Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on February 21st, 2014

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

Looking Back

  • Ivy Race Reset – While 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be doled out following the sometimes wild and often thrilling conference tournaments, the remaining one gets decided during the two-month grind known as The 14-Game Tournament. The upside of the Ivy’s unique structure is that (usually) the best team represents the league. The downside is that many teams are effectively eliminated by the middle of February. While Cornell is the only Ivy squad that has been mathematically eliminated from the title chase, four more teams sitting on four or more league losses (Columbia, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth) would essentially need too much help to fathom. That leaves the co-leaders Harvard and Yale, both at 7-1, and third-place Brown (5-3) as the remaining contenders for the Ivy auto bid. The Crimson remains the odds-on favorite with a +0.22 points per possession margin in league play, well ahead of both Yale (+0.08) and Brown (+0.07). If the Ivy season were 140 games long, that efficiency differential might slowly allow Harvard to separate itself from the pack, but with just six games remaining in The 14-Game Tournament, not nearly enough time remains to assume that the Bulldogs will regress to the mean.

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

  • Historic Postseason Eligibility – During the 2011-2012 season, the Ivy League sent four teams to the postseason and nearly had a fifth until Columbia lost six out of its last seven games. It was viewed as another watershed moment for a league which had just two years earlier sent its first representative to the Sweet 16 in the 64-team era. While the league continues to play competitively at the top, as shown by Harvard’s win over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament last season, the depth of the Ivies has been the most surprising development. Princeton and Columbia sit just one win away from clinching postseason eligibility, while Yale and Brown need just two victories to join the party as well. Assuming those four clear that modest hurdle, they will join the Crimson to give the league five postseason-eligible teams for the first time in the modern era. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James on January 24th, 2014

Looking Back

  • Death of #2BidIvy – Any slim hopes the league had of a second bid died in the span of just three days earlier this month, but the actual burial proceedings occurred on Tuesday of this week. Harvard had to go for its second top 50 win at Connecticut without its star Wesley Saunders on January 8, falling in Storrs by five; but the Crimson followed that up with a massive stinker in the form of a 15-point loss at Florida Atlantic. For those of you wondering at home, FAU is currently 7-12 overall and ranked #200 in the latest KenPom rankings. The Owls have lost to St. Francis (NY), DePaul, Stetson, Detroit, and Elon this season, among others. There is now no realistic scenario where the Ivy League would have a shot at a second NCAA bid, even if Princeton or another team wins the league. It appears that the dream of a two-bid Ivy will most definitely have to wait another year.

    Harvard was down a man in Wesley Sanders and couldn't quite upset UConn. (Getty)

    Wesley Sanders Was Back But Harvard Couldn’t Get Past FAU (Getty)

  • Losing Steam – The start of Ivy play couldn’t have come sooner, as the league’s hot start began to fade over winter break and into early January. After rising as high as 13th in the Pomeroy and RPI ratings, the Ivies have settled to 16th and 19th in those systems, respectively. While the actual rating is still a Pomeroy-era record, the Ivies clearly haven’t played the same level of basketball since the December exam break. Still, the league should easily receive three postseason invites (Harvard, Princeton and Columbia) with the possibility of a couple more if the Ivy wins break the right way.

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Harvard, Princeton and the Grind of a 14-Game Tournament

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 11th, 2014

On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.

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Weekend Storylines: Exams Over, But Tests on the Court Just Beginning

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2013

Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

A Couple Of Old Big East Friends

In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.

Battle For The Bluegrass 

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2013-14 RTC Conference Preview: the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on November 6th, 2013

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

 

Top Storylines

  • Best Ivy Team Ever? Every league preview from this summer and fall seemed to start with the assumption that Harvard would not only cruise to the Ivy title, but that it could very well end up as the best team the league has ever seen. Putting aside the great Penn teams of the 1970s – one of which reached the Final Four and two others which finished third in the final AP poll – it’s extremely tenuous to predict that the Crimson will even end up as the best Ivy team of the 64-team era. The 1998 edition of the Princeton Tigers set that bar, finishing the regular season with just one loss and nabbing a #5 seed before falling to Michigan State in the round of 32. While that’s the best known example, five other Ivy teams spent some time in the national polls, including Princeton’s 1991 squad, which lost by two to Villanova as a #8 seed in the first round. Two Penn teams from the mid-90s cracked the Top 25 and one scored an NCAA win as a #11 seed, while Harvard and Cornell recently rode appearances in the Top 25 to #12 seeds with the latter advancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Given that most pundits have the 2013-14 Crimson as a fringe Top 25 team, it would seem that the hype about Harvard possibly being the best Ivy ever is mostly indicative of how soon most have forgotten the very good Ivy teams of the recent past.

    There will be plenty of teams gunning for Harvard this season. (AP)

    There will be plenty of teams gunning for Harvard this season. (AP)

  • Going DigitalJust two years ago, the Ivy League office took a ton of flak as it struggled to farm out its premier basketball properties to television or even specialty streaming channels like ESPN3. Only six Ivy League contests were picked up that season, despite a dramatic race which ended where Princeton defeated the rival Quakers to send Harvard to its first NCAA Tournament in over 65 years. Last season, that number crept to nine broadcasts with the new league television deal with NBC Sports Network, but still the only way to watch Brown defeat Princeton to send Harvard back to the Big Dance was via a grainy web feed. Shortly after the season ended, however, the league announced a massive new infrastructure project to merge all of the web feeds into one Ivy Digital channel and provide professional, multi-camera, high-definition broadcasts of all events for the league’s revenue sports. Now, simply by paying one flat fee (roughly $100 for all sports), fans can watch any Ivy home contest and all league games without having to buy each individual school’s package and could access every game in one place. Add in features like quad view, which can allow viewers to watch four games at once, and the Ivy basketball fan has everything he or she needs to keep live tabs on the league race as it unfolds on Friday and Saturday nights in February and March.
  • Stability in an Unstable World While the Ivy League and its core eight institutions weathered the conference realignment storm without even a joking rumor about possible new arrivals or departures, pardon the players and coaches if they stumble over the new affiliations of some of their non-conference foes this season. The four conferences that the Ivies have played the most over the past two seasons (America East, Patriot, NEC and the Atlantic 10) all underwent varying levels of changes, and that’s before considering the six games the league will play against the American Athletic Conference, which didn’t even exist last season. The result of all the chaos is a composite schedule with a diverse set of non-conference opponents, as Ivy teams will play members of 23 different leagues this season.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Harvard (13-1)
  2. Penn (9-5)
  3. Yale (9-5)
  4. Princeton (9-5)
  5. Brown (5-9)
  6. Columbia (4-10)
  7. Cornell (4-10)
  8. Dartmouth (4-10)

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Season In Review: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013

After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

The Good

There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing,  but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.

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2012-13 Ivy League Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2013

CIO header

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 March 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

  • Players of the Year – After once again earning Ivy Player of the Week honors on Monday, Princeton senior forward Ian Hummer officially set a single-season record with six such accolades. For the third time, the title was shared with Harvard sophomore swingman Wesley Saunders, who himself has been awarded Player of the Week honors on five occasions this season. The weekly awards don’t always capture the most important performance from the previous seven days, but they’ve done a good job highlighting the two players between which coaches will be torn for Player of the Year honors at the end of the season. Hummer and Saunders are dead even in offensive rating, each contributing 110 points per 100 possessions on the offensive end, though Hummer does have the edge in usage rate, consuming just over 30 percent, while Saunders checks in at 25 percent. Both players are charged with some heavy defensive responsibilities as well, often drawing the opponent’s toughest assignment. The edge will likely go to the senior Hummer, but each should be a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection.
Harvard's Wesley Saunders Is Giving Ian Hummer A Run For Ivy League POY Honors. (gocrimson.com)

Harvard’s Wesley Saunders Is Giving Ian Hummer A Run For Ivy League POY Honors. (gocrimson.com)

  • Postseason Berths – Cornell’s disappointing weekend getting swept by Pennsylvania and Princeton officially knocked the Big Red out of the Ivy title race, leaving the Tigers and Crimson as the only teams vying for the title. Both Harvard and Princeton will be in a postseason tournament of some sort – the winner to the NCAAs and the runner-up likely to the CBI or CIT. The postseason possibilities don’t end there for the Ivy League, though. Cornell currently sits at 13-14 and would need to go 3-1 in its final four games to eclipse the .500 threshold necessary for tournament consideration. Its position outside of the Top 200 in both Pomeroy and the RPI might seem to be a disqualifier, but with the CIT expanding to 32 teams and focusing exclusively on mid-majors, the Big Red’s odds of getting selected at 16-15 are still pretty decent. Columbia has a better Pomeroy profile and better top win (at Villanova) than Cornell, but would need to win out to get to .500 in league play. The Lions only need to go 3-1 to finish at .500 overall, but the 6-8 mark in the Ivies might be too much to overcome.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) – If there was ever a time to have a promising player finally realize his potential, it would be right before the biggest game of the year against your top league rival. Kenyatta Smith provided just that for the Crimson. Having played just 46 minutes combined over Harvard first six Ivy games, Smith got a surprise start against Pennsylvania and responded with 20 points, ten blocks and nine rebounds in 31 minutes. He followed that up with 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in just 20 minutes against Princeton. That the 6’8” center provided the interior defensive presence the Crimson desperately needed shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as Smith would be leading the nation in defensive rebounding rate and block rate if he had played the few more minutes per game necessary to qualify. The only thing keeping Smith on the bench now is foul trouble, which limited the big man to just 15 minutes per game in Harvard’s sweep of Brown and Yale last weekend. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Big East Burning Question: Is Villanova An NCAA Tournament Team Now?

Posted by mlemaire on January 29th, 2013

Two weeks ago Villanova was a program left for dead. The young team had shown talent and promise, but they lacked consistency and blew halftime leads so regularly you would think they were trying to get beat. Then, last Tuesday, coming off a disheartening loss to lowly Providence, something happened. First the Wildcats took advantage of some awful free-throwing shooting to upset heavily favored Louisville and just four days later they took advantage of some questionable late-game strategy from Syracuse and ended up beating the Orange in overtime for their second win over a top-5 opponent in the week. The Wildcats now sit at 13-7 and 4-3 in Big East play with two marquee wins to hang their hats on. So the question is, if the season ended today, would the Wildcats be an NCAA Tournament team?

Mike Forget the NCAA Tournament for a minute; the program needed these ones badly if only for respectability’s sake. Since the Wildcats lost to North Carolina in the Final Four in 2009, Villanova fans have watched their program free-fall into mediocrity and losses to Columbia and Providence this season weren’t helping anyone feel hopeful about the rebuilding efforts of Jay Wright and his staff. Those two wins last week change some of that. The fan base is energized again – if only for the time being – and the team can finally start to have confidence in themselves which will only help as the season goes on. As far as their tournament chances go, I still think they are on the outside looking in. After the wins over Louisville and Syracuse, the Wildcats jumped from #73 to #49 in the official RPI of the NCAA, which was also good enough to make them one of “the last four in” according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi but both of those wins came at home and they are still really the only two “good wins” on the Wildcats’ resume. I guess it’s possible the NCAA could see how many games the Wildcats have let slip away and they could show some understanding, but getting blown out by Columbia at home is an excellent way to lose all of your goodwill and losing to bottom-dweller Providence isn’t going to help either. The next four games will be crucial for the team’s chances. If they can go 4-0 or even 3-1 against some of the lesser teams in the conference, they will be in a good spot for the home stretch. But lose a pair to South Florida, Providence, Notre Dame, or DePaul and the team will probably be forced to look forward to next season.

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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 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

Conference Rivalries – The Ivy League closed strong in its battles against neighboring leagues, closing out the Patriot League with Cornell’s win at American and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with Brown’s home victory against Niagara. Throw in the Mid-American Conference, which the Ivies defeated four games to one, and the league managed to win the season series against Pomeroy’s 14th, 15th and 17th-ranked conferences. The Ancient Eight didn’t fare as well against some leagues ranked far behind it, though. Ivies combined to go 3-8 against Pomeroy’s No. 24 Northeast Conference and 7-10 against the No. 23 America East Conference.

Top Non-Conference Players By Position – With just three Division I games remaining for the Ivy League this season, it’s time to take a look back and honor the players who have impressed the most during the first half of the 2012-2013 campaign.

Ian Hummer and Siyani Chambers Go To Battle For Their Respective Teams.

Ian Hummer and Siyani Chambers Go To Battle For Their Respective Teams.

  • Guard – Siyani Chambers, Harvard – The Crimson had 40 full minutes to replace at the point guard position, and Chambers alone has replaced 94 percent of those with All-Ivy caliber output. His true shooting percentage is 63rd nationally with an assist rate that places 103rd. He’s adept at driving to the hoop, but has hit half of his 54 attempts from three. The only knock on the freshman is his propensity to get sped up by swarming defenses, leading to turnovers and poor shots.
  • Guard – Brian Barbour, Columbia – When there’s nothing surprising about a great player’s stat line, that’s a good thing, and through the first 14 games of the year, Barbour has been exactly the player everyone expected. The senior point guard has only turned the ball over on 14 percent of his possessions, while boasting the 71st best assist rate in the country. Barbour still can’t shoot the ball well, but he’s made up for it by continuing to get to the line a lot and converting at an 89 percent clip when there.
  • Swingman – Wesley Saunders, Harvard – He has developed just enough of a jump shot to keep opposing defenses honest, which has allowed him to gash opponents off the dribble and bully his way to the free throw line.  Saunders’ offensive rating ranks 62nd nationally among players with at least 24 percent usage rates, but the 6’5″ sophomore is also the Crimson’s best perimeter stopper. He is a true two-way player that is one of the favorites for Ivy Player of the Year.
  • Forward – Ian Hummer, Princeton – Speaking of favorites for Ivy Player of the Year, Hummer has to be the first player mentioned in the debate. He does everything for the Tigers, as noted by his usage rate which is 11th highest in the country. He has the team’s highest two-point shooting percentage, assist rate, defensive rebounding rate, fouls drawn rate and block rate. He is Princeton, and whether the Tigers win or lose the Ivy title will be solely based on how Hummer performs down the stretch.
  • Forward – Fran Dougherty, Pennsylvania – Prior to coming down with mononucleosis, Dougherty was in the discussion with Saunders and Hummer for Ivy Player of the Year. He was the star on a seemingly rudderless Quakers team. Poor free throw shooting had always held him back, but he boosted his percentage to 71 percent this season, finally allowing him to penalize opponents for sending him to the line. It’s unclear how much more time Dougherty will miss, but this Pennsylvania team has looked absolutely lost without him.

Power Rankings

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CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 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

  • Holiday Revival: Heading into the winter exam break, things looked pretty bad for the Ivies. The league had seven combined wins against the top 200 and nearly two times as many losses against teams outside that range. Then, Princeton grabbed a huge upset at home against top 50 Bucknell and a cascade of strong performances followed. Brown secured the Ivy League’s first win in a game broadcast by its new television partner, NBC Sports Network, by knocking off Providence, and Harvard followed with a road win at California. Even the performances in losses were impressive. Pennsylvania lost in overtime at Wagner before playing No. 17 Butler close. Yale led Iowa State for 30 minutes before falling by 10 points. Harvard led St. Mary’s for 39 minutes before losing by one. In its wins and losses, the Ivy League has shown some considerable improvement over the past two weeks.
  • Welcome to Monte Carlo: With league play about to begin, it’s time to refresh the Ivy prediction model and simulate the upcoming campaign based on the quality of each team’s non-conference results. For those unfamiliar with the practice, using Pomeroy-style ratings to measure the quality of each Ivy team, a winning percentage for each league game can be generated, and thousands of seasons can be simulated to find the most common results:
  1. Both Harvard and Princeton are expected to finish at 11-3.
  2. Columbia clocks in two games behind at 9-5.
  3. The rest of the league is a jumble with Cornell and Yale expected to go 6-8 and Penn and Brown expected to land at 5-9.
  4. Dartmouth falls to the basement, two games back at 3-11.
  • With ties allowed, the Crimson wins the title 58 percent of the time and Princeton 54 percent, while Columbia snags a share in seven percent of simulations. Without ties, Harvard wins 41 percent of solo titles, while Princeton grabs 37 percent and Columbia just three percent. An Ivy playoff for the NCAA bid is expected in 19 percent of simulations, so the league office might be actively shopping sites in March for a third straight season.
Mike Martin And The Bears Notched An Historic Upset Of Providence.

Mike Martin And The Bears Notched An Historic Upset Of Providence (AP)

  • Signature Win: Since the 1989-90 season, Ivy teams not named Pennsylvania or Princeton have won just 25 non-conference games against top 100 opposition. Brown has been responsible for four of those notable victories, picking up its fourth last week with a thrilling 69-68 win over Providence, in which the Bears trailed by seven with under a minute to play. The win gave first-year coach Mike Martin his first signature win at the helm of a Division I team. Common threads abound, but the most interesting one is that all of Brown’s top 100 wins have had the Friars as the victim. The most recent one prior to this season occurred in 2006-07, when Craig Robinson, also in his rookie year coaching the Bears, navigated his squad to an ugly 51-41 victory. Robinson would take his team to the CBI Tournament the next year and would leave to take the Oregon State job after that season. Brown fans have to be hoping that Martin, who was a former standout guard for the Bears from 2001-04, will lead them down the former path without exploring the latter.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (7-5) – Over the past 17 seasons, there have only been seven regularly used freshmen with a usage rate of 20 percent or greater to post an offensive rating of over 1.1 points per possession. The two most recent members of that lofty group were Amaker recruits Kyle Casey and Laurent Rivard and a third, Siyani Chambers, is currently on pace to join them. After a disastrous performance in the Crimson’s 67-62 victory over California, Chambers finished with 16 points and seven assists against St. Mary’s, nearly willing the team to a second-straight upset. Ultimately, some extremely poor execution down the stretch left Harvard on the losing end of a thrilling 70-69 nail-biter, but the Crimson and its freshman point guard have made it quite clear that the road to the Ivy title still runs through Boston. Read the rest of this entry »
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