Friend of the site, Wesley Cheng, from over yonder at SUJuiceOnline.com, was nice enough to review Ed Breslin”s new book about the 2011-12 Yale basketball season. Neither Wesley nor IHO received any compensation for this review.
Let me be clear before the outset of this review: I did not attend an Ivy League school, nor did I previously have an appreciation for it. Save for a few friends who worshiped Penn hoops, my loyalties remain in the old Big East and the current ACC. So it is with that lens that I review Ed Breslin”s The Divine Nature of Basketball: My Season Inside the Ivy League, his look at the 2011-12 Yale Bulldogs basketball team, led by head coach James Jones. Breslin petitioned Jones to be a special assistant coach, essentially shadowing the team throughout the entire season. What follows is an insider”s look at one of the more entertaining Yale basketball seasons in recent memory.
As the calendar year winds to a close, let’s look back at some of the most exciting Ivy League basketball finishes in 2013.
February 2, 2013: Cornell over Penn, 71-69. Galal Cancer’s bank shot in the closing seconds lifted the Big Red to a big win in the Palestra.
February 2, 2013: Harvard over Brown, 89-82 2OT. On that same night, Harvard battled Brown through two thrilling overtimes at Lavietes. In regulation, Sean McGonagill’s jump shot with one second left completed a seven point comeback in the final 1:57. In the first OT, Steven Albrecht’s trey sent the game to a second extra period with just :20 on the clock. The Crimson grabbed the W behind Wes Saunders and Christian Webster’s efforts in the second OT.
March 8, 2013: Penn over Brown, 66-64. In a bizarre finish after Penn rallied from six down with two minutes left, Brown had a foul to give with 1.1 seconds left in a tie game. Steve Albrecht fouled Miles Cartwright immediately on receiving the inbounds, but Cartwright managed to draw the shooting foul by chucking the ball at the hoop. He sunk two of three with :00.7 on the clock to win it for Penn.
November 22, 2013: Siena over Cornell, 71-70. Up 10 with 3:54 to go, Bill Courtney picked up a technical foul and Siena went on a 10-1 run, completing their comeback with 6.5 seconds to play on a putback. Tarwater’s three missed at the buzzer as Cornell’s winless streak dragged on.
5. November 12, 2013: Manhattan over Columbia, 71-70.
Game Reset: The Lions led their NYC rival 70-67 as the clock dwindled under 10 seconds. Michael Alvarado’s pump fake got Maodo Lo in the air, earning the Jaspers three shots at the stripe with :4.0 to go. Alvarado’s first missed. His second was good. His third shot drew the back iron, and fell toward the left block. Emmy Andujar grabbed it and missed long on the putback, but George Beamon was on the weak side and his follow-up banked home as the buzzer and whistle sounded. Though it took some sorting out in the chaos, Beamon had tied the game while being fouled right at the buzzer. The officials put 0.5 seconds back on the clock, and Beamon stepped to the stripe and calmly drained the free throw for a 71-70 lead. Columbia’s desperation alley-oop to Luke Petrasek just missed and Manhattan escaped Levien with an unlikely victory.
Princeton entered the last week of November riding the wave of its best start under Mitch Henderson, one possession at Butler away from opening the season at 4-0. T.J. Bray’s welcome return to the line-up promised to stabilize the rotation. Tests against two highly-respected coaches, George Mason’s Paul Hewitt and Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen, promised Henderson an opportunity to establish his team’s identity for the rest of the season.
Playing perhaps the best half of Princeton basketball in three years, the Tigers roared to a 40-23 lead at home against GMU. Hewitt made some smart adjustments during the intermission and his team overcame the deficit to force a tie inside of two minutes. But they never gained the lead, as the Tigers called upon Bray to make some big plays. He did, with a great feed to Hans Brase and a tough bucket of his own inside, as the Tigers held on 71-66. This was the kind of game Princeton had trouble finishing in previous seasons under Henderson. Bray earned his first career double-double, scoring 18 and dishing out 10 assists. Seven rebounds, for good measure, bolstered the senior’s impressive stat line. On to Lewisburg to end the November schedule.
Bucknell under Paulsen, has become something of a rivalry for the Tigers, matching two very competitive mid-major programs with a lot of pride and pedigree. Last year’s victory at Jadwin was the highlight of Princeton’s non-conference season and one of two wins the Tigers posted against NCAA Tournament entries. Although off to a slow start, the Bison came in ranked by Pomeroy about 30 places higher than the Tigers on Saturday. On Sunday, after the Tigers’ convincing 66-53 win, the teams essentially switched places in Ken Pomeroy’s list, the Tigers moving up to 73, while the Bison slipped to 105.
In Coach Martin’s first season at the helm, the Bears overcame an unthinkable number of obstacles, playing at times with just seven healthy players, to finish top half for the first time since 2007-08. A dangerous and talented team when everyone was healthy (it was quite a rare occurrence), Brown seemed on the verge of something great in 2012-13. A thrilling final-minute comeback against crosstown rival Providence pushed the Bears to new heights as Tucker Halpern’s eighth three pointer splashed through the nylon in the final seconds, sending the Pizzatola Center into delirium and shock. They followed that up with a quality overtime victory over eventual MAAC champions, Niagara.
Once Ivy play came though, the short roster started to take its toll. Four of the Bears’ seven conference losses were in overtime or by one possession. Still, the players lifted one another up when someone had an off-night.
Against Columbia at the Pitz, Sean McGonagill, Stephen Albrecht, and Halpern combined to go 1-15 from the field for four total points, yet the Bears managed to eek out a win on the backs of Matt Sullivan (27 points, 5 steals) and Cedric Kuakumensah (19 points, 7 rebounds). Other nights, it was McGonagill carrying the load, like on Senior Night when the Bears pounded Princeton to clinch 4th place behind 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists from the sophomore point guard. Albrecht pitched in with 17 points and 5 rebounds despite a chronic back injury. It was perhaps the gutsiest .500 season in recent Ivy history.
In 2012-13: 13-18, 5-9, T-6th place, No Postseason.
Believe it or not, there are teams not named Harvard playing basketball in the Ivy League this season. I know, shocking. One of these teams is the kids from Ithaca. I use kids almost literally. That’s what you’re going to see a lot of this season from Cornell: kids. Robert Hatter, Nolan Cressler, Devin Cherry, Dwight Tarwater, and David Onuorah are Cornell’s opening day starters, a lineup that includes two freshman and just one senior.
There are a lot of firsts here. This is the first time since the start of the 2008-09 season that Cornell did not start at least two seniors. That night, Jason Battle was the lone fourth-year player in the starting lineup, contributing four points in 17 minutes to a ten point victory over South Dakota. This is the first time since the start of the 2006-07 season that Cornell has had a freshman in its starting lineup. That night Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale combined for 25 points en route to top Northwestern.
In 2012-13: 12-16, 4-10, 8th place, No Postseason.
A Look Back
Before the start of last season, some considered Columbia a dark horse contender for the Ivy title. After a promising 8-6 non-conference record that included a dominant road victory over Villanova, that preseason prediction didn”t appear too farfetched. However, Columbia limped through a frustrating 4-10 Ivy League campaign. Senior Brian Barbour was banged up all year, while Mark Cisco averaged a career low 45.6% from the field and 8.1 points per game – 2 points below his junior season”s average. Alex Rosenberg shot an abysmal 26.7% from three, and Kyle Smith didn’t call for enough screens to free up Steve Frankoski. It seemed that many of Columbia”s losses were either the result of bad timing or bad luck.
On the brighter side, last season we saw the emergence of two future all-Ivy League shooters, Grant Mullins and Steve Frankoski. The twine-tickling tandem combined for a 100-239 (42%) mark from behind the arc in the 2012-13 season, and could see those offensive numbers improve with the return of junior guard, Meiko Lyles. Lyles should get his fair share of defensive attention on the perimeter himself, and take some of it off of Frankoski and Mullins.
A player who showcased maturity and development during the tail end of the season was sophomore guard, Maodo Lo. He came onto the scene in the middle of the season, and showed a dynamic offensive game and gritty on-the-ball defense. As a likely candidate for Ivy breakout player, how can you not be high on Lo?
It”s always tough to lose seniors – especially Barbour, Cisco and Daniels. Barbour is an obvious loss, and given his previous All-Ivy seasons, Columbia will need some of the younger players to step in and provide some much needed leadership at the point. Cisco – disregarding my personal frustrations with his finishing inside – had his moments, and will need to be replaced as a big body inside. John Daniels will be missed for his defense, energy off the bench, rebounding efficiency, and his legendary flush over IHO Defensive POY and Cornell rim-protector, best online casino Shonn Miller.
Breakthrough years usually consist of more than a 5-9 record and second-to-last finish in the conference, but last season represented a quantum leap for a squad that had gone 3-39 in Ivy League play since 2009. Dartmouth went three years between Ivy League road wins in that span and a trip to Leede Arena was usually viewed as a reward for enduring Harvard the previous night on the northern road trip.
Things were different in 2012-13. If not for a last-minute meltdown, the Big Green would have beaten eventual champ Harvard on the road in January. And even after that overtime loss, Dartmouth held its own, playing every team close at least once en route to five wins in the conference.
The task now facing Paul Cormier as he enters the fourth year of his second stint in Hanover is to better that record once again and finish .500 or higher in the Ancient Eight. He’ll attempt to do that with most of last year’s team intact. Center Matt LaBove, the sole graduating senior, averaged just four minutes per game. The only significant loss is junior forward Jvonte Brooks, the team’s leading scorer two years ago who chose instead to play for the Big Green football team. Brooks and Cormier did not get along, and a thumb injury only made it more difficult for Brooks to see the court. Ultimately Brooks played just two minutes over the final eight Ivy League contests, during which Dartmouth went 3-5. Though Brooks could help this year’s team, the Big Green still managed all right without him last year.
One of the youngest teams in the country last year, Dartmouth was led by forward Gabas Maldunas, who became the first Dartmouth player to earn All-Ivy honors since 2009 (Second Team). Guards Tyler Melville and Alex Mitola both shot better than 39% from beyond the arc last season, and freshman forward Connor Boehm proved a decent scoring option in the post alongside Maldunas, though the two struggled to find success at the same time. Melville in particular flourished after Cormier inserted him into the starting lineup on Feb. 2 and his 9-of-11, 23 point performance almost keyed an upset at Princeton on March 2.
2012-13 was a year of fits and starts for the Big Green, as the team endured a five-game midseason losing streak before winning three of its last four to avoid its fourth consecutive last-place finish. Consistency will be the key this season if a young Dartmouth team is to take the next step.
After the first weekend of February 2013, it looked more likely that Yale would finish in last place in the Ivy League than 3rd place. The Bulldogs were coming off of a throttling in Hanover at the hands of lowly Dartmouth, and only had an overtime home victory over Brown to show through four league contests. At 1-3 and heading south to face the P’s, the Elis were staring 1-5 right in the face. But something special happened on that trip: Yale developed an identity as a physical, glass-crashing basketball team. Behind 32 offensive rebounds in two nights, the Bulldogs swept the Penn-Princeton road trip for the first time since 1987. That weekend propelled the young team, which was largely considered to be in a rebuilding year, back into the top half of the Ancient Eight for the 13th consecutive season. Freshman Justin Sears emerged as one of the league’s best rookies, crashing the offensive boards as well as anyone in the conference, and showing a knack for getting to the line and scoring. Sophomore Armani Cotton also made a splash, going for a career high 20 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Holy Cross, and earning a more central role as the season progressed. The Elis finished the year with three straight victories, including another sweep of Penn and Princeton, this time in New Haven–shaking up the title chase and sending old Blue into the offseason with some serious momentum for 2013-14.
Coaches Martin, Allen and Amaker
Carson Fitzgerald, Coveted Prep Basketball Player
Mrs. Dorothy Fitzgerald, Carson’s Mother, an Administrative Assistant,
Mr. Leo Fitzgerald, Carson’s Father, an Insurance Salesman,
Act I Scene I
Carson Fitzgerald is a four star basketball recruit from Boca Raton, Florida. He’s a 6’5” swingman with crafty moves on the court as well as in the classroom. His perfect SAT scores, high GPA and numerous other academic awards make him an ideal candidate for an Ivy League school. A bit of a math/science oddball, Carson is oblivious to the seemingly endless parade of college coaches that appear at his door. Instead, he prefers to play with his iPad while his parents speak for him. On this night, sometime in the summer of 2013, we find the family lounging in their living room when the doorbell rings.
Door: Ding Dong
Coach Martin: Good evening, I’m Coach Mike Martin of Brown University.
Mrs. Fitzgerald: Oh, please come in and make yourself at home.
Coach Martin, wearing a rumpled blue suit he picked up at the Men’s Warehouse in a mall outside Warwick, Rhode Island, is sweating profusely in the intense Florida heat.
Let’s clarify that: a disappointing season with an asterisk next to it. It’s hard to boil the 2013 campaign down to one word. At its peak, Cornell was a legitimate contender, a 5-3 team that was one Errick Peck three pointer away from starting 6-2 and turning the Ivy race upside down. Even with the failed comeback against Harvard, Cornell at one point established itself as an upper echelon team poised for its third straight year of improvement under Bill Courtney. At rock bottom, Cornell was arguably the weakest team in the Ancient Eight. Losing its final six contests, a 1-6 conference record at Newman Arena, and a shared sixth place finish isn’t going to turn any heads or garner any optimism for the future, but, remember, the asterisk. It would be unfair to completely judge Cornell on its poor finish. Yes, a golden opportunity was squandered, but the Big Red ended its season with one hand tied behind its back.