Believe it or not, the conference slate is merely three days away, and in some sense, that”s a bit of a shame because the Ivy League has really been cranking into gear over the last couple weeks, sticking it to some big conference squads. Wins over California, Bucknell, and Providence (among other impressive performances) have elevated the league all the way to 18th in the Pomeroy conference rankings and to 23rd in the conference RPI. While some had feared that in such a down year, the Ivy champ would receive a dreaded #15 or even #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, it now seems that the Ancient 8 king will earn a more palatable #13 seed, according to Joe Lunardi”s first edition of Bracketology, released January 8th. Furthermore, all eight Ivy teams have defenses ranked in the top 215
teams of Division I, but only three have offenses ranked in the top 215. With that in mind, we are going to buck convention and predict that offense wins championships as those three top 215 offenses make up our top 3 spots in this week”s Power Poll.
1. Harvard (8-5)- Nursing a 10-point lead against St. Mary”s at the final media timeout, the Crimson, 48 hours after toppling Cal, was just minutes away from icing a sweep against its West Coast foes. But a barrage of turnovers and missed free throws doomed Harvard down the stretch, and the Gaels closed the game on a 12-1 run to claim the victory. The loss was reminiscent of the Crimson”s early season matchup against UMass when it coughed up a 5 point lead with just over a minute remaining en route to a 67-64 loss. Harvard is this close to being a 9-3 squad, sitting in pole position as the Ivy schedule starts, but facts are facts. Harvard is 8-5, and until the Crimson can show that it”s able to eke out close games on the road, the young team”s ability to win a league title remains in doubt. –C. R. Banks
2. Princeton (6-7)- In typical Princeton fashion, the Tigers seem to be getting it together as conference play arrives, putting together an impressive stretch since that shocking collapse at the Barclay”s Center against Fordham. The convincing Bucknell win is the league”s best of the year, and the Tigers almost followed it up with another scalp at Akron before falling just short. The emergence of freshman Hans Brase has been a huge boost for the offense, which had been running so heavily through #34 that there was a grassroots push to rename the team the Princeton Hummers. Koon and Bray have started to put it together with more consistency too. With five home games to kick off the league slate before traveling up to Hanover, Princeton is in a good position to start 6-0 and take control of the title race. According to the illustrious Pomeroy, the Tigers are at least 80% favorites to win each of those six games. Keep Hummer healthy and the Tigers will be in the mix in March. Period. –B. March
3. Columbia (8-6)- What is going on in Morningside Heights? After playing a competitive, hard-fought game against Mike Muscala and the Bucknell Bison, the Lions were faced with a parade of mediocre opponents–the perfect schedule to get a win streak going before the home-and-home with Cornell. But Columbia stumbled in a last-second home defeat to Elon. Then after the New Year, the Lions had much more trouble against Colgate than a title contender should in a close victory. And then last night, Columbia goes up to Worcester to take on a Holy Cross team that just got knocked off by Yale, and gives up 60 points to the Crusader duo of Dudzinski and Burrell in a 78-69 loss. The regression of Cisco”s play is probably most troubling as Barbour, Mullins and Frankoski seem to be developing into a potent backcourt trio. Cisco is shooting 47% on the year after averaging 59% for the previous two years. On the defensive side, it”s been opponents” big men who have been hurting the Lions: Muscala (29 and 19), Troutman (23 pts), Brown (25 and 9), Dudzinski (31 pts). The Lions need to fix this weakness quickly; otherwise, they”ll continue their tumble from the clan of contenders into the abyss of averageness that constitutes spots 4-7 in the Ivy ladder. -B. March
4. Yale (5-11)- The Bulldogs have had a good stretch of play over the last month, knocking off a couple Top 200 teams in Bryant and Holy Cross, both on the road. More impressively perhaps, Yale also hung tight with Nevada and Iowa State on their brutal West Coast New Year”s road trip that was comprised of three games in five days. Armani Cotton has really come on strong for Old Blue in the last couple of games, with 20 points and 12 boards in just 20 minutes against Holy Cross. Cotton earned some more burn from Coach Jones against Florida and put forth another solid effort with 12 points and 5 rebounds. Before these two games, the sophomore was averaging just 4 points and 4 rebounds, so his development into a weapon for offensively-challenged Yale is a real positive. For a stretch, it looked like Kreisberg was getting back to form, but he”s had two tough outings in a row. Morgan has mostly stayed quiet too lately, besides a 20 point burst at Nevada, as teams continue to key in on him and keep him from creating his own shots. This year”s team is shaping into another example of Coach Jones getting a lot out of a squad that seems thin on talent, as Yale looks to continue its streak of top half finishes in every season since 1999-2000. –B. March
5. Cornell (7-9)- The Big Red have one Top 200 win and it was on opening day against Western Michigan. Cornell has just one Sub-200 loss though (St. Peter”s), so we have a pretty decent idea of how good this team is. (Quick tangent: the Big Red also have three Sub-340 wins, which is a remarkable feat of scheduling given that there are only 347 teams in D-1.) Like all of their Ivy colleagues in this 4-7 range, Cornell is a good defensive team that has trouble scoring. The anchor of this defense continues to be Shonn Miller, though Miller is improving on the offensive end as well and actually leads the Red with 10.5 ppg. Much has been made of the rotating cast of characters that make up the Big Red starters besides Miller. Gray and Cressler seem like the best options in the backcourt, but Courtney continues to give Cherry, Cancer, Scelfo, and Asafo-Adjei plenty of time as well. I am of the opinion that it is tough to get in a serious rhythm if you”re only playing 20 minutes a game, as some frustrated Big Red fans have argued. Cornell has nine players averaging between 10 and 23 minutes per game, so Coach Courtney clearly feels differently. In the frontcourt, besides Shonn Miller, Chemerinski and Peck (still not 100% with knee injury) have been inconsistent, though quite effective at times, and Figini”s minutes have really fluctuated, though he put forth a great effort with 15 points against Bucknell. It will be interesting to see if Courtney continues to manage his bench in this way (and to see how the fans respond if the Big Red start to drop some games). Pomeroy is currently projecting 9 of Cornell”s 14 Ivy games to be decided by two possessions or less. Buckle up, Cornellians. – B. March
6. Brown (5-8)- Scott Cordischi and Russ Tyler, the radio voices of Brown basketball, have labeled this year”s squad the Iron Eight in honor of the eight active players on the roster. This high-variance Brown team is what you get when you take a team that loves to shoot the three and take away most of its bench. It makes for an exhilarating, roller-coaster fan experience. This team really does have a lot of talent, so you get games like Providence, a thrilling last-minute win over a Big East team on national TV. Then you get 96 minutes of face-palm inducing offensive ineptitude, as seen in ugly losses to Albany and URI and the first 16 minutes of the Niagara game last night. Then, once again, the tides shift and you get a torrential downpour of three balls and gritty offensive rebounding that brings the Iron Eight all the way back from 19 points down to win in overtime. It”s up and down and it”s taking a toll on my heart, but I couldn”t ask for more from this team as a fan. Coach Martin has instilled the value of really locking down on defense and crashing the boards hard; sure enough, the Bears” opponents” points per possession rate has plummeted. Halpern continues to regain his energy after last year”s illness, becoming more of the all-around player he used to be (15 pts, 10 rbs last night) instead of just a spot-up shooter. Sullivan continues his remarkable senior season and McGonagill”s shot is starting to fall. Rafael Maia is a Top 30 offensive rebounder in the nation; Cedric Kuakumensah is a Top 30 defensive rebounder in the nation. Everyone knows their role and things are starting to fall into place for a move up the Ivy standings. Even the thin bench is starting to make a meaningful impact. Tyler Ponticelli has been very solid in relief of the foul-prone freshmen, including 6 points and 6 rebounds in 30 big minutes last night. It”s sure to be an up-and-down season for the Bears, but Martin has them clearly moving in the right direction and it”s a thrill for many fans who haven”t seen that in several years. –B. March
7. Penn (2-12)- Penn has had a wild first half of the season. First, Fran Dougherty went bananas and scored 20 points in four of his first five games to cause a nation of hopeful, excited Quaker fans to believe that he was the Second Coming (of Zack Rosen). Then, five Quakers were suspended for failing a university-administered drug test. Then, they were re-instated, just as the potential Savior contracted mono. And through all of this, Penn just kept chalking up the losses. They”ve played a brutal schedule, so there is certainly some hope that this squad is not as bad as their record, but the way things have gone, it looks like it might be a long season at the Palestra. The good news: there is young talent on this team and those guys have gotten to see quite a bit of the court. Over the course of the last few weeks, several guys have stepped up and put forth admirable individual performances, even if that hasn”t translated into victory: Dau Jok”s 18 points last night, far surpassing his career high, Darien Nelson-Henry”s career high 17 points last night, and Greg Louis” career high 19 and 11 against Delaware. Miles Cartwright is carrying a heavy load offensively, and his shooting numbers have suffered as a result–his
2 pt. FG% has fallen from 53% to 44%, while 3 pt. FG% has fallen from 35% to 29% from year to year. Like all Ivy teams, the Quakers play good defense, 4th in the league in fact, but they are struggling to put the biscuit in the basket (not including last night”s no-defense-allowed offensive celebration with Lafayette). After Doc and Miles, no one is averaging more than 7 ppg. One of the Quakers other emerging young players is going to have to become a third scoring threat if Penn is going to stay afloat in this year”s league. –B. March
8. Dartmouth (3-10)- After opening the season with a win over Maine, the Big Green suffered through an ugly 11-game stretch (including eight on the road) that saw them go 1-10, with eight of the 10 losses by 10 points. A commanding 75-58 win over 7-8 Army on Tuesday night in Hanover periodically halted the negative momentum, but Dartmouth faces a serious
test with Harvard coming to town for the Ivy opener on Saturday. If the Big Green can carry over its hot shooting from Tuesday (10-for-19 from three), Dartmouth could at least make a game of it with the Crimson, which is pretty much all you can ask from this squad right now.
There are troubling signs, though. The performance against Army was an exception, not the norm (Dartmouth shot 29% from three entering the game, last in the Ancient Eight), and the Big Green’s league-worst offense continues to struggle generating good looks inside the arc (36% FG). Right now, head coach Paul Cormier needs to focus on creating more movement in the paint. Dartmouth’s bigs lack elite post-up moves; getting them the ball on cuts to the basket or off pick-and-rolls will make it easier for them to score at the rim. Freshman Alex Mitola looks confident running the offense, even if the results have been subpar, and his game will only continue to develop. If the Big Green can make it out of January having played Harvard close at least once (they meet again on January 26), they’ll be in better shape once conference play gets serious in February. -J. Gault