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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Bracket Prep: Belmont, Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard, Liberty & Creighton

Posted by BHayes on March 11th, 2013

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The first five NCAA Tournament bids were earned over the weekend, so as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Belmont

The Belmont Bruins Are Dancing Again

The Belmont Bruins Are Dancing Again

  • OVC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#47/#50
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In what is becoming a spring ritual as routine as Groundhog Day, the Belmont Bruins are back in the NCAA Tournament field. It’s the third straight year and sixth time in the last eight seasons that the Bruins have earned their league’s auto-bid to get there, with the fresh take on this go-around being the conference they represent – no longer Atlantic Sun members, Belmont will be repping the Ohio Valley. For all the March buzz the program seems to generate, they will still be seeking their first NCAA Tournament win come next week. Don’t be shocked if they are once again a trendy pick to swing a first-round upset, but is this the group that finally gets it done for Rick Byrd?
  2. Another year, another uber-efficient offensive outfit in Nashville. The senior backcourt of Ian Clark (18.1 PPG, 46% 3FG) and Kerron Johnson (13.7 PPG, 4.8 APG) will be among the most talented and experienced in the field of 68, but nearly every Bruin that steps on the floor produces at an efficient clip. Belmont is best in the country in two-piont FG%, but still gets nearly a third of their points from behind the arc. It all comes together for an effective field goal percentage of 56.8% – good for second best in the nation.
  3. Picking Belmont to win a game in past years has hardly been a foolish idea, but this year’s team should have the best shot yet to pick up that elusive first NCAA win. The seed should be the highest in program history, five upperclassmen fill out the starting lineup, and the Bruins had to emerge from an underrated OVC to get here. Their Achilles heel remains an undersized rotation that struggles to rebound on both ends, so it wouldn’t hurt to draw a less physical team unlikely to kill the Bruins on the glass. Drawing Wisconsin and Georgetown the last two years – tough, disciplined units, both – was a bit of bad luck, but there should be plenty of power conference foes on the #5-#7 lines that would not relish a first round match-up with Belmont.

Florida Gulf Coast

Andy Enfield - Welcome to the Dance...

Andy Enfield – Welcome to the Dance…

  • Atlantic Sun Champion (24-10, 16-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #95/#126/#124
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 02.15.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 15th, 2013

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  1. It appears that our #DausterForUSC campaign may have hit a stumbling block as Tommy Amaker has emerged as the top candidate for the coaching vacancy at USC. On the surface the USC job may seem more glamorous than coaching at Harvard with its significantly higher ceiling, but there is something to be said about being able to coach with reasonable expectations, which are not found across the country. In the end, what may end up keeping Amaker in Allston is his wife, who is a clinical psychologist at a Harvard-affiliated hospital. We are guessing that she could find a similar position in Southern California, but we are not sure how easy it is to work a basketball-psychology department package deal with various schools.
  2. It seems like more and more of the news surrounding college basketball and college sports in general are based around what happens in a court instead of on a court. The latest example–New Jersey legalizing sports betting at casinos and horse tracks–is thankfully one that will not make a significant impact on the on-court product, but may have a bigger impact on the landscape of American sports than many of the conference realignment court cases that we have talked about over the past few years. At the heart of the matter is the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, which only allows four states (Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware) to offer legal sports gambling. We have discussed our thoughts on this case before (we think New Jersey should and will win), but with arguments in the case starting yesterday we could get our answer relatively soon. Or not since some legal analysts point out that given the high stakes the loser will probably appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which might not hear the case until 2015. Of course, this is not so much of a New Jersey issue as a national issue because you know as soon as one more state is allowed to have sports gambling the other 45 states will quickly follow suit.
  3. Over the years the number of high school all-star games has grown, but for many college basketball fans the only one that holds any real weight is the McDonald’s All-American Game. Yesterday, the rosters for this year’s game were announced and as you would expect Big Blue Nation is well-represented. Outside of the heavy Kentucky flavor of the event we are also looking forward to the possibility of Andrew Wiggins matching up against Jabari Parker. We don’t follow the recruiting scene that closely any more, but it seems like they hit all of the major recruits this year so we cannot point to anybody who was snubbed. Julius Randle is the only possibility we can think of, but he has had injury issues.
  4. With the regular season winding down there is plenty of talk about awards and honors, but they are mostly focused on the players. We would usually support a Coach of the Year discussion as Seth Davis has in this week’s Hoop Thoughts, but in our opinion Jim Larranaga is the only choice right now. We guess a late season tailspin by the Hurricanes could make the race close, but with the way that Larranaga has energized the Coral Gables campus and turned a borderline top-25 team in the preseason into a legitimate national title contender in the middle of March. As Seth notes there are many worth candidates, but this year they are all battling for #2.
  5. The Jim Boeheim-Andy Katz saga appears to have some shelf life as new details surrounding their feud have come out and appear to center around a 2011 interview where Boeheim claims Katz attempted to badger him with Bernie Fine questions even after Katz told him that he would not ask questions about Fine. For his part Katz denies this. Despite both parties coming out apparently citing this as the inflection point in their relationship others have speculated that the dislike is related to what were supposed to be off-the-record comment from Boeheim regarding James Southerland’s eligibility. One of the interesting, but not surprising aspects of this feud has been how many reporters came out saying that Boeheim owed Katz an apology. We are not sure we would go that far, but this should make for the most awkward halftime interviews since Billy Gillispie and Jeannine Edwards were crossing paths.
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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 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

  • The 14-Game Tournament — College basketball’s most unique conference schedule gets underway in earnest this weekend, as the eight members of the Ivy League begin six weeks of Friday/Saturday back-to-back games for the right to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. No conference tournament, no second chances. The only rare appearances for the league during Championship Week occur when the regular season title is shared, in which case no tiebreakers are applied and the two or more teams proceed directly to a neutral site playoff. The last one of those happened following the 2011 season, when a Douglas Davis jumper at the buzzer sent Princeton past Harvard into the NCAA Tournament. Currently, the odds of playoff this season sit around 20 percent and would most likely be a repeat of that 2011 duel.
  • Odds Aren’t — The last travel partner weekend was supposed to be a snoozer as each of the three contests had favorites of between 5.5 and 16.5 points. No one told the teams involved, apparently, as two of the three contests went into overtime and another wasn’t decided until a missed three at the buzzer. The favorites are still 5-2 in the early going, meaning that the race has gone pretty much to plan thus far. If the results from last weekend are any indication, however, the next six weekends should provide plenty of surprising moments while the league likely ends up either of the expected favorites, Harvard or Princeton, taking home the title.
Can Freshman Phenom Siyani Chambers And Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker Turn The Crimson Into Tournament Darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Can Freshman Phenom Siyani Chambers And Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker Turn The Crimson Into Tournament Darlings? (Joe Murphy/Getty)

Power Rankings

  1. Princeton (8-7, 1-0 Ivy) – Two massively important records for Tigers fans to keep in mind are 2-5 and 6-2. Those are Princeton’s marks when Ian Hummer uses over and under 35 percent of his team’s possessions, respectively. Hummer is everywhere on the offensive end, taking tons of shots, drawing many fouls and even leading the entire Ivy League in assist rate. As a whole, though, the Tigers are far more effective when the 6’7″ senior is doing a lot, but not too much. The new, improved Princeton squad of the last month has thrived on ball movement to find any of the myriad three-point shooters that can knock down open looks. When the offense is running smoothly and efficiently, it becomes very difficult for one player to use more than a third of the team’s possessions, which likely means that Princeton’s title hopes rest on Hummer doing less, not more. 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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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 30th, 2012

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

Top Storylines

  • Pencil, Not Ink: In the Ivy Summer School piece, one of the top storylines was devoted to the important roster changes that had occurred since the final whistle blew in March. Looking back, that blurb was merely foreshadowing. In early September, the Harvard cheating scandal broke, and shortly after, four names dropped off the Crimson’s published roster, including All-Ivy seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. Around the same time, forward Dockery Walker disappeared from the Brown roster, as he will miss the season with a knee injury – a huge blow considering All-Ivy caliber forward Andrew McCarthy already left the team prior to what would have been his senior season. Princeton’s already threadbare backcourt took a hit when Jimmy Sherburne decided to take the season off to recover from a shoulder injury. Dartmouth, a team that needs as much talent as it can find, dropped its third-leading scorer R.J. Griffin from its roster before what would have been his senior season. Finally, Meiko Lyles fell off the Columbia roster earlier this month then returned to it a few days later, an important development after Noruwa Agho decided not to use his fifth year of eligibility to return to the squad for the upcoming season. Final rosters have been posted for a while now, but thus far, the term “final” has merely been a suggestion.

Curry & Casey Became Household Names For the Wrong Reasons This Fall

  • GOV 1310: Introduction To Chaos: The novelty of seeing Ivy basketball plastered all over popular publications and seeing air time on SportsCenter has long since passed, as the 2010 Cornell squad, Tommy Amaker-led Harvard teams and Linsanity have afforded the league publicity far beyond what a normal one-bid conference could expect. For the first time since the initial media explosion, though, the breaking story would hardly paint Harvard or the Ivy League in a positive light. Roughly 125 students were being investigated for cheating on a take-home exam in Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. Among the accused were a few Harvard basketball players, including two of the league’s best – Curry and Casey. While the story elicited editorial commentary of both a supportive and condemning nature, from a basketball perspective, the subsequent withdrawals of both student-athletes turned the Ivy race upside down. Curry was the lone returning point guard on the team, and Casey’s presence in the frontcourt was supposed to ease the pain of losing former Ivy Player of the Year Keith Wright. Now, with 10 freshmen and sophomores and just five juniors and seniors combined, the Crimson has become one of the league’s least experienced squads.
  • Live Streaming, But On Cable: For the first time since the Ivy deal with YES expired after the 2007-08 season, the league has a national media partner for men’s basketball. In renewing its Ivy football rights this past spring, NBC Sports Network also agreed to pick up as many as 10 basketball games per year, putting the league in almost 80 million homes nationally. In its inaugural season, the channel formerly known as Versus nabbed the maximum number of allotted games with three non-conference contests and seven Ivy showdowns. Including the Harvard-Yale game on February 23, which NBC sublicensed to CBS Sports Network, the package will provide the league with one game on national television every week but one from December 28 to the end of the season. Ivy squads are also scheduled to appear on the ESPN family of networks 11 times (five of those on ESPN3), the Pac-12 network twice and the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports Net once each.
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Louisville Should Be Happy Joanne Pitino Isn’t Afraid to Speak Her Mind…

Posted by mlemaire on October 25th, 2012

In 2001, when Michigan and then-athletic director Bill Martin announced they had hired then-Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker to try and rebuild the turmoil-riddled program in Ann Arbor, the fan base and the state’s pundits all hailed the move as an excellent one. Of course they probably would have been singing a different tune about the decision if they knew how close Martin had been to landing then-failed Boston Celtics’ coach Rick Pitino. Of course no one knew how close Pitino was to ending up with the Wolverines until the now-Louisville coach shared the story with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski on SiriusXM radio earlier this week.

Rick Pitino In Ann Arbor? You’re Right, We Can’t See It Either

According to Pitino, he had already signed an agreement to become the next coach at Michigan and had even managed to convince his wife the move was a good one. Everything was basically finalized, that is until Martin decided to go play squash and tell his secretary he didn’t want to be disturbed; at that exact moment, another team from Kentucky came calling and Pitino’s wife felt the pull of familiar territory. In fact, let’s just let Pitino tell the story himself.

I was living right on Thom Avenue in Boston, and she came up and threw her book at me, and said, ‘You know, you’re afraid to go to Kentucky.’ It’s once every two years, what’s the big deal? They’re going to boo you, they’re going to yell things, for one game. What is the big deal? You don’t know anybody at Michigan, you’ve never been there, and now you’re going to pass on all your friends and your children, you’re older son, who’s settled down there, why would you do that?’

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Morning Five: 10.16.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2012

  1. From the we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it department, ACC coaches on Monday squarely put NC State’s Mark Gottfried right into the conference crosshairs with their decision to pick his Wolfpack as the front-runner for the 2012-13 league championship. Whew. NC State received eight of the 12 first-place votes, with second-place Duke receiving three, and North Carolina receiving the other top vote. Nobody will deny that Gottfried returns the most talent in the ACC from a Sweet Sixteen team — and adds quite possibly the best freshman in the league to boot — but still, the Wolfpack were a 9-7 conference team last season and Gottfried has never been a coach who has consistently gotten it done in the regular season. His best two teams at Alabama went 12-4 in the SEC (2001-02 and 2004-05) and he wasn’t facing the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams when he was cementing those records. From our perspective, the league belongs to Duke and North Carolina until it’s taken from them (the last team to win the ACC outright other than Duke/UNC occurred a decade ago).
  2. While on the subject of Duke, the Blue Devil program made quite a bit of news on Monday. While spending the day 90 miles south of Durham at Fort Bragg, going through physical training drills and holding an inspired open practice in front of a number of US Army troops — apparently Duke players applauded the soldiers as they entered the gym – the school also announced some less inspiring news. Redshirt freshman forward Marshall Plumlee has developed a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the next 6-8 weeks of practice, putting significantly more pressure on older brother Mason and senior Ryan Kelly to man the boards and shore up the low blocks defensively. This is especially true given that the Blue Devils will face an early-season murderer’s row of Kentucky in the Champions Classic on November 13, the Battle 4 Atlantis (including a loaded field of Minnesota, VCU, Memphis, Louisville, Missouri, and Stanford) soon thereafter, and Ohio State at in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the end of November.
  3. Coach K’s respect for the military of course comes from his time at West Point, where he played under a fiery disciplinarian named Bob Knight. The three-time national championship head coach, who has never struck us as much of a sentimentalist, is planning on auctioning his three Indiana championship rings, his Olympic gold medal (given to him by the LA Olympic Committee) as well as a sports coat and warmup jacket he received as the head coach for the 1984 US Men’s National Team (a squad that included Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing). With his regular speaking engagements plus his lucrative ESPN commentator gig, it’s unlikely that Knight is hurting for money — but, sensing that he could pay for his grandchildren’s college educations with one fell swoop through this auction — this was probably an easy decision for the 71-year old. The “Bob Knight Collection” will be auctioned off through Steiner Sports, ending on December 5 – if you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, that 1976 championship ring from the last undefeated team in college basketball would make for a great conversation starter.
  4. Harvard appeared to be on the verge of an Ivy League dynasty prior to a recent academic cheating scandal that has enveloped over 100 undergraduates including two of the basketball team’s best players, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Still, there are hopes among Crimson faithful that Tommy Amaker’s team can bridge the gap this season while awaiting the return of its two stars in 2013-14 (both players withdrew from school this year, but plan on returning next season). Meanwhile, in coming off the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 65 years, the university is now backing a plan to build a brand-new basketball arena to replace its antiquated 1920s-era Lavietes Pavilion. The new arena will hold 2,700 people and be ready for the bouncing of balls some time between 2017-22. Whether Harvard will grow to become a regular NCAA Tournament participant by that date remains to be seen, but this next step in the progression of the program would not have been possible without the drive and vision for excellence that head coach Tommy Amaker had for Harvard basketball upon his arrival several years ago.
  5. Don’t expect any NCAA Tournament games in the great state of New Jersey anytime soon. The Meadowlands/Izod Center in East Rutherford has held multiple East Regionals (most recently in 2007), and the Prudential Center in Newark has taken that mantle more recently (hosting in 2011), but with the Monday’s publication of regulations licensing and outlining operating rules for Atlantic City casinos and racetracks so as to offer sports gambling, the NCAA’s long-running mandate of not offering its championships in states with such laws has gone into effect. Although there are currently no planned NCAA Tournament events scheduled in the Garden State, five other championships — including the Women’s NCAA Tournament East Regional in 2013 — have been pulled effective immediately. The natural outcome from this mandate is that the most prominent New York and Philadelphia arenas, including the Wells Fargo Center, the Barclays Arena, and Madison Square Garden, potentially stand to gain considerably in future bidding for NCAA Tournament sites. But hey, at least you can bet on the games in Jersey!
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RTC Summer School: Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Ivy League.

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

When the final horn sounded, Harvard had finally claimed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, sending it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1946. There would be no rushing of the court, no cutting of the nets. In fact, the Crimson team was nowhere to be found. In a situation that can only happen under Ivy League rules, Harvard grabbed its automatic bid by watching one league rival (Princeton) knock off another (Penn). If the result had gone the other way, there would have been a one-game, winner-take-all playoff between the Crimson and Quakers at Quinnipiac University on Conference Championship Saturday. It was the second straight year that the title chase had come down to the final game, as Princeton won at Penn the season prior to earn a playoff against Harvard, from which it emerged victorious, grabbing the Ivy bid.

Harvard Finally Broke Through to the NCAAs Last Season (AP)

With the way the 2012-13 campaign is shaping up, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Ivy League might just go 3-for-3.

Three Key Storylines

  1. Roster Flux - With nearly half of the 2011-12 All-Ivy spots going to graduating seniors, the league had hoped to weather the storm with the return of several key players that missed most or all of last season with injuries. Brown will see 6’8″ forward Tucker Halpern return to the lineup, while Cornell gets back 6’6″ forward Errick Peck. Penn will finally get to see the much heralded forward Greg Louis, who missed his entire freshman season with hip surgery. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is pretty bad. Columbia had hoped that 2010-11 All-Ivy First Team guard Noruwa Agho would take a second crack at a senior season, but he has opted not to return. The surprises weren’t limited to injury-related situations either. Brown’s roster release came with a huge surprise, as center Andrew McCarthy was dropped from the roster prior to what would have been his senior season.
  2. Conference Tourney Debate – The Ivy League remains the only Division I basketball conference to hand its NCAA berth to its regular season champion, rather than deciding the bid via a postseason tournament. For a while this offseason, that distinction looked to be in serious jeopardy. The eight Ivy coaches unanimously supported a proposal that would have brought the league an eight-team tournament in exchange for each school dropping one non-conference game from its schedule every season.  The eight athletic directors wasted no time in shooting down the proposal before it could even take the final step to the Ivy presidents. For the Ivy ADs, the trade of a game for a tournament missed the point, as they cited the philosophical belief in the superiority of the true round-robin in deciding a champion as the reason for rejecting what had been the most serious attempt at instituting a conference tournament in quite some time.
  3. What Goes Around, Comes Around – When Penn lost Fran Dunphy to Temple in 2006, its exhaustive search for a new head man led it to another institution within its own league, as the Quakers poached then-Brown coach Glen Miller. This offseason, that move came full circle – sort of. Miller is long gone from Philly, fired just a month into the 2009-10 season, but Mike Martin, a Brown alumnus and one of the assistants Miller brought along with him from his previous stint in Providence, remained on with the Quakers even after his former boss’ departure. So, when Brown jettisoned Jesse Agel following an 8-23 campaign, the Bears made Martin a high priority target. It took Brown until the beginning of June to decide on its choice, but the result was bringing Martin back to his alma mater and handing him the keys to a program that has been on a steady decline since Craig Robinson took the squad to the CBI Tournament in 2008.

Reader’s Take

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SEC Morning Five: 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on March 21st, 2012

  1. On Tuesday night, the name of Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin emerged as a candidate for the vacant Illinois job. From Gail Fischer on CSNChicago.com: “On the surface, Martin seems like an intriguing candidate. He’s from East St. Louis, Illinois, where he won two IHSA state championships and played at Purdue under Gene Keady and alongside Matt Painter where they made it to the Elite Eight in 1995. He knows the Big Ten well. Imagine Martin battling Painter year in and year out.  Illinois/Purdue would be a nice little rivalry. Martin’s entire coaching staff at Tennessee is from Illinois.”
  2. Mississippi State had made contact with Murray State head coach Steve Prohm about its head coaching vacancy. The Racers’ Athletic Director Allen Ward voiced concerns over some of the tactics used by Bulldog brass. “A search firm, on behalf of Mississippi State, reached out to Prohm last week to gauge his interest in the Mississippi State job — while the Racers were still in the middle of their season. Ward says no one from Mississippi State has contacted him for permission to speak with Prohm, although that is just a professional courtesy rather than a mandate considering Prohm still has three years left on his contract. ’I think there’s a right way to do things,’ Ward said Tuesday. ‘Considering we were still playing — it is what it is.’”
  3. One of South Carolina’s top head coaching targets, Gregg Marshall of Wichita State, said through sources that he had yet to hear from the Gamecocks. Other candidates have emerged including Kansas State’s Frank Martin and Harvard’s Tommy Amaker. On the Martin front, he “has been confirmed as a candidate with “heavy” interest in USC,” according to a source close to the situation. Regarding Amaker, ”the possibility of Amaker returning to the South was substantiated by college basketball expert Seth Davis, who tweeted: ‘I’m hearing that South Carolina has potential interest in hiring Harvard coach Tommy Amaker to fill its coaching vacancy’.”
  4. Kentucky head coach John Calipari said he’s not planning on using revenge as motivation when the Wildcats face Indiana. “I don’t ever teach anger, because the physiology of that is really close to fear,” he said. ”So if you try to make your team angry, and things don’t go right, it turns to fear within their bodies. So I don’t do it. That was like a season ago. Literally four months (ago). That’s so long ago, I had to watch the tape again to remember anything.”
  5. As Florida prepares for Marquette, the Golden Eagles’ star Jae Crowder complimented the Gator offense, but pointed out where his team might find success. “They are a great offensive team,” Crowder said of Florida. “They lack a few things defensively. Of course, they bring great pressure in the frontcourt and try to get you rattled a little bit. I think if we handle that, we’ll get a lot of things we want offensively.”
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Four Thoughts From Albuquerque…

Posted by AMurawa on March 17th, 2012

Looking back at Thursday’s games in the Albuquerque regional from a Friday night perspective, my thoughts turn more to Montana, Harvard, South Dakota State, and UNLV than the teams that advanced from those first round games. We will have plenty of time to enjoy Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Baylor, and Colorado on Saturday afternoon and evening, but for right now, let’s talk about the good things that these four teams, whose seasons ended on Friday, did on Thursday and throughout the year.

  1. After struggling through a non-conference schedule, everything came together for Montana in conference play, where they ripped off 15 wins in 16 games and then swept to the Big Sky’s automatic bid in relatively easy fashion. And on Thursday, for roughly 18 minutes, they gave Wisconsin a battle. They came out hot early, scored 18 points on the first 13 possession against a stingy Badger defense and had the numerous Grizzly fans who made the trip down to support their team dreaming of big things. There were forced turnovers, acrobatic finishes and lots of excitement created early for an undermanned team. However, once the Wisconsin defense locked down, the Grizzlies went cold and headed home early. Still, this is a program that has made three straight postseasons (including two NCAA bids) under head coach Wayne Tinkle and returns 66.3% of its scoring from this year, including talented backcourt combo Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. And clearly, Tinkle’s got the community buying into the team and is well on the way to making Montana as much a basketball school as it is a football power.
  2. What can you say about this Harvard team? First NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 60 years, a sparkling 26-4 record and at least a piece of the regular season Ivy League title for two years running. Better still, this is a program that shows all the signs of being in it for the long haul. Head coach Tommy Amaker is building for the future here, not just taking advantage of a flash in the pan. And, perhaps best of all, this has been a truly entertaining team to watch. I saw them in person twice this season and came away feeling good about the Crimson on both occasions. Amaker loses big man Keith Wright and hyper-efficient guard Oliver McNally, but they return plenty of experienced players for a team that should be the favorite in the Ivy again next year. Sophomore Laurent Rivard is an absurdly entertaining and confident shot-maker who earned the respect of Vandy’s players and fans by knocking down three after ridiculous three in the face of excellent defense. Junior forward Kyle Casey may be a bit undersized, but he cleans the glass for Amaker and just seems to be around the ball to make plays on a regular basis. Junior point guard Brandyn Curry is one of the best assist men in the nation and a scrappy defensive playmaker, while freshman Wesley Saunders is an athletic ball of energy with loads of upside. Add in the fact that Amaker has made Harvard a legitimate destination for recruits and it appears that the Crimson are on the verge of being an every-year type of team.
  3. South Dakota State may have been the darling of the Albuquerque Thursday. Not only did the scrappy Jackrabbits battle a clearly athletically superior Baylor team tooth and nail for 40 minutes, but their fans, supporting a team from the state of South Dakota in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, were an asset to the entire atmosphere in The Pit. Just as Baylor’s team showed up expecting to advance to the next round on the basis of their talent alone, the Bear fans strolled in from the parking lot at a leisurely rate, not even filling up their section until SDSU had run out to an early 12 point lead. Meanwhile, Jackrabbit fans made their way into the arena as early as the possibly could (the doors weren’t opened for the second session until 30 minutes before tip-off), loaded up their section and then some, and were loud and supportive throughout the game. They had plenty to cheer for as junior guard Nate Wolters led an inspired effort against one of the biggest, most athletic squads in Division I. Even after they booted away that 12-point first-half lead in a flurry of first half turnovers and seemed destined for a blowout, the Jackrabbits, fans and team alike, responded strong in the second half and at least put a good scare into the Bears. While Wolters gets most of the press, guys like sophomore reserve wing Chad White (15 points, five threes in 30 minutes), senior forward Griffan Callahan (seven points, two steals in a full 40 minutes of action), sophomore forward Jordan Dykstra (five points, three boards), junior forward Tony Fiegen (two points, five boards, five assists) and sophomore guard Brayden Carlson (nine points, five assists) deserve at least a mention, with Callahan, Fiegen and Dykstra all deserving extra props for contending with, and generally containing, the imposing Baylor frontline. In the end, it was a 27-8 record on the year for the Jackrabbits, the best in the history of the school. And with everyone but Callahan expected to return next year, South Dakota State could again claim a spot on the national stage.
  4. Lastly, there’s UNLV, the most celebrated of the four losers on Thursday night. While Montana, Harvard and South Dakota State can all come away from their NCAA Tournament experience feeling okay about their seasons, for the Runnin’ Rebels, this is a disappointment, not solely because they were upended by a lower seed. This marks the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament loss for the proud program and sends seniors Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, and Brice Massamba off to graduation without a tournament win on their resume (fellow senior Kendall Wallace redshirted last season and was a small part of the 2008 team that beat Kent State in the first round). And, for the third consecutive year, this was a Rebel team that played its best basketball of the season in November and December and never improved as much as the other teams around them. And, perhaps most galling of all for a proud fanbase, the UNLV supporters were out-traveled and out-voiced throughout the game by Colorado fans, relative upstarts. Things need to change in Vegas next season. And the good news is, all the parts are there for the change to be made. Head coach Dave Rice will be heading into his second season as a head coach and should be able to build upon his experience this year. Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall, the first and third leading scorers on this team should return (provided Moser doesn’t do anything stupid and declare for the NBA Draft), along with plenty of other strong parts, including Division I transfers Bryce Jones and Khem Birch. Marshall will take over the leadership role for this team once and for all (a role he battled with Bellfield and Stanback over this year), and the team should be better for that. And, there is a buzz about the program that has been largely missing since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. In short, the future is bright in Las Vegas, even if the present is full of regrets over missed opportunities on Thursday.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest

West
  • LIU Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry isn’t backing down from the mighty Michigan State Spartans. While it’s nice to see a mid-major steer away from the “happy to be here” angle, it’ll be interesting to see how long the Blackbirds can stick with Draymond Green and company.
  • In many of its losses, Michigan has shown an inability to bounce back from early deficits. A hot start would do wonders for the Wolverines’ confidence as they get ready for Ohio tomorrow night. Read the rest of this entry »
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