Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
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)
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 »
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
A Look Back
Turnaround Experts: Unless your school’s name was Harvard, November wasn’t the best month. High expectations had been placed on a league that suffered relatively few key graduation losses and had vaulted into the teens in the conference rankings. As the calendar flipped to December, however, the Ivies had just two teams above .500 and the league’s overall record against Division I competition was a disappointing 21-28 with one of the nation’s worst strength of schedule ratings to boot. Led by Columbia’s and Yale’s 4-0 Division I mark in December thus far, the Ivy League has gone 20-14this month and currently has six teams in Pomeroy’s Top 200. Even some of the losses have been impressive, which has buoyed the conference rating in the possession-based ranking systems. Pennsylvania played both Villanova and UCLA tough on the road before ultimately falling, and Princeton gave Drexel all it could handle in Philadelphia before losing by four. Meanwhile, Harvard has paced the league with a 10-1 mark, hanging around the Top 25 in almost every type of ranking and keeping the Ivies in the national spotlight.
Quality Wins: With almost three-quarters of the non-conference season in the books, the Ivy League has racked up some wins that would make any one-bid conference jealous. Harvard has led the way with neutral-site victories over Florida State and Central Florida en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. The Crimson hasn’t been the only team taking down quality opponents, though. The Quakers have come close to a few major upsets – none closer than their overtime loss to Temple – but still have a win over Top 100 Robert Morris to their name. Princeton joined the party with wins over Buffalo and Rutgers and like Pennsylvania came close to a couple others. Finally, Cornell and Columbia have each knocked off some quality teams from the one-bid leagues – Lehigh and Manhattan, respectively. Depending on the rating system, the Ivies have registered as many as 21 of their 41 wins against the Top 200, including 10 in road or neutral settings, and the average ranking of the league’s wins is roughly 210. That profile makes the Ivy League the #13 conference in the country according to the Pomeroy Ratings. It also has this year’s edition of the league on pace to be the toughest top-to-bottom since the inception of the Academic Index Floor (a test-score and GPA based system for ranking the academic qualifications of potential admits) in the early 1980s.
Top Performers: With Harvard cracking the Top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll again this week, you might expect to see a bunch of Crimson players in a section on the league’s top players. Harvard has been so balanced this year though that its highly efficient offensive players including forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and guard Laurent Rivard haven’t been able to post the raw stats that would lead to recognition. Any discussion about Player of the Year to this point starts and ends with Pennsylvania guard Zack Rosen. He’s the only Ivy player to be on the floor for more than 90% of his team’s minutes, and his output has been historically strong with an offensive rating close to 130 and a usage rate of nearly 25%. His backcourt mate, Tyler Bernardini, has been having a stellar senior campaign as well with efficiency and usage rates that may not match Rosen’s but are still easily All-Ivy caliber. Princeton’s Ian Hummer has been carrying the Tigers this season, using 33% of his team’s possessions and establishing himself as the league’s second most productive player behind Rosen. Yale big man Greg Mangano has to be part of the POY discussion, though he’s had a little more support as guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite, along with forward Jeremiah Kreisberg, have all played very well this season. Some other guys to watch as league play approaches are Columbia’s Brian Barbour, Brown’s Sean McGonagill and Cornell’s Drew Ferry, who has stabilized a Big Red team that has yet to get the usual high quality output from its star Chris Wroblewski to this point.
Greg Mangano Enters The Ivy POY Discussion With Averages of 17 Points And Nearly Nine Rebounds Per Game To Go Along With A Low Turnover Rate.
Cousy Award Watch List: Over sixty players made the annual list of the top point guards and combo guards in the nation, including four from the Ivy League. Seniors Chris Wroblewski and Zack Rosen made the cut along with Columbia junior Brian Barbour and Harvard junior Brandyn Curry. The list of quality point/combo guards in the league hardly stops there. Brown sophomore Sean McGonagill was last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year and is having a fine sophomore campaign. Princeton’s Douglas Davis has struggled a bit before having a monster game last night in a loss at Siena. Finally, Yale’s Austin Morgan has quietly put up First-Team All-Ivy numbers that rival any of the league’s four players that made the Cousy List.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Defense Reigns Supreme: A year after having five teams scoring more than one point per possession, the Ivies have struggled out of the gate this season with just one team over that mark. The league has compensated with defense and in a big way. While three teams are allowing more than one point per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, removing his preseason weighting reveals that only one (Brown) is above that line based on this season’s performance alone. Considering that from 2004-11, only seven Ivy teams total had allowed less than a point per possession, the defensive transformation this season has been nothing short of remarkable.
The league’s best defensive unit thus far has been preseason favorite Harvard. The Crimson’s potent offense hit the brakes in the Bahamas, but it more than compensated by suffocating opponents on the opposite end of the floor. Harvard scored just 14 points in the first half against Florida State, but that was good enough for a share of the lead. The Crimson continued the staunch defense in the second half, closing out a 46-41 win over the then-#22 Seminoles. It was the second-consecutive game where Harvard held its opponent to under 50 points, a streak which would continue in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Central Florida and through the next week at Vermont. Seattle finally broke the streak in a big way, putting up 70 on the Crimson, but on 70 possessions, it just barely the first time the Crimson had allowed an opponent to hit a point per possession this season.
Harvard isn’t the only Ivy shutting teams down on the defensive end of the court though. Princeton held a Top 100 Buffalo squad to just 0.76 points per trip in a 61-53 victory, and Cornell also held the Bulls to just 0.95 points per possession earlier in the year, but couldn’t score enough to avoid a nine-point defeat. Columbia has held its last four Division I opponents to 0.67, 0.93, 0.88 and 0.71 points per trip, and three of those four contests were road or neutral site games.
Poll Position: It’s not common to have a Top 25 section in an Ivy League Check In, but this week, the Crimson cracked the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #24 and the AP Poll at #25. It was the first time that an Ivy squad made either poll since 2010, when Cornell finished at #17 in the Coaches Poll, and the first time a league team made the AP Poll since 1998, when Princeton climbed as high as #8. Harvard’s entrance marks the first time in school history that it has been ranked in either poll, leaving Brown as the only Ivy team never to have made the cut.
Struggling and Absent Stars: If the Ivies want to hang on to a conference rating in the teens, they will have to do it without some injured stars and some other pivotal players who have slightly to drastically underperformed expectations thus far. Columbia senior guard Noruwa Agho, who made First Team All-Ivy last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Brown junior forward Tucker Halpern, who was Honorable Mention All-Ivy last season, has yet to play, and there are no indications that he will be back any time soon. Finally, Cornell junior forward Errick Peck, who was poised for a breakout campaign, has yet to hit the floor for the Big Red. To compound matters, some freshmen of whom big things were expected, including Penn forward GregLouis and Bears center Rafael Maia, have lost the season due to injury and foreign transfer eligibility rules, respectively.
While the three remaining returnees from the First Team All-Ivy squad – Quakers guard ZackRosen, Yale center Greg Mangano and Crimson center Keith Wright – have carried over their stellar play, the remainder of last year’s All-Ivy team has posted some mixed results. Big Red guard Chris Wroblewski has shot an anemic 32.0 eFG% from the field and Harvard guards Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry haven’t hit at much higher clips (37.0 and 38.3 eFG%, respectively), though Curry’s solid assist rates have kept his offensive rating afloat. All told, that’s three graduations, two extended injuries and three underperforming stars from last year’s 14-player All-Ivy roster. That the league has managed to exceed last season’s performance thus far is a testament to the strong freshman class and the quality of the Ivies’ depth.
Kyle Casey Is In The Middle Of The Buzz Surrounding Harvard. Will They Stay Ranked After Thursday's Loss To Connecticut?
Harvard (8-1) – It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the Crimson has taken care of business every time out, with the lone setback being Thursday night’s loss at Connecticut. The biggest difference between this year and last has been the depth provided by Tommy Amaker’s talented 2011 class. Forward Steve Moundou-Missi provides strong defense and good finishing skills around the rim, while swingman Wesley Saunders can shut down opposing perimeter players and is hard to defend on drives to the basket. The contributions from the rookies don’t end there, though. Forward Jonah Travis put up a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against Seattle and guard CorbinMiller has knocked down seven of his first 10 threes. Both went quiet against the Huskies, but expect more consistent performances once the competition falls back to its usual level.
Yale (7-2) – The four-man unit of guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite and big men JeremiahKreisberg and Greg Mangano has been as good as any top four in the league. Depth, however, is lacking. Coach James Jones has given 11 different guys at least 10 percent of team minutes thus far and has yet to find a group of rotation players that can help on the offensive end consistently. The Bulldogs have taken care of business during a weak stretch, winning each of its last five contests to head into the exam break at 7-2 on the year. With the brutal back-to-back Ivy schedule, it is imperative that Yale find some options off the bench if it hopes to join the conversation with Harvard at the top of the league.
Pennsylvania (5-5) – Senior guard Zack Rosen has been all that’s stood between the Quakers and disaster this season, but it’s been enough to make Pennsylvania a bit of a surprise. The Quakers’ record isn’t all that impressive, but its worst loss is to Pomeroy Top 150 James Madison, and it has already posted a Top 100 win over Robert Morris. Having been a Big 5 punching bag lately, Pennsylvania took Temple to overtime and lost at Villanova by eight – strong showings in what will be a competitive race for the title of Best in Philly.
Princeton (4-5) – The question isn’t whether there are championship pieces here; rather, the question is whether there are enough. Senior guard Doug Davis and junior forward Ian Hummer have combined to use over 50 percent of Princeton’s possessions at an offensive rating over 100 when they’re on the floor, but the offense has still stagnated, as the Tigers haven’t been able to come close to replacing the output of graduated stars Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox. Princeton has played the second-best defense in the league thus far, which has kept it oddly competitive at times, but it is only 3-2 in D-I games when it holds the opponent under a point per possession, meaning that no matter how good the Tigers are at generating stops, improvement on the offensive end is necessary to win games consistently.
Cornell (3-4) – Exam time has rolled around in Ithaca, but the Big Red went into its break with a bang, knocking off a very good Lehigh team at Newman Arena. Things get a lot tougher after finals, though, with visits to BCS teams Illinois, Penn State and Maryland on the horizon along with road dates at Stony Brook and Bucknell. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski has struggled thus far, shooting relatively poorly and turning the ball over much more than last year. Freshman Shonn Miller got off to a hot start for the Big Red, but despite cooling off a bit, his defensive rebounding abilities have been invaluable for a team that struggled to control the paint last season.
Columbia (6-4) – Coming off a solid showing at Connecticut to start off the season, the Lions led Furman for 30 minutes before being dealt a huge blow, as senior guard Noruwa Agho suffered a season-ending knee injury. Columbia dropped the game to the Paladins and a couple more, but has come on strong as of late. Stingy defense has led the Lions to four-straight wins over Division I competition. Junior guard Brian Barbour has picked up the slack in Agho’s absence, taking on a huge possession load and leading the Lions to road wins over Manhattan and Loyola Marymount.
Dartmouth (2-5) – After having spent the last four years mired in the 300s, the Big Green has begun to take visible steps toward respectability. Freshman forward Gabas Maldunas has given Dartmouth a legitimate interior presence and the backcourt led by upperclassmen R.J. Griffin and David Rufful has played well at times. Sure there is only one Division I win at this point (at home against Bryant), but the Big Green only fell to a solid San Francisco by two points in the Great Alaska Shootout and lost at Rutgers by just six in the season opener. There’s still a long way to go, but Paul Cormier is bringing Division I talent back to Hanover, and that’s a start.
Brown (4-7) – Some bad fortune has landed the Bears in the Ivy cellar, as Brown hasn’t had the services of Tucker Halpern and Rafael Maia for reasons discussed above. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Sean McGonagill, transfer Stephen Albrecht and swingman Matt Sullivan have combined to forge a decent starting backcourt, but with no depth and more questions than answers at the forward spots, the Bears have struggled to avoid getting blown out by the top half of Division I teams. The schedule has been and will continue to be light enough for Brown to post a respectable record, but that won’t fool anyone that makes SOS adjustments.
Finals loom for many of the league’s teams, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of December is without its fair share of interesting matchups and potential statement games.
12/10 – Pennsylvania at UCLA (Fox Sports West) – The Bruins will be without Reeves Nelson, who was suspended by UCLA coach Ben Howland this week. The Quakers might have a loss of their own though, as sophomore guard Miles Cartwright missed Pennsylvania’s last outing against Delaware. Despite struggling a bit this season, the Bruins should be healthy favorites in this one. The Quakers can win if they keep a cold shooting UCLA team from finding its stroke, but the game will likely hinge on whether Zack Rosen can successfully carry the team on his back as he’s been doing all season.
12/10 – Columbia vs. Long Island – It took the Lions a little time to find themselves after losing Noruwa Agho, but Columbia has been on a tear recently. The Blackbirds will be the best team the Lions have faced other than Connecticut thus far though, and Long Island’s potent offense will provide a great test for Columbia’s suddenly stifling defense. If the Lions get by the Blackbirds, it will be hard not to make the argument that this team is better off without Agho than with him.
12/14 – Princeton at Rider – This is a game the Tigers should win, but it’s hard to argue that the league’s most high variance team to this point “should” do anything. Princeton loses by two at North Carolina State and returns home to dismantle Buffalo, but falls to Elon at home and Morehead State at a neutral site before knocking off Rutgers in a game which itself exhibited violent swings. For the Tigers to be taken seriously as a contender in the consistency endeavor that is the 14-Game Tournament, they need to be able to take care of non-Top 200 squads on the road.
12/18 – Yale at Rhode Island – The oddsmakers would have this as a near coin flip at this point, but it’s a game that the Bulldogs need to prove they can win, since the bulk of the Ivy League will likely hover in the same range. Greg Mangano should have a field day with a Rams frontcourt defense that’s allowing opponents to shoot 56.7 percent from two. If Yale can keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass – the only real positive for the Rams this season – it should be able to leave Kingston with a victory.
12/21 – Cornell at Penn St. (Big Ten Network) – It’s the second Big Ten matchup for the Big Red in three days (after a trip to Illinois on Dec. 19), but this one should be a fair deal easier than the showdown with the #22 Illini. The Nittany Lions, who would be a notably bad Power Six conference team if it weren’t for many others that were already the standard bearers, just fell to Lafayette this week. If Cornell can keep Penn State’s offense dormant, it will have a great chance to put a Big Ten scalp on the Ivy mantle.
Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
Readers’ Take I
Geography is an important factor in many of the Ivy League pre-conference games. With that in mind, we ask you:
Travelin’ Elis: Optimism in New Haven? The Yankees are history, there are no Knicks, and the Giants and Jets have provided only disappointment so far. So it has to be about the upcoming Yale basketball season. And the fans have every reason to be hopeful thanks to their two stars who spent a good portion of the summer overseas. Jeremiah Kreisberg played for the Israeli U-20 team in the European Championships, and all he did was lead the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in about 30 minutes of action. The experience the 6’9” sophomore from California gained from international competition makes him the perfect complement to Greg Mangano. The returning RTC Ivy League POY played his way onto the US World University Games roster and in doing so became the first Ivy player to compete on the US team since Bill Bradley in 1965. (Can you say “Senator Mangano?”) While the team did not distinguish itself (a quarterfinal loss to Lithuania earned them a fifth place finish) Mangano got to show his skills playing alongside some of the heavyweights of the Big East. Also on the team were Tim Abromaitis, Ashton Gibbs and Scoop Jardine. Mangano averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in almost 11 minutes of action, highlighted by an 8/8 performance against Mexico.
Early Exams: Granted, in a league where there is traditionally only one NCAA Tournament bid — Harvard’s merits last year not withstanding — wins and losses in non-conference games mean little. Yet, they do provide some early insight as to where the teams stand and an upset of a national power is cause for celebration. Overwhelming preseason favorite Harvard, along with the top two contenders, Yale and Penn, have early schedules that will prove to be either minefields or springboards. The Crimson play in the Battle for Atlantis over Thanksgiving and open with Utah. If all goes according to plan, they will face heavyweight Connecticut in the final. Should that happen, it will be a prelude to their traditional matchup with the Huskies in early December. Yale has an early date at Seton Hall but their acid test comes during a December road trip to Wake Forest and Florida. But the granddaddy of pre-conference schedules belongs to Penn. They will face Pitt and James Madison during the Hoop Group Philly Classic. That’s the appetizer for a main course that includes Big 5 contests against Temple and Villanova. And the dessert? End-of-year road trips to UCLA and Duke. It’s not a stretch to assume all of the above are tournament teams with Top 25 potential.
Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parenthesis)
Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
This season saw an unprecedented three teams reach the 20-win plateau in the Ivy League — a dominant Cornell team headed to the NCAA Tournament (expected); a young, but extremely talented Harvard team (disappointing); and a resurgent Princeton team (surprising). Hopefully the latter two have earned an invite to one of the myriad of lesser post-season tournaments. Here’s a look at the final standings:
Cornell (13-1, 27-4): The final go-around for 10 seniors proved to be the best. Now the goal for Louis Dale, Jeff Foote, Ryan Wittman et al is to win a game or two in the tournament. A preview of their chances can be found below.
Princeton (11-3, 20-8): Two tough losses to Cornell sealed their fate, but they earned runner-up honors with a couple of victories over Harvard. A bright future with their top five scorers returning.
Harvard (10-4, 21-7): Beat everyone except the top two. Jeremy Lin’s loss via graduation will be felt, but in freshmen Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster, the Crimson boast a backcourt that can compete with the best nationally. Next year’s preseason choice.
Yale (6-8, 12-19): An up and down Ivy season for the Elis. The lone bright spot was All-Ivy senior guard Alex Zampier. He leaves New Haven as the school’s all-time assist leader while scoring over 1000 points.
Columbia (5-9, 11-17): The Lions earn the fifth spot over co 5-9ers Brown and Penn by virtue of their head-to-head sweep of both teams. Next year’s team will be built around sophomore Noruwa Agho, their only double digit scorer.
Brown (5-9, 11-20): Little to separate the Bears from the Quakers other than a slightly better overall record, so they get the nod here. Stat machine Matt Mullery (team leader in points, rebounds, and assists) leaves after a fine career.
Penn (5-9, 6-22): The record was something that Palestra fans (those that showed up) were not used to. Nor were early-season injuries and a mid-season coaching change. Sophomore point guard and Player of the Year candidate Zack Rosen is already a star.
Dartmouth (1-13, 5-23): Not much to cheer about in Hanover. Hopefully Mark Graupe can breathe some enthusiasm into a program that has pretty much been the league doormat for a while. Most of the top players return.
Without fanfare we present you with the best of the 2009-2010 Ivy League basketball season: