Breaking Down Rivals' Ivy League Preview

Rivals.com picked the Crimson to win the league title and Keith Wright to repeat as Player of the Year. (Photo Credit: 5-Star Basketball)

Rivals.com (Yahoo Sports) ranked the Ivy League 20th in their countdown of college basketball”s 32 conferences. The first half of the article consists of the usual praise for Cornell and Princeton”s recent postseason performance. The author, David Fox, seems to suggest that Harvard, this year”s prohibitive favorite, may have a different competitor to deal with at the top of the standings with Princeton losing Maddox and Mavraides. He cites Penn and Yale as the two squads with which the Crimson may have to contend, while suggesting Brown may make a leap from the bottom behind the youth movement led by McGonagill and Rafael Maia.

The rankings below the article though, at times, seem to be disconnected from the analysis. Princeton is left in the #2 spot, ahead of Penn and Yale even though Fox claimed Harvard would have different competition for the title. Additionally, Ian Hummer is given a spot on the league”s second team. If Hummer carries the Tigers to a second place finish this year after losing Maddox and Mavraides, I have to like his chances to make the first team.

The projected standings also show Brown staying put in the #7 slot despite the aforementioned praise and the prediction that Maia will be the league”s Rookie of the Year. While there are certainly minutes for Maia in the Bears” frontcourt that other freshmen may not see, a ROY season combined with last year”s ROY in the backcourt in McGonagill as well as All-Ivy Honorable Mention Tucker Halpern on the wing, who shot 40% from distance last year, and it seems like the Bears should be able to finish higher than 7th.

Other choices that deserve further examination include “Best frontcourt: Harvard,” which could also have been awarded to the Yale Bulldogs with the duo of Mangano and Kreisberg (with freshmen Sherrod and Childs-Klein coming off the bench). Best backcourt was given to Penn, though Brandyn Curry, Christian Webster, Oliver McNally, and Laurent Rivard may have something to say about that up in Cambridge.

Interestingly, in the “Coach on the hot seat” category, Rivals chose “None.” But if, as they predicted, the Bears fail to move up from the bottom this year, you have to think that things are going to get uncomfortably warm for Coach Agel in Providence.

Around the League: 10.12.11

A couple interesting mid-week links that you may have missed:

 

Coach Tommy Amaker spoke yesterday at the inaugural Massachusetts College Basketball Media Day at Boston University. (Photo Credit: gocrimson.com)

 

  • “Reggie Willhite also had a unique basketball experience, training with former Duke stars Christian Laettner and Grant Hill…” (yalebulldogs.com)

 

Penn will face Canadian champion Carleton University in exhibition

  • “Based in Canada, Carleton is a member of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference and last year won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship for the seventh time in nine years. During the months of August and September, Carleton went 5-4 in the Cross-Border Battle, including wins over Saint Louis, Niagara and UC-Santa Barbara as well as a two-point loss to La Salle.” (pennathletics.com)

 

Amaker, McNally, and Joe Jones discuss college basketball”s opportunity for increased exposure during the NBA lockout

  • “[Amaker]: Although I would love to see the NBA season, given how things are shaping up it could be something that college basketball could benefit from. With how popular and great the Celtics have been, not to have part of their season, maybe it will be an opportunity for college basketball to gain some traction and momentum.” (bostonherald.com)

 

 

Season in Review: Harvard Crimson

Fans celebrated at Lavietes Pavilion when Harvard knocked off Princeton, 79-67, on March 5th, 2011 to capture their first share of an Ivy League crown. (Photo Credit: gocrimson.com)
This is the fourth piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Harvard Crimson ended the year at 23-7 (12-2), finishing in a tie for first place and earning an NIT bid.

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 2010-11 was Harvard basketball’s most successful season to date and its most heartbreaking. The Crimson won 23 games and earned its first-ever share of an Ivy League title, but, thanks to a Doug Davis leaner, it failed to punch a ticket to the Dance, and, like every other year since the Truman administration, it was on the outside looking in on the Madness.

Still, the final result—an NIT bid—was not an insignificant achievement for a team that began the season with serious question marks. The departure of jack-of-all-trades guard Jeremy Lin left an enormous void across the board in Harvard’s production. Lacking a star of Lin’s stature, the team would need to rely on all of its players to collectively compensate for the loss of the Golden State guard. But before the season even began, that task grew more difficult when reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Kyle Casey suffered a broken bone in his foot, sidelining the big man for eight weeks and hampering him throughout the season.

Harvard began its schedule with a lackluster road performance against a very strong George Mason team, which ran away from the Crimson in the second half en route to a 66-53 victory. Two weeks later, Harvard labored throughout a three-point win over a lowly Bryant squad that went 1-29 the year before. But the Crimson hit its stride a few days later when it defended Lavietes, 82-66, against a Colorado team that featured future first-round pick Alec Burks. Although Harvard coughed up a 12-point lead in a loss to Michigan and got run off the court by eventual national champions UConn, the Crimson picked up a win over another BCS school at the end of non-conference play with its third straight victory over Boston College, 78-69.

By the time January rolled around, it was clear that the Crimson was an improved team over last year and, without juggernaut Cornell in the picture, it was a frontrunner for the league title. Part of its success came from expected sources: the team got superb guard play out of sophomore Brandyn Curry and junior Oliver McNally, reliable wing scoring from sophomore Christian Webster, and versatility mixed with athleticism from Casey. Perhaps unexpected, though, was the immediate impact of Canadian sharpshooter Laurent Rivard, who posed a serious threat from deep, and, most importantly, the development of forward Keith Wright.

Wright changed from a big body with bad hands into a beast on the block. His ability to finish and willingness to pass made him virtually indefensible, for beefy BCS bigs and brainy Ivy defenders alike. He carried the Crimson with 12 double-doubles on the season, and he finished the year with a stat line of 14.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. Wright’s performance was good enough to earn him Ivy League Most Valuable Player (though not without controversy, as evinced by Greg Mangano’s Twitter outburst), just the second Harvard player to win that distinction.

The Crimson’s hot start to league play did little to temper the optimism surrounding the team, as Harvard breezed through its first four conference games before facing Princeton at Jadwin. The Tigers outplayed the Crimson, especially in the final 30 minutes, earning a 65-61 victory and putting an end to Harvard’s eight-game winning streak. But the Crimson had little time to wallow in the loss. The next night they played an epic double overtime game against Penn. After giving up a 15-point lead, Harvard was tied with Penn and had a chance to win at the buzzer, but an apparent foul that would have sent Curry to the line with no time left was waved off, and the game was sent into overtime. In the first extra period, the Crimson had a two-point lead in the waning moments. Penn guard Zack Rosen drove into the lane, hung in the air, and connected on a shot that video later indicated came after the buzzer. The referees didn’t have the luxury of instant replay though, and we were heading into another overtime. A McNally baseline drive gave Harvard a one-point lead in the final seconds, and this time Casey blocked Rosen’s last-ditch attempt. After the game, Wright correctly observed, “We beat that team three times.”

The rest of the season had its share of memorable games: a 3-point barnburner versus Yale, 24- and 15-point comebacks against Brown. A Princeton loss to the Bears meant the Crimson controlled its own destiny for the final two weeks, but Harvard squandered the opportunity by faltering in a 70-69 loss to the Bulldogs at John J. Lee Amphitheater. The defeat set the stage for a showdown with league-leader Princeton on the final Saturday of the regular season. The atmosphere in Lavietes was electric. After a back-and-forth first half, the Crimson began to control the game in the second frame. Casey, whose baseline drive and jam ignited the second-half run, led his team in scoring with 24 points, all the while hobbling on a broken foot that would require surgery after the season. When the final seconds ticked off the 79-67 victory, Harvard students rushed the court to celebrate at least a share of the school’s first-ever Ivy League title.

Of course, the story of the 2010-11 Harvard basketball team has a bitter ending. Princeton earned a one-game playoff after beating Penn, and the two teams squared off at JJLA for a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. You already know what happened, so spare me the misery of reliving it. 2.8 seconds.

There was some noise about the Crimson receiving an at-large bid to the Tourney, but, to be honest, the team didn’t deserve it. They had their chance. The NIT was a nice consolation, but, given the emotional defeat just days earlier, no one expected Harvard to do much damage. Indeed, Oklahoma St. throttled the Crimson, 71-54, ending what was the greatest season in school history.

Thankfully for the Harvard faithful, the future is bright. The team returns all of its players as well as head coach Tommy Amaker, and it will benefit from another much-heralded freshman class. If it plays its cards right, come this March, Cambridge might just party like its 1946.

Season in Review: Brown Bears

Sean McGonagill dropped 39 points on 15-19 shooting against Columbia on February 4th, 2011 at the Pizzitola Center. (Photo Credit: brownbears.com)

This is the third piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Brown Bears ended the year at 11-17 (4-10), finishing seventh in the conference.

Tucker Halpern clutched both sides of the plastic receptacle, head buried, stomach violently convulsing, while 1,532 people curiously looked on. A bad meal in Ithaca, besides being a great band name, was the culprit that had sent him fleeing off the foul line on this night, the last night of the season, at Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia. Several sick teammates looked on in their sweats from the bench, as the Bears were only able to dress eight players on this night. Columbia won the game in a rout, but the mass food poisoning was merely the final straw in a season that had once held serious promise. Injuries, missed opportunities, and finally bad meat did in the Bears during the 2010-2011 campaign, though some reasons for optimism can certainly be parsed from the wreckage of an otherwise forgettable 11-17 year.

The Bears opened last season on an encouraging note by knocking off Atlantic-10 foe, Fordham, in the Bronx. In fact, after getting blown out by in-state rival, URI, Brown won their next two games to move to 3-1 for the first time since the 2000-2001 season when the Bears went on to reach the NIT. The rest of the non-conference slate was filled with inconsistent performances as the young squad tried to put it all together. A couple of times they did, including an impressive road win at Maine against a Black Bears team that ended up finishing tied for third in the America East. All in all though, there were ominous signs early in the season as the team had trouble competing on the boards and in the paint. Remember, this was a young team adjusting to life in the post-Mullery era. The only upperclassmen who logged significant playing time all season were Peter Sullivan, who put the team on his remarkably broad shoulders too many times to count, Adrian Williams, the speedy shooter off the bench, and Garrett Leffelman, the streaky sniper who never really found the mark in his senior season.

So when freshman Dockery Walker came off the bench and provided some much-needed energy against American, it was a sign that the younger generation was ready to step up. Given the chance to play serious minutes for the first time, Walker made it count, pulling down 13 rebounds and adding 10 points for his first double-double in the loss. He followed that performace up with another double-double in a rout of Lyndon St.

One month later, it was Sean McGonagill’s turn to lead the youth movement. The freshman had been running the show admirably at the point guard position all year, garnering a Rookie of the Week award early in the season, but no one could have predicted what happened on February 4th, 2011 against Columbia. Two days earlier, McGonagill’s season looked like it may be in jeopardy after a violent collision in practice resulted in broken teeth and a destroyed lip, requiring surgery the next day. He was fitted for a mask, Rip Hamilton-style, on Friday morning, and marched onto the court Friday night against Columbia.

In what had to be the individual highlight of the season for the Bears, McGonagill put on a performance for the ages, setting or tying several Pizzitola Center records with a 39-point effort on 15-19 shooting. McGonagill scored a whopping 28 of those points in the second half, re-defining the phrase “in the zone,” and eventually leading Brown to a 87-79 triumph, their first of the conference season.

A week later, it looked like the Bears had started to turn the corner. They wiped their feet on chronic doormat Dartmouth, 75-66, and waltzed into Boston like the British taking Bunker Hill, outscoring Harvard 53-31 in the first half, shocking the home crowd at Lavietes into silence behind 63 percent shooting from the field. Alas, the Crimson defended their home court admirably in the second half of this battle, holding the Bears to 13 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and rattling off 46 of their own in that span to turn the game on its head and ride into the night with a comfortable eight point victory.

In the third conference game of the season, team captain Peter Sullivan had suffered a gruesome shoulder dislocation, which caused him to miss five games. Without Sullivan, the team missed his strength on the glass and lacked his unparalleled ability to slash to the rim and get to the free throw line. When he returned in mid-February, the Bears were on the verge of falling into the basement with Dartmouth. Instead, after a tough loss at home to Penn, Brown came out and stuck it to the league-leading Tigers, riding Sullivan’s magical night at the line (16-16) to a 75-65 win,  and dealing Princeton their first loss of the conference season. Overall, Sullivan dropped in 26 and added 8 boards for the Bears, who were starting to look like one of the best bad Ivy League teams ever.

The next weekend, the Bears played host to Harvard again. Certainly, one had to think the Crimson would have their guard up this time and play hard from the opening tip. But no, it was the Bears who again dominated the first half en route to a 41-30 lead at the break behind 15 points on 6-7 shooting from Tucker Halpern. Certainly, one had to think the Bears would be able to protect a double-digit lead after blowing one only two weeks earlier to the same team. But no, like the Empire, the Crimson struck back again, even quicker this time, regaining the lead after only eight minutes in the second half. Halpern tried to rally the troops for one more comeback, knocking down a late trey to cut the deficit to two, but his career-high 29 points were wasted in the end as Harvard held on for another comeback victory.

The Bears’ final two weeks were highlighted by Adrian Williams’ monster 26-point Senior Night performance, in which Brown dropped a century on the lowly Big Green, and the aforementioned food poisoning incident.

Surely, the Bears are anxious to turn the page on last season and put the program in the hands of a capable young team that has shown a few halves of brilliance. Now if they can just put it all together for a full 40 minutes and pack bag lunches for the Ithaca trip, they should be all right.

Season in Review: Yale Bulldogs

Yale fans rushed the court when the Bulldogs knocked off league leader and archrival, Harvard, on Senior Night last year. (Photo Credit: Yale Daily News)

This is the second piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Yale Bulldogs ended the year at 15-13 (8-6), finishing third in the conference.

The Yale Bulldogs entered the 2010-2011 campaign with some serious question marks needing to be answered, as they lost their leading scorer Alex Zampier as well as 6’ 10” center Paul Nelson to graduation. To make matters worse, starting forward Mike Sands withdrew from school for personal reasons the day before the season, leaving serious doubt about how this team would be able to compete down low.  Some younger players were going to need to step up for this team to finish in the top half of the Ancient Eight.

Almost immediately, Yale made headlines in the non-conference season. After starting the season with a loss to Quinnipiac, the Bulldogs put up a scrappy effort in a narrow 58-55 defeat against Big East foe, Providence. In their next game, Yale continued the Ivy League’s dominance over the ACC’s Boston College thanks to a breakout performance from sophomore guard Austin Morgan, who exploded for 25 points, including six 3-pointers, to key the upset road win for Yale. In non-league play against other major conference opponents, Yale lost games to Stanford from the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and Illinois from the Big-10.

The Bulldogs started out Ivy play with two wins over Brown, but quickly had their chances at competing for the Ivy title effectively end the next weekend, getting swept by Princeton and Penn on the road.  Both were competitive games, but they left Yale two games behind Princeton and Harvard, and since the Ancient Eight does not employ a conference tournament, the Bulldogs were all but eliminated from league title consideration. As the league quickly became a race for 3rd, the Bulldogs won three of their next four before getting swept again by Penn and Princeton, as they remained clumped with multiple teams in the league’s second tier, while Harvard and Princeton sprinted away from the pack.

The rest of Yale’s conference season was not without multiple barnburners. The Elis lost to Penn in New Haven on a Zack Rosen jump shot with just two seconds left. A week later though, in their most complete effort of the year, the Bulldogs upset Harvard on Senior Night, 70-69, erasing a six point deficit in the final six minutes to pull out an emotional one point win at John J. Lee.  In the season’s final weekend, the Bulldogs had a twelve point lead late against Columbia, but Brian Barbour caught fire, scoring thirteen points in the last four minutes to key a Lions run and send the game into overtime.  The Bulldogs pushed back though, and pulled out the 87-81 victory after two bonus periods. Amazingly, not until the final game of the year, a thirteen point loss to Cornell, did the Bulldogs play a league game decided by double digits.

Austin Morgan was one of a handful of nice surprises for the Bulldogs last year. Other major contributors included junior Reggie Willhite, who worked his way into the starting lineup and averaged nearly ten points per game after rarely seeing the floor his previous two years.  Freshman Jeremiah Kreisberg started for much of the year at center, helping replace some of the frontcourt minutes vacated by the loss of Sands and Nelson.  Kreisberg averaged 7.2 points per game and ripped down 4.5 boards per game.

However, the biggest impact came from Greg Mangano, a first-team All Ivy selection whose play last year earned him Lindy’s preseason pick for the 2011-12 Ivy Player of the Year. Mangano was a force all season on the glass, averaging 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. He kicked off the conference slate with a monster 23 and 17 in Providence and followed it up with a 17 point, 12 rebound, 7 block masterpiece in leading the Bulldogs to two early season victories. After declaring for the NBA draft in the offseason (and then retracting his name), Mangano was selected for the U.S. World University Games team, playing with some of college basketball’s big names, including Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine, Kentucky’s Darius Miller and current Purdue coach Matt Painter. Mangano was the only Ivy League player selected for the squad.

Mangano, Morgan, Kreisberg and Co. helped the Bulldogs finish alone in 3rd place at 8-6, having swept Brown, Columbia, and Dartmouth, split with Harvard and Cornell, and been swept by Princeton and Penn. The Bulldogs went 1-3 against co-champions Princeton and Harvard, losing the three games by a combined fourteen points and stunning Harvard on Senior Night in New Haven, dealing their archrivals their second loss and forcing them to have to beat Princeton twice to make the NCAA tournament.

Ivy League POY Keith Wright among Wooden Award Preseason Top 50

 

Harvard's Keith Wright was honored as a Wooden Award Preseason nominee. (Photo Credit: gocrimson.com)

Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright added another honor to his resume on Monday when he was included on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. The Wooden Award is given to the nation’s most outstanding basketball player who also maintains a minimum 2.0 GPA and demonstrates strength of character both on and off the court.

Wright acknowledged the recognition in a tweet earlier today, “Truly honored & blessed to be on such a prestigious list w/ so many talented players. Wouldn’t be there without my teammates & the man above.” He was the only Ivy League player to make the list.

Looking ahead, the Preseason Top 50 list will be whittled down to 20 student-athletes by college basketball media members around midseason. Those voters will mark their ballots, and choose the Top 10, who will then be named to the Wooden All-American team during the weekend of the Elite Eight in March.

2011-2012 Season

As the upcoming Ivy League season approaches, the make-up of the league looks to be unlike anything we’ve seen in years. Last season concluded with Doug Davis’ leaner sending the Tigers back to the tournament in one of the most exciting finishes to a conference season in the history of the Ancient Eight, but that Princeton team that was mobbed by its fans on the neutral floor in New Haven has been shaken up quite a bit since then. Meanwhile, Harvard returns as the prohibitive favorite, with a chip on its shoulder after a hollow share of the league title left them on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. The Crimson return everyone from their record-setting squad. Dark horses include young squads looking to make the jump in Philadelphia and Providence, as well as a dangerous Yale team led by USA Basketball’s World University Games selection, Greg Mangano. Cornell’s sharpshooters also finished last season on a strong note and hope to carry that momentum into 2011, as they try to quickly rebuild back into a title contender.

In a few weeks, teams will gather in their respective empty, sweltering gymnasiums to restart the long and arduous journey to March. Over the course of the next two months, we will be assessing each team’s chances at winning the 14-game tournament better known as the Ivy League championship. We’ll break it down by position and analyze the newcomers. We’ll check out the non-conference schedules and get reports from the campuses. At the end of the summer, we’ll be putting it all together in the form of season previews and predictions. There’s a lot to look forward to around here, so be sure to check back soon.