After the Crimson’s surprising loss to FAU, some have suggested that the Ivy title race may not be as cut and dry as everyone expected. And in some sense, that’s fair. Harvard certainly doesn’t look like a team that’s going to run the table and finish the season in the Top 25. But 12-2 seems about right at this point for a team getting back one of the nation’s best shot blockers and otherwise loaded with talent at every position. And yet the best thing going for Harvard is the strength of the middle of the league. It seems increasingly unlikely that another team will be able to navigate the minefield of teams 2 through 6 and win even 10 league contests. But that’s why they play the games. Things could look a lot different on Sunday if Penn or Princeton can tag Harvard with a home loss, or if Columbia can sweep the second leg of its three-weekend road trip.
Let’s get to it…
1. Harvard (2-0) (56 points, 7 first place votes)
The Crimson had a week as mercurial as the weather. It started with a low of 23.0% and finished with a high of 65.9%—the most extreme shooting marks in head coach Tommy Amaker’s tenure. Harvard’s no-show against Florida Atlantic, an embarrassing 68-53 defeat, was an eye-opener for people ready to coronate the Crimson, but Harvard’s bounce-back beat-down of the Big Green showed its resilience and its potential. While a win over a Dartmouth team without Gabas Maldunas is hardly worth celebrating, Sunday was a worst-case scenario for the Crimson’s Ancient Eight rivals: Laurent Rivard hitting threes, Siyani Chambers running the fast break, Wes Saunders getting to the free-throw line, Steve Moundou-Missi finishing at the rim. But the best sight for Harvard fans was the return of junior center Kenyatta Smith. The big man’s two minutes running the floor late in the second half ensure that he’ll be a (big) part of the picture for the conference slate. Look out Ivy League: the Crimson is at full strength. -C. River Banks
2. Princeton (0-1) (45 points)
Princeton’s great early season play propelled the Tigers to their best record in 15 years. Through 13 games the Tigers boasted an 11-2 slate, and appeared poised to mount a challenge to Harvard’s three year title dominance.
The simple explanation for Princeton’s success may be found in its 3-point shooting numbers. Nine different players shot at a 40% rate from behind the arc, making it nearly impossible to match the Tigers’ scoring output. A different player got hot in each game, while Will Barrett and Ben Hazel were consistently reliable. But the lack of versatility in the offense was exposed in losses to Pacific and, shockingly, to the 2-10 Penn Quakers in the Ivy opener at The Palestra.
With two more road games to start the 14 Game Tournament, including a Friday trip to Cambridge, enthusiasm for the Tigers’ title chances has cooled somewhat. Speculation that Denton Koon, held out of the Tigers’ annual D-III post-exam tune-up, is suffering from an injury that may hamper his effectiveness for a month or more, downgrades expectations even further.
In truth, the Tigers have not defended all that well, surely not well enough to contain the talent in this League. As The AQ loves to point out, ”If you live by the 3, you will die by it.” When the threes are going in, the Tigers’ defensive issues are less apparent, but when they’re not… even Penn can beat you.
A 10-4 Ivy record for the third straight year is possible, if not likely. I suspect Mitch Henderson would be happy with that but not satisfied, by any means. The February 7 meeting with Columbia at Jadwin may be a make-or-break night for both teams. The weekend has special significance for Henderson and top assistant Brian Earl in that they are among Pete Carril’s players from his 29-season Tiger career, all of whom are invited back for a reunion on February 8. What stories will be told! –Toothless Tiger
3. Columbia (2-0) (43 points)
Columbia bent in both of their first two conference games, but never broke. Winning 74-58 in their more recent contest in Ithaca, just four Lions contributed 68 of the team’s 74 points. One of those four is emerging Ivy League star Maodo Lo, who led the team with 20 points on a sizzling 8-12 shooting. Another was fellow sophomore, Cory Osetkowski, who chipped in with 19 points and 9 rebounds on 8-11 shooting from the field. Columbia shot just 2-9 from three, but got to the line 30 times, connecting on 26 of them (87%). With every game, the Lions have proven that this is a team that is willing to take what is given, and not rely on being a one-trick pony. Consisting of Lo, Mullins and Rosenberg, Columbia’s three-headed monster has led them to a 13-6 record, and a 9-1 clip when at least one of the three scores 20 or more. Columbia remains in Ken Pomeroy’s top-100, and has closed the theoretical gap between the Top 2, and the rest of the Ivy. If Columbia can sweep this weekend, they’ll head into Jadwin with the ability to transform from dark horse to pace-setter. Lions, Tigers and Crimson, oh my. –Greg “Wolfgang” Schwartz
4. Brown (1-1) (35 points)
The Bears looked sharp this weekend, turning the tables on Yale in a comfortable victory at the Pizzitola Center. Sean McGonagill was masterful, hitting 7 of 9 from deep in a 29-point outing. There’s reason for hope in Providence as Martin’s freshmen look more comfortable with each passing game. Additionally, 6’10” Aram Martin’s return to the team, though he was dressed in a suit on Saturday, bodes well for the Bears’ future.
As for this season, Brown will go as far as McGonagill can take them. Martin has molded them into a disciplined defensive unit that will be able to hang around for upset opportunities against the league’s elite thanks to excellent three-point shooting. Given this team’s weapons, that’s a pretty good recipe for success. Another top half finish? Definitely in reach. Brown’s first postseason berth since 2008? It could happen. Title contender? Not yet. –Bruno March
5. Yale (1-1) (29 points)
Armani Cotton’s recent resurgence is a positive development for the Bulldogs. The junior sparked Yale to its conference opening win at home against Brown with 19 and 9 coming on aggressive drives, good outside shooting, and strong rebounding. That’s the type of support Justin Sears needs if Yale is going to finish top half this year in a competitive middle of the Ivy. In last weekend’s loss at Brown, the Bulldogs looked dangerous in parts of the second half, playing intense on-ball defense, forcing turnovers, and going hard to the bucket in transition. In the half-court though, they stagnated. More off-ball movement needs to be introduced into the Eli offense; far too many possessions ended with contested, off-balance looks.
Looking ahead, Yale is a patient, physical team that will grind out some hard-fought victories this season. If they can wear one of these top teams down and limit the damage from beyond the arc, they’ll have a chance to steal a surprising game or two and sneak into the top half yet again. –Bruno March
6. Penn (1-0) (23 points)
Sophomore year, through the vagaries of the Penn Housing Office, I was given a roommate named Ernie Kornstein. A physics major, he was, and still is, one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. On the other hand, Ernie was also lazy, undisciplined (never studied), and would often lose control when our genteel, Kiwi physical chemistry professor dared correct him. (That same professor would later go on to win the 2000 Nobel Prize.) But whenever Ernie applied his prodigious intellect to the task at hand, the results were often a thing of beauty. He was that gifted. Unfortunately, my erstwhile roommate’s cumulative deficiencies ultimately got the better of him. By October of junior year, he was finally kicked out of school. Last I heard he was selling shoes at Brooks Brothers on Madison Ave– all that potential down the tubes.
In many ways, the 2014 Quakers are very much like Ernie. They too are often lazy, undisciplined and frequently lose control, especially when the game is on the line. Frustrated Penn fans have seen this again and again throughout their rugged non-conference schedule. The result: an unenviable 4-11 record. But when they eventually put their aggregate talents together as they did against Princeton, the result can indeed be a thing of beauty. That was the team that everyone expected this season. A team with depth, focus, and resolve that can play with, and defeat, anyone in The League. Now, with the heart of the Ivy schedule upon finally upon us, the question is will they? Overall it appears that the Quakers have the talent, but do they have the determination?
Their last win, against 300+ ranked NJIT, was an admirable all-around performance against an inferior opponent. Nevertheless, I believe that, for whatever reason, their present problems (poor rebounding, no true point guard, incessant turnovers, non-existent defense [see St. Joe’s and their 38-6 run], nagging injuries, general boneheadedness, erratic offense, and Henry Brooks) are now too ingrained and endemic at this late stage of the season to completely disappear. Oh sure, I can see them pulling it together to shock a few favored squads at home in Philly (Columbia snaps to mind), but they will also blow a bunch of games that they should have won handily. The back-to-back nature of the tournament schedule can be extremely unforgiving for an inconsistent team lacking in discipline. I hope I’m wrong, but Penn could very easily be out of the race as early as week two. For Quaker fans, that would truly be a shame. Just like Ernie, all that potential down the tubes. Stay Red and Blue, my friends. –The AQ
7. Dartmouth (0-2) (14 points)
In the last installment of the Power Poll, the vibe at Dartmouth was potential winter wonderland – a young team growing together and rebuilding a program. But 2014 has not been kind to the Big Green, and Hanover now feels like the area beyond The Wall in Game of Thrones: icy, dead, hopeless, a place to be visited and discussed as briefly as possible.
Dartmouth is 0-5 since the calendar turned, the closest contest a 62-53 loss at home to Vermont on Jan. 4. Dropping the Ivy opener in Cambridge was expected; losing Gabas Maldunas for the season with an ACL tear and getting shellacked by 30 in the return fixture at Leede Arena was not. Sunday’s 80-50 defeat was the Big Green’s first game without Maldunas since 2011, and the performance was typical of those darker days.
With the 6-foot-9 Lithuanian in street clothes, Dartmouth lacked any rim protection, giving Brandyn Curry space to drive and Steve Moundou-Missi free runs at the basket. This came as no surprise: Maldunas leads the league in rebounding (8.5 per game) and is second in blocked shots (2.0 per game). More distressingly, the Big Green offense looked just as inept. Maldunas was no longer sucking defenders into the post, giving guards Malik Gill and Alex Mitola less room in which to work. Dartmouth doesn’t shoot many threes to begin with (16.7 per game, 239th in the country); when the defense is free to float out toward the three-point line, that total is going to fall even further (Dartmouth was 3-for-9 on Sunday). Defeating a superior opponent – and Dartmouth is going to face a lot of them from here on out – requires making threes. I don’t envy Paul Cormier’s task. –Jonathan Gault
8. Cornell (0-2) (7 points)
Cornell showed some grit staging a late rally in New York City and hung with the Lions long enough to keep the rest of the league scoreboard watching well into the 2nd half, but the Red need to get in the win column to receive more than a last place vote in this poll. -Jake Mastbaum
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter, @IvyHoopsOnline.