There seem to be a few clear divisions within the league after six weeks of hoops. Princeton and Harvard has been the thrilling Ivy narrative thus far, with both teams on torrid runs to start the season. Many thought this would be a runaway title for the Crimson, but it’s great for Ivy supporters to see a second team step up the way the Tigers have. It certainly makes for an exciting conference slate (circle Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 on your calendars, folks).
There’s another tight battle going on in the middle of the league though, as Brown, Columbia, and Yale jockey for that 3rd position in the Ivy. This year, with up to six teams looking at the possibility of an over-.500 record, there will be something to play for below the title chase. Those middle-of-the-league contests promise to be pretty exciting as teams play for postseason berths in the NIT, CBI, and CIT.
Dartmouth and Penn have been slotted in the sixth and seventh slots, two teams that appear to be going in opposite directions.
And then there is Cornell, a team that is historically bad to the point that the 0-10 Tiny Red are owners of the worst defense in all of the 351-team Division I universe, conceding 1.198 points per possession, a far cry from the D-I average of 1.035 ppp.
Without further ado…
1. Harvard (10-1) (55 points, 7 first place votes)
When you own a title belt, the only way to lose it is through a lapse in your own performance. So while a number of Ivies have been legitimately great in non-conference play—Princeton, especially, looms as a potential juggernaut—Harvard has done nothing to relinquish its status as top dog. The lone blemish on the Crimson’s season is a godawful second half against No. 20 Colorado, in which the visiting Crimson gave away a 12-point halftime lead. Aside from that setback, Harvard has been methodically, if unspectacularly, dispatching its sneakily good opponents. A 10-point win against Holy Cross. An 18-point win against Bryant. In Alaska, an 8-point win over Denver and 12-point win over Green Bay. Across the river, an 8-point win at Northeastern and an 11-point overtime squeaker at BU. All those teams stack up evenly with Harvard’s Ivy counterparts, so the Crimson’s 9-1 record ought to be an encouraging start for head coach Tommy Amaker’s crew. Harvard’s bread-and-butter is still putting the ball in the hands of Wes Saunders and Siyani Chambers, but this season has seen the emergence of a formidable frontcourt. Kyle Casey has returned to form, putting up 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, Steve Moundou-Missi has made the leap to an All-Ivy performer, averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a night, and Jonah Travis has shown he can be a valuable spark plug off the bench, with 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in limited minutes. The scary news for the rest of the league is that the Crimson has not approached its ceiling yet. It’s biggest difference-maker in the paint, Kenyatta Smith, has been sidelined all year with a foot injury, and point guard Brandyn Curry has missed all but two games with a bum foot of his own. When those two return to the lineup, everyone will finally get to see if this Harvard team can be one of the Ancient Eight’s all-time best. –C. River Banks
2. Princeton (9-2) (50 points, 1 first place vote)
My Tigers’ IHO Season Preview contained this observation: “I suppose one might make an argument that the Tigers can be better without (last year’s IVY POY Ian) Hummer, but not this reporter.” Fortunately for Princeton fans, the 2013-14 Tigers are making convincing, and different, arguments each game. With returning seniors Will Barrett and TJ Bray, the Tigers were expected to shoot the three well, and they have. It was not known that they would get significant beyond-the-arc production from NINE players, but they have. Junior Ben Hazel, who missed most of last season, has emerged as the needed backcourt complement to Bray and a reliable scorer. Freshman Spencer Weisz has started most nights, and played like a veteran all of the time. The play of Hans Brase, the sophomore center, invites comparison to Kit Mueller, one of the Tigers’ all-time great players. While Harvard has been as good as advertised, the Tigers to this point in December have clearly established themselves as the best of the rest. –Toothless Tiger
3. Brown (6-3) (38 points)
The Bears remain a bit of an unknown quantity. The road warriors have amassed a 4-2 record away from the Pitz, but a closer look at their victories reveals that the 6-3 record may be less impressive than it seems. Brown has zero wins over Top 200 teams, though a four point loss to Providence and a three point defeat to Bryant suggest that Mike Martin’s squad can compete with the Ivy’s best in ’14. The frontcourt duo of Maia and Kuakumensah continue to complement each other nicely as Maia focuses on scoring and offensive boards while Kuakumensah cleans up on defense, landing in the nation’s Top 100 players in defensive rebounding rate and block rate. McGonagill has been carrying a really heavy load (playing 94.5% of minutes, 5th in the nation), and bringing all the freshmen along, while still posting very impressive offensive numbers. Of those freshmen, Leland King, Steven Spieth, and Tavon Blackmon have been most effective. Norman Hobbie has also provided a spark off the bench with his three point shooting, though his minutes have declined lately. If the Bears are going to hold down this 3rd spot, they need to do a better job taking care of the basketball and keeping their big men out of foul trouble. –Bruno March
4. Columbia (7-5) (34 points)
Columbia has a 7-5 record on the young season, and has lost zero games to teams outside of KenPom’s top 150. They almost pulled off the impossible, but came up just short against #2 ranked Michigan State in East Lansing. They still have three tough non-conference games left (@St. John’s, @Colgate and home vs. Stony Brook), but one or two wins in those three could further propel their impressive non-conference resume entering Ivy League play. Predictably, sophomores Grant Mullins (12.2 ppg) and Maodo Lo (11.6 ppg) are leading Columbia through the maturation process as the Lions look ready to make the leap to the top half of the Ivy in 2014. Columbia is getting it done right now thanks to very consistent three point shooting as a team (41.3% on the year) and the 5th best team defensive rebounding rate in the country, snagging 76.6% of rebounds at their basket. Close game woes still appear to plague the Lions, who are just 2-3 in games decided by five points or less, including an unforgivable giveaway in the closing seconds against New York rival, Manhattan. –Wolfgang Evans
5. Yale (5-6) (33 points)
Yale is looking like a classic James Jones team. The good news is the Bulldogs have the talent to compete in the top half. Justin Sears has made the leap in his sophomore year and is one of the league’s elite scorers. One of the big question marks coming into the season was whether or not Javier Duren could handle the full load at point guard, while improving his turnover numbers. He’s answered that question in the affirmative, putting together a solid first six weeks of the season, including a career-high 26 points on Friday against Albany. Beyond that, the Elis have had solid production from Brandon Sherrod and Nick Victor, though it’s unclear that the rest of the team can do enough to win when Sears is shut down (Yale is 3-1 when Sears grabs a double-double, 2-5 when he doesn’t). Fifth is a bit harsh for this team, but the reality is that they have lost some close games that they’ll need to win if they’re going to be firmly top half in ’14. –Bruno March
6. Dartmouth (6-4) (20 points)
Though the Big Green has now played nine games, it’s still difficult to tell what to expect from this squad. No result has stood out so far; Dartmouth has won the games it’s supposed to and lost against superior competition. But if I were a betting man, I’d be bullish on the Green right now. Gabas Maldunas leads the league in rebounding (10.1 per game) and sophomore Connor Boehm has made a leap, shooting 61.8 percent from the field, tops among Ivy players. Yes, blowouts of Lyndon State and Jacksonville State help those numbers, but Boehm played his best against the best competition. He scored a season-high 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting in a road loss to IPFW on Dec. 7 and improved on that three days later against Illinois, shooting 7-for-11 for 17 points.
That 72-65 defeat to the Illlini was a promising sign for the entire team. Dartmouth traditionally suffers a heavy defeat in its December western road trip (lost by 19 to Arizona State last year, by 18 to Notre Dame in 2011, by 29 to Iowa State in 2010…) but the Big Green played Illinois close thanks to Boehm, Maldunas and some hot shooting off the bench from freshman Eli Harrison. Harrison is an x-factor for the Big Green heading into 2014, a 6-foot-6 forward who can spread the floor with his shooting ability (10-for-19 on threes so far).
It’s unlikely Dartmouth will continue to lead the league in field goal percentage once Ivy League play begins, but with just D-III Lesley remaining in 2013, the Big Green will have one more chance to pad its stats. Don’t be fooled by the weak slate, though. All five starters can play, Maldunas is one of the league’s best big men, and Boehm appears on his way to joining him. There’s plenty to be excited about in Hanover. -Jonathan Gault
7. Penn (2-6) (15 points)
The Quakers so far have been in a word…bad. In more than one word, they have been really, really bad and extremely disappointing. I have yet to see them play any resemblance of “team” basketball. A year later, there is little perceptible change from last season’s horror show except this year they are dead last in the nation in committing turnovers, 18.5 per game. (I mean…that’s progress, right?) What’s more, the Quakers more often than not look completely lost on offense. Compare them to Princeton’s Felix Ungar-like obsessive compulsive ball handling, and they look like Oscar Madison running around with his pants down while high on mushrooms. So let’s see…incessant turnovers , poor defense and the “entropy offense.” Hmmm… sounds like a recipe for a lot of long humiliating nights at the Palestra for the Penn faithful. Oh yes, Henry Brooks is still on the team so the fouls will keep coming and the opponents’ blood will keep flowing (Ed. Note: Brooks commits an astonishing 9.0 fouls per 40 mins).
On the good side, they are rebounding better and are 29th in the nation in assists (16.6 apg). Tony “they told me I could run the team” Bagtas is now in fact running the team and has dished out 17 assists during his first two starts. His talents are sorely needed as Penn has not had a true floor general since Zack Rosen graduated. Still, it is far too early to say whether he will prosper or falter as the season goes on. DNH (now sidelined indefinitely with a concussion) and Tony Hicks have remained stalwarts and are improving, but overall the rest of the team is mediocre at best. The starters are talented but wildly inconsistent and the bench is deep but impotent. Potentially devastating losses await at Marist and NJIT. Lose those and QuakerNation will indeed be in full scale revolt. (Note: The Daily Pennsylvanian is predicting that a loss to NJIT will be the defeat that eventually causes Jerome to finally lose his shit at the post-game press conference and begin spewing expletives at the media.)
But it’s not just the losses that are infuriating the fan base, it’s the way this 2-6 team is losing; no matter how poor the competition, the Quakers get into a deep hole early and the players are just not poised and resolute enough to get themselves out. This will not cut it during Ivy play. The League (except Cornell) is playing extraordinarily well and now there are too many determined teams. Penn, at the moment, is unfortunately not one of them. Something therefore needs to change rapidly because, at present, Jerome Allen’s Quakers simply do not know how to win. -The Ancient Quaker
8. Cornell (0-10) (7 points)
Until Cornell manages to become the final Division I basketball team to win a game this season, these are the only words the team gets. –Jake Mastbaum
Ed. Note: Instead of a blurb, I will list the categories in which Cornell is in the Bottom 10 teams in the nation: point-per-possession defense (351st of 351), defensive effective FG% (344th), rate at which the Big Red cause turnovers (344th), rate at which the Big Red get to the free throw line (350th), 3-point defense (346th), free throw % (56.9%! and 347th), steal % (349th).