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, Amaker faced a brutally tough non-conference slate with a starting five comprised of one returning starter, three lightly used sophomores and a freshman. The Crimson still managed to go 8-6 with road wins at Boston College and California, as well as a one-point loss at Saint Mary’s and a three-point loss at Massachusetts. Amaker also guided Harvard through a roller-coaster Ivy season, keeping his team focused even after it saw its lead slip away – a steady approach that led the Crimson to its third-straight Ivy title.
  • Rookie of the Year: Siyani Chambers, Harvard – From start to finish, the dynamic Crimson point guard electrified the league, taking over several games with his strong scoring ability and his nifty passing. Chambers finished 64th nationally in both assist rate (32.8 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (44 percent), while ranking fourth in the Ivy League in free throw percentage and fifth in free throws made. His performance was bigger than his mere offensive output, as there were no other true point guards in the rotation, which forced Chambers to log the fifth highest percentage of team minutes of any player in the nation.

    Shonn Miller's defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)

    Shonn Miller’s defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)

  • Defensive Player of the Year: Shonn Miller, Cornell – The Ivy League has rarely had so many pure interior shot blockers and rebounders as it has at present, making the race for this award incredibly tight. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith didn’t see enough floor time to qualify, and Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah was a clear contender as well. Anyone that followed Cornell’s final four games without Miller patrolling the interior can attest to how important he was to that Big Red squad. Miller finished in the Top 100 nationally in defensive rebounding rate, block rate and steal rate – the only Ivy player to rank that highly in all three.

RTC All-Ivy First Team

  • Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard – From the moment he led the team in scoring during Harvard’s preseason trip to Italy, everyone expected big things from the 6’5″ sophomore, and he delivered. Saunders had the second-highest offensive rating of any Ivy player using 24 percent or more of his team’s possessions and ranked 52nd nationally in free throw rate. Like Chambers, Saunders played grueling minutes – roughly 92 percent of his team’s total – and still took on the challenge of defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer every night.
  • Sean McGonagill, G, Brown – After a dismal 2011-12 campaign, in which McGonagill was forced to carry a terrible offense for vast stretches at a time, the junior guard finally got enough help to push the Bears all the way into the league’s upper division. The offense still ran through McGonagill, as he finished sixth in the league in assist rate and sixth in percentage of team shots taken, but the added talent around him allowed him to pick his spots and become a more efficient player. McGonagill’s most memorable performance was his final one this season, as he racked up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists against Princeton in an 80-67 upset win.
  • Shonn Miller, F, Cornell
  • Ian Hummer, F, Princeton
  • Siyani Chambers, G, Harvard

Game of the Year – Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT) – With less than two minutes remaining, a Harvard team that had looked so strong during the non-conference slate and had been nearly invincible at Lavietes Pavilion trailed Dartmouth by a seemingly insurmountable 10-point margin. Harvard guard Christian Webster buried a three-pointer to make the deficit seven with 90 seconds to play, but the Big Green made enough free throws to hold a six-point cushion with 45 ticks left. That’s when Webster drained another three and then knocked down another following a pair of Dartmouth free throws. Big Green guard John Golden came up empty on his trip to the stripe, and Chambers’ driving layup allowed Harvard to force overtime. The Crimson scored the first six points of the extra session and never looked back, completing a comeback win that, in hindsight, was critical to its NCAA hopes.

Final Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) – Ultimately, Harvard’s Ivy title hinged on one crucial coaching decision that Amaker made in the middle of the league season. The Crimson’s solidly Top 100 defense from the non-conference slate had been torn apart through the first six games of league play to the point that Harvard ranked dead last in the Ivies on that end of the floor. Enter Kenyatta Smith. The 6’8″, 250-pound sophomore had gone from a starter at the beginning of the year to a very lightly used reserve during December and January. With Harvard getting shredded inside, Amaker rolled the dice and went to the bench, and Smith delivered with an average of 17 points, eight boards and eight blocks during a home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The Crimson allowed just two of its final eight league opponents to eclipse a point per possession offensively after allowing five of its first six to do so.

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

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

  2. Princeton (17-11, 10-4) – The Tigers became only the second team in the Pomeroy era to win the conference efficiency margin battle without winning at least a share of the Ivy title (Pennsylvania, 2004). While that’s hardly consolation for a team that won all but one first place vote in the league’s preseason media poll, it does accurately convey how dominant Princeton was at times during Ivy play. Ultimately though, it was Princeton’s 3-2 mark in close games, compared to Harvard’s 6-1 showing, that proved to be the difference in the title chase.
  3. Yale (14-17, 8-6) – The Ivy League won’t get a third postseason invite this year, but the Bulldogs are certainly deserving. While Yale went 4-11 versus Division I competition in non-conference play, that mark came against the nation’s 30th most difficult schedule and included just four games against teams outside the Top 200. After a 1-3 start in league play, the Bulldogs closed with a 7-3 record, tied with Harvard and a game better than Princeton over those final 10 games. With a weaker non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs might have been looking at another appearance in the CIT.
  4. Brown (13-15, 7-7) – Speaking of teams that are postseason worthy, the Bears likely came within a blown six-point lead with two minutes remaining against Pennsylvania of making the CIT. Matt Sullivan sparked a tepid offense over the final five games of the season, allowing Brown to come within that collapse against the Quakers of going 5-0 down the stretch and hitting the .500 mark. Sullivan will graduate following this season, but the remainder of Brown’s key pieces will return, meaning the momentum should carry over to 2013-14.
  5. Pennsylvania (9-22, 6-8) – Finishing anywhere but first fails to please the Quaker faithful, but the job Jerome Allen did to guide this team to a 6-8 Ivy record is remarkable. Pennsylvania lost its best player just 10 games into the season and watched as other pieces of the rotation struggled through injuries. While points were lacking for vast swaths of time, the Quakers’ consistently solid defense kept it in games, allowing it to grab some victories even with a struggling offense.
  6. Dartmouth (9-19, 5-9) – At 2-3 with a near miss against Harvard, the Big Green looked like it was primed to leave the Ivy cellar for the first time since 2009. It ultimately accomplished the feat, but not before dropping five straight games – four by double digits – and sinking back to the bottom of the league with two weekends to go. Dartmouth’s offense saved the day, though, scoring over a point per possession in each of its final four games and running off a 3-1 record over that stretch to finish tied for sixth in the league with Cornell.
  7. Columbia (12-16, 4-10) – The 8-6 non-conference record with a win over Villanova seemed to justify the Lions’ selection as the third-place team in the Ivy preseason media poll. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. Columbia stumbled out to a 1-4 league mark before an upset win over Harvard kept the Lions’ slim postseason hopes alive. The victory was merely a mirage, though, as Columbia went 2-6 over the remaining eight games to become the most disappointing Ivy team since 2005 Princeton. With guard Brian Barbour and center Mark Cisco graduating, it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Lions to avoid the basement of the Ivy standings next year as well.
  8. Cornell (13-18, 5-9) – Three Ivy weekends ago, the Big Red was a weekend home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton away from being a legitimate contender. Cornell lost both games to dash their hopes, but then things got really strange. Starting guard Johnathan Gray had already missed two games with an unspecified injury and was soon joined by guard Devin Cherry and All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller. Heading into the final weekend of the year, sophomore Galal Cancer decided to leave the Cornell program entirely. The result was an ugly six-game losing streak to close out the season, causing the Big Red to miss out on an upper division finish that had seemed like a lock just three weekends prior.

NCAA Representative – Harvard (Seed Prediction: #14): The daunting non-conference road schedule that had Harvard facing seven Top 100 Pomeroy teams will likely pay dividends in the seeding process. Sure, the Crimson only went 2-5 in those games, but it lost two of those five at the buzzer, potentially giving the committee something to think about from the “eye test” perspective. Enough conference tournament upsets have happened to push Harvard off the 15 line, while enough quality mid-majors have won their league’s bids to keep the Crimson from sneaking onto the 13 line. Any three-seed the Crimson would face will likely have very few weaknesses, but the best opponent for Harvard would be one that fouls a fair deal defensively and isn’t overly imposing inside. For the Crimson to pull off the upset, it will need to have its three-point shooters get hot and limit the second-chances defensively.

Other Expected Postseason Representatives: Princeton (CBI or CIT) - The Tigers’ non-conference struggles have pretty much erased any hopes of an NIT bid. Princeton will definitely receive an invite to the CBI or CIT. The CBI has been quite kind to the Tigers, as they’ve racked up three wins in their last two appearances in the 16-team tournament.

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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • One For The Record Book – While Yale’s 69-65 victory over Princeton sent shock waves throughout the league, the score itself obscured the myriad storylines, ranging from interesting to bizarre, hidden beyond a cursory glance. The Tigers saw their 21-game Ivy home winning streak come to an end – a run which extended all the way back to the 2009-10 season. The victory helped push the Bulldogs into a tie for third in the league and put Yale back on pace to finish in the Ivy’s upper division for the 13th consecutive season. Also, it marked just the seventh time in the Academic Index era (dating back to 1980) that a team pulled off the back-to-back sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton on the road. The game itself was very strange, as both teams posted effective field goal percentages over 60% and each offense rebounded over half of its missed shots.
  • High Octane – After spending most of the non-conference slate struggling mightily to score the basketball, the eight Ivies have experienced a veritable explosion on the offensive end during league play. Every team has seen its offensive efficiency rise, as the 14-Game Tournament has seen Ivy teams score an average of six points more per 100 possessions than they did during the non-conference slate. True-shooting percentage has risen substantially in league play as teams have started getting to the line more and converting a greater percentage of their three-point shots. Dropping threes is a great equalizer for an underdog, and sure enough, the league’s two biggest upsets to this point (Yale over Princeton and Columbia over Harvard) have seen the favorites succumb to a barrage of trifectas from their opponents.

    The Tigers continue to roll, but an unbalanced schedule has Princeton playing seven of its final nine on the road.

    The Tigers continue to roll, but an unbalanced schedule has Princeton playing seven of its final nine on the road.

Power Rankings  

  1. Princeton (11-8, 4-1) – While the Tigers look like the most complete Ivy team and have the added benefit of experience going for them, one thing to keep in mind is that the Tigers haven’t played a road game since January 5th and have yet to venture away from Jadwin in league play. With seven of its final nine on the road, Princeton is about to find out just how tough it is out there, starting with its trip to Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend. Over the same timeframe that the Tigers won 21 straight games at Jadwin Gym, they went just 9-7 on the road, losing at five different Ivy venues. Princeton’s home-road splits this season have been pretty much dead even, so there’s no reason to expect any drop off as the Tigers leave New Jersey, and all it would take is one road sweep to make Princeton the prohibitive favorite. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2012

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

Looking Back

  • Princeton’s Collapses – Ken Pomeroy just added another stellar feature to his site – an advanced stat box score for past games as well as the scoring by 10-minute increments that he labels “quarters.” The Tigers might not want to look at that latter piece of information, especially the numbers under Q4. In the four games prior to last night’s convincing win over Rider, Princeton was outscored 74-50 in the final 10 minutes of games and blew leads of eight (at Wagner), six (vs. Drexel) and 11 points (vs. Fordham). Throwing in the Northeastern game, where Princeton lead by 10 with 10 minutes to play, the Tigers could be looking at a completely different record if it could just salt away games in which it has big leads. That’s also the reason why it would be foolish to underestimate Princeton on the basis of its 4-6 mark to this point.
  • Winner Winner – Harvard clawed back from eight points down early in the second half and three points behind with just five minutes to play, only to watch Boston University’s D.J. Irving hit a jumper with 19 seconds left to stake the Terriers to a one-point lead. Then came another chapter in a storybook rookie season for the Crimson’s Siyani Chambers. The 6’ point guard attacked the paint looking to set up a teammate for a good look, but came up empty and was forced almost to the short corner. The Boston University defenders went flying by, leaving Chambers all alone to nail a game-winning jumper. The basket gave Chambers 21 points on the night – the second time in three games he hit that mark. For a position that was supposed to be Harvard’s Achilles heel heading into the season, the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball has turned it into one of its strengths.
  • Strength Against Strength – There are several ways to illustrate the split between the Ivy League’s top three teams and its bottom five squads. None may be more striking than the results against Power Six competition. In five games against Power Six opponents, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton are 2-3 with an average scoring margin of zero. The remaining five teams have an average scoring margin of -21 over eight games, and none of those contests finished within single digits. There are still six such games left to be played for the Ivies this year (five by the bottom five), so that stat is still subject to some change, but with over two-thirds of the contests already having been played, it’s unlikely the gap will close significantly.
Freshman guard Siyani Chambers Is Widening Eyes Throughout The Ivy. (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/AP)

Freshman guard Siyani Chambers Is Widening Eyes Throughout The Ivy. (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/AP)

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (5-4) – It’s not that the Crimson has necessarily overachieved, but rather that fellow favorites Columbia and Princeton have stumbled so badly at times that pushes Harvard back to the top spot. The Crimson is hardly without flaws, especially on the defensive end. Starting forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith have struggled in all facets of the game, leaving Harvard to turn to a four-guard lineup with only 6’6” forward Jonah Travis anchoring the paint. Still, the Crimson has managed to be the league’s best defensive rebounding team and, while it is second-to-last in two-point field goal percentage allowed, it balances that out by refusing to put opponents on the free throw line. The efficiency in converting missed shots into stops and forcing turnovers has made Harvard an above-average defensive team. Combine that with the best offense in the league by over five points per 100 possessions, and it’s clear why the Crimson has slowly become the Ivy favorite. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

  • 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 20-14 this 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.

Power Rankings

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

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 Greg Louis 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 Zack Rosen, 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?

Power Rankings

  1. 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 Corbin Miller 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.
  2. Yale (7-2) – The four-man unit of guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite and big men Jeremiah Kreisberg 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Looking Ahead

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.
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RTC Summer Update: Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 19th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Ivy League correspondent, Howard Hochman.

Reader’s Take

Introduction

It seems like only yesterday that Doug Davis was hitting his buzzer beating, fall-back, fall-down jumper that turned Harvard followers crimson. And not soon after, Brandon Knight’s last-second layup was a stake in the eye of the Tiger. But we must look forward and we can only hope the 2011-12 Ivy hoop season can provide the same excitement. This year, it appears seven of the Ancient Eight will be battling for second place. Harvard returns everyone, will be favored to go unbeaten in league play, and, in fact, each starter is capable of earning all league honors. But more on that later. First….

Summer News and Notes

  • Providence Coaching Change Trickles Into Ivy Ranks: We have yet to hear a good explanation why a title-winning Princeton coach and alum Sydney Johnson would leave that bucolic and secure setting for traditional basketball hotbed… Fairfield. Now granted, the MAAC is an underrated conference and departing coach Ed Cooley did not exactly leave the cupboard bare after a 25-win season. In my opinion, the move is lateral at best. But never fear, Princetonians, the apple does not fall far from the tree; the Pete Carrill coaching tree, that is. Mitch Henderson, another alum, and most recently Bill Carmody’s right hand man at Northwestern, was immediately signed on, so it would be wise to keep “three-pointer” and “back-door” in your vocabulary.
  • Ancient Eight Coaches Resist GMU Courtship: Speaking of coaches, when Jim Larranaga departed George Mason for the sunny climes and dollars at Miami, the school first looked north to the Ivy League for his replacement. Not surprisingly, Tommy Amaker chose to remain with his talent-laden bunch in Cambridge. What is surprising is that Bill Courtney turned Mason down. You might remember it was Courtney who was the recruiting architect of the Patriots’ Final Four team in 2006. Furthermore, the CAA is most assuredly a step up from the Ivy and enjoyed one of its finest seasons with VCU coming out of nowhere to make a Cinderella run to the Final Four. It makes one think Mr. Courtney likes what he sees on the roster and that the future may be brighter than most imagine at Cornell.
  • Life Outside Campus: Last season, Greg Mangano of Yale was named the RTC Ivy Player of the Year as a junior. After a season in which his double-double average led the Elis to a third-place finish, and after some discussion with his coach, James Jones, Mangano decided to declare for the NBA Draft but did not hire an agent. A few NBA teams showed interest, but fortunately for Yale fans, he listened to the whispers in his ear and withdrew his name and everyone exhaled at Pepe’s Pizza and Louis’ Lunch. As a reward for his outstanding season, Mangano was invited to try out for the World University Games Team, beginning July 31 in Colorado Springs. The Games themselves will take place next month in China, but it won’t be as big a culture shock as most would expect for Mangano. He averaged over 21 points per game during Yale’s recent ten-day swing through the country. Only 12 (out of the 22 high-profile invitees) will make the traveling squad. We will keep you posted.

Douglas Davis (20) was one cool customer for Princeton, sinking this heartbreaker to top the Crimson and nearly leading the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament upset over Kentucky (Associated Press/Jessica Hill)

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard: Just let the names Kyle Casey, Keith Wright, Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster roll off your tongue and you have the reasons why last year’s co-title holders should repeat with ease though the middle of the league has gotten stronger. An undefeated run through the league seems reasonable and with some out-of-conference success, a Top 25 ranking appears attainable. Kenyatta Smith, a rebounding machine a la Wes Unseld at 6’7″ and 260 pounds, leads a formidable recruiting class. Pencil in a meaningful Selection Sunday for the first time in Cambridge. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ivy League Wrap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

The Aftermath – Princeton 63, Harvard 62

On a day of hoops hysteria and afternoon delights dominated by buzzer-beaters, ESPN live-look ins, and replayed highlights, none were as hysterical or as replayed as Harvard/Princeton. By now, you know the result, have read the front page of your local sports section, and have seen the dagger Doug Davis shot through every Crimson heart. The agate will simply read Princeton 63, Harvard 62. But this game was so much more than that. It was about players on both sides performing brilliantly under pressure, with the stars on both teams shining brightly in a packed and raucous Lee Amphitheater; matching basket for basket down the stretch. Ian Hummer to the hoop for a Princeton one point lead with 37 seconds left matched by a driving lay-up 26 seconds later by Brandyn Curry- who was magnificent- to keep the see-saw moving, setting the stage for Davis. The game will not soon be forgotten. Princeton moves on and is one of those clichéd opponents that “nobody wants to see in the first round” but John Calipari and Kentucky will. The only thing that could have removed the sting for Harvard is an at-large berth that they truly deserved. Instead, the committee rewarded a lot of also-rans from power conferences that inflated their record by playing all the schools with directional names in their home state and on their home court. Tommy Amaker went out and did what the NCAA asks — play a representative pre-conference schedule on the road –George Mason, UConn, Michigan, dancers all. And in fact, Harvard had a better RPI than 14 of the at-large teams selected. A travesty, but then again those other teams have fans who travel and contribute and we all know money talks. So they will play in the NIT and unlike some of the other teams who get the same “honor,” Harvard will show up and play their hearts out. Like Saturday.

NCAA Tournament Preview

Last year, Cornell won its first two tournament games and had become the darling of the country. They were a senior-laden team, dependent on scoring from beyond the arc. Next on tap were the Kentucky Wildcats and their team of NBA first rounders. But they were young. John Calipari had a week to prepare and allowed his team to hear the hype of the Brains vs. Brawn match up. And he convinced his team to play some aggressive D on the perimeter resulting in a Kentucky rout. The committee must have enjoyed last year, as Princeton draws Kentucky in the first round. Feline groovy.

The two teams had one common opponent, Penn, and neither lost. But in a game that kicked off the new year, Penn had the Wildcats on the ropes at Rupp for most of the first half before falling victim by 24. The difference was on the boards. Princeton will not be that overmatched inside thanks to Kareem Maddox and Ian Hummer who can definitely rebound with Josh Harrelson and Terrence Jones. The game may come down to how well the Tigers defend the three-point shooting trio of Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. Furthermore, the Wildcats are not deep. Only six play double figure minutes. They are in trouble if either Jones or Knight gets into foul trouble. So here is the recipe: stay close early, play even off the boards, draw some fouls and stop transition. Can be done but a tall order. Let’s go out on a limb here. The Tigers do what Cornell couldn’t, ride the wave of Doug Davis’s heroics, win one for the Ancient Eight and come away with a 68-66 victory.

Final Power Rankings

1. Princeton (12-2, 25-6)–won the title in a playoff game for the ages as chronicled above-and deservingly so; had a spectacular season; a nice core returns, even though Maddox and Dan Mavraides’ graduation will be big shoes to fill. Look for the Tigers to give the Kentucky freshmen all they can handle.

2. Harvard (12-2, 23-6)–as Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe so eloquently put it, “Princeton won, but nobody lost”; heads held high in defeat and truly deserved a spot in the field of 68; will be unanimous pre-season choice for 2011-2012 title with everyone coming back and a top recruiting class. A pre-season top 25?

3. Yale (8-6, 15-13)–Coach Jones thinks they should be one of the favorites next season and he may be right. Mr. Inside/ Mr. Outside, Greg Mangano (see below) and Morgan a formidable duo.” The Game” next year may be on the court instead of the field.

4. Penn (7-7, 13-15)–Underachievers? Perhaps, but they are a fun team to watch and have found a gem in Cartwirght; need to develop an inside presence to compete with the Hummers, Manganos, and Wrights of the world.

5. Columbia (6-8, 15-13)–will return leading scorer Agho and running mate Barbour so immediate respectability; nice first year for Coach Smith, who will look to recapture some of his St.Marys recruiting magic

6. Cornell (6-8, 10-18)–ended the season on an uptick, winning their last three; Coach Bill Courtney developed a system of playing everybody; Chris Wroblewski will be last trace of Big Red dynasty; keep an eye on recruiting class.

7. Brown (4-10, 11-17)–bright spot is their youth, particularly do-it-all guard Sean McGonagill; I like Coach Agel a lot, but with so much of Ivy nucleus returning will be tough to see any noticeable improvement in standings though.

8. Dartmouth (1-13, 5-23)—I wonder how Coach Cormier can keep his kids motivated; no immediate escape from the cellar is imminent; freshman guard Melville looks like a keeper; attracting more fans to the games may be a realistic goal.

The Second Annual Bradley Awards

It is time to honor the best of the brightest…those players, and coach, from the Ivy League who have distinguished themselves during this 2010-2011 basketball season. And the good news is, just about every one of this year’s recipients will be returning next year.

Coach of the Year: Certainly newcomers Kyle Smith at Columbia and Bill Courtney at Cornell appear to be on the right track. And Brown looks they could contend in the near future under Jesse Agel. But this year’s choice came down to the men who lead the two pre-eminent programs–Sydney Johnson of Princeton and Tommy Amaker of Harvard. Both did outstanding jobs and indeed had their teams prepared for the game of the year. However 90% of the country chose Princeton as their preseason choice with their starting team returning intact and two seniors. Harvard, on the other hand, lost POY Jeremy Lin, had a much more inexperienced nucleus, yet ended up with the better record and better RPI. So the Bradley goes to..Tommy Amaker.

Freshman of the Year: As alluded to in our previous column this was perhaps the toughest choice. Miles Cartwright of Penn came out of the gate on fire and perhaps is a future star. Laurent Rivard of Harvard proved invaluable as a sixth man helping the Crimson to a share of the title. But the Bradley goes to Sean McGonagill of Brown. The 6’1 guard from Illinois started every game since his arrival on campus. And he earned the coveted trophy with his versatility. He led the team in minutes played (33.3 per game), assists (5.2 pg), and free throw shooting (82%). He was third on the team in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (4.4). I have a feeling this will not be the last of his Bradleys.

Sixth Man of the Year: This one is almost unfair. Princeton is so well-balanced that they can afford to bring a Player of the Year candidate and one their two most important seniors off the bench. None other than Kareem Maddox. The 6’8 Californian was perhaps their most valuable player but started only four games. Yet he averaged over 30 minutes. The rest of his stats were equally impressive; 13.7 ppg (second on the team and 8th in the league) on 57% shooting from the field; and 7.0 rebounds per game (4th in the league). What would the Bradleys be without a Princeton representative?

All-Ivy Team:

  • Noruwa Agho Columbia – 6’3 Jr. New City, NY–led the league in scoring at 16.8; fifth in assists at 4.3; contributed over four rebounds per game; started every game and played nearly 35 minutes per game
  • Zack Rosen Penn – 6’1  Jr. Colonia, NJ–led team in scoring (14.6, 4th in league), minutes played (36. 7, 1st in league), assists ( 5.5, 2nd in league) and steals (1.3, 6th in league); defending RTC Ivy Player of the Year as a sophomore hit numerous clutch game winning or tying shots.
  • Keith Wright Harvard – 6’8 Jr. Suffolk, Va–led team in scoring (14.9, 3rd in league), rebounding (8.5, 2nd in league) and in field goal percentage (58.8, 1st in league); started every game and combined with Kyle Casey to give Crimson tough inside duo.
  • Ian Hummer Princeton – 6’7 So. Vienna, Va–tough choice over  Jack Eggleston; yet it was Hummer’s all-around play and team success which ultimately gave him the nod ; 7th in league in scoring (13.9 led team), 6th in rebounding (6.7), 2nd in Fg % (55.7%) 4th in blocks (1.1); the Tigers’ go to guy
  • Greg Mangano Yale – 6’10 Jr. Orange, Ct.–only Ivy player to average a double/double (16.3 ppg, 10.0 rebounds per game); was within .5 of a point from leading the league in both scoring and rebounding; led league in blocks with three per game; second in the league in shots taken but still shot over 48%; with running mate Austin Morgan, forms perhaps best returning inside/outside threat. And thus…

Greg Mangano is recognized as the 2010-2011 Bradley Award winner as Ivy League Player of the Year.

Defending the Jacket

Last year, we scored a coup, not only winning the RTC Bracket Pool (and the Hickory High letter jacket), but dominating the other two in which we participated. This gives me the right and responsibility to offer my thoughts on this year’s tournament — offered with a caveat; winning is tough, repeating near impossible. I have identified four factors which lead to NCAA success — free throw shooting, rebounding margin, shooting the three and defending it. Last season, Duke was the only team to appear in the top 40 nationally in the four categories. Xavier and St. Mary’s were the only others to appear in three and thus were recommended as likely to outlive their seed. This year, the same analysis provided some eye-opening information.

The eye test, based on watching all season long, has left me with the conclusion that Ohio State is the best team. But OSU appears in only one of the categories- so bye bye Buckeyes. And in fact, this season, NO team ranks in the top 40 in all four categories. But there are three teams in three. Those are Kansas, Arizona, and Texas. And the latter two, unfortunately, are on a collision course for a second round matchup in the West bracket. Arizona has the better numbers. So the Cats advance, knock off Duke in the regional final and advance to play Kansas in the championship game. We will let you take it from there. Let the Madness begin.

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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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The Other 26: Week 13

Posted by KDoyle on February 11th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

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.

The Other 26 Rankings

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