On January 25th, the chances that the Yale Bulldogs would win their next seven games were less than 1%. Of course, the Elis bucked the odds and rode the unlikely string of victories into a tie for first place heading into Sunday’s showdown with Columbia. But Yale’s good fortune crashed more violently than the NBC Sports Network video truck outside Levien as the boys of Morningside Heights methodically stifled Justin Sears and Co. And now, we are faced with the prospect of a final weekend with little drama if Yale can’t bounce back and pick up a win or two on the always-challenging southern road trip.
Still, all the credit goes to Harvard for storming into a loud, defiant Jadwin and tossing off the shackles of history in an impressive second half defensive effort that sealed the Crimson’s pivotal ninth win.
Yale’s upset over Harvard eliminated the possibility of an unblemished run for the talented Crimson, but it wasn’t enough to bump Harvard from the top spot in the Power Poll. Meanwhile, Princeton’s final minute meltdown against Columbia has relegated the Tigers to their lowest position in the history of the Power Poll. Wild times as we approach the midway point of the conference season…
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.
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.
All season long, Princeton and Harvard have traded places in our Power Poll, but the Crimson”s well-documented Jadwin blues, coupled with a shocker of a loss at the Palestra on Saturday, leave the Tigers in control of the title picture. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but Mitch Henderson”s veteran squad will be a strong favorite in its final three road games and the young Cantabs can only take care of business and scoreboard watch at this point. Outside the top two, the Brown Bears were the big movers this week, while the injury-stricken Big Red continued to tumble. This will be our final Power Poll of the year, but make sure to check back next week for our IHO All-Ivy Awards.
1. Princeton (9-2) (5 first place votes, 40 points)– Ian Hummer wouldn”t let Princeton lose on Friday. The senior stepped up and played a complete game on both ends of the floor, willing the Tigers to victory in the final minutes of Harvard”s comeback attempt. The atmosphere at Jadwin was electric on Friday, as the students showed up in force to support the orange and black on national television. There was a fan in a Gumby suit, two people dressed as bananas, and a man in an American flag one-piece jump suit who came within inches of hitting a half-court shot for $10,000. In other words, Jadwin was the place to be on Friday, and on the biggest stage, the Tigers came through. Saturday was Senior Night, and while Harvard was down in Philly gacking up its chance at a championship, Princeton was struggling with a hangover, trailing Dartmouth at the half. Henderson did what he had to do to get his squad motivated at the break though, as the Tigers opened up a double-digit lead and held on for the crucial 68-63 win. Now, with three games to play– all on the road, mind you– every Princeton fan has suddenly become a math major, calculating the odds of winning out against the league”s 3rd, 4th, and 5th placed teams. Using Pomeroy”s odds for each game, here”s your answer (and it might surprise you): Princeton”s chances of winning out are 38.76%. Of course, there are other feasible ways Princeton can win the title, but let”s be serious. Harvard isn”t losing to Columbia again and Cornell is trotting out its B-Team with all those injuries. I know I wouldn”t bet against Hummer at this point, but let”s see this race for what it is: not over yet. -Bruno March
In a year where it seemed like 11, even 10 wins, might be enough to capture the crown, both favorites have mostly avoided stumbling thus far (Yale, Columbia notwithstanding…), to the point that it seems realistic that 12 wins may only earn entry to another thrilling playoff. We”re looking far ahead here with 2.5 weekends to go, but the Tigers and Crimson appear to be rounding into top form at this point, setting the stage for one, maybe two, bitterly fought clashes between two teams with a quickly growing rivalry– experience and length vs. youth and athleticism, the old guard vs. the new kids on the block. Friday should be a real treat for fans of the league, and really, fans of good, hard-fought basketball.
Finally, we are starting to see a bit of separation in the Ivy League standings. Harvard held serve at home to break the tie at the top with Princeton; Cornell swept its Brown/Yale road trip to keep its own outside title chances alive; Columbia and Dartmouth could not grab a win last weekend and fall out of the race for third. A few interesting conference stats to ponder: To date, 31 Ivy League games have been played. Eighteen home teams have been winners (58%); 10 of 31 games have been decided by four points or less or in overtime (32.3%, highest % in nation); and only 2 of 31 games have been blowouts of greater than 19 points (6.5%, second-fewest in nation). In summary, your eyes haven”t deceived you. This year has been full of close calls and great finishes. Without further ado, let”s get to the rankings.
1. Harvard (5 first place votes, 40 points)- Up until last weekend, the Harvard Ivy jaunt had been a white-knuckle ride. Then Kenyatta Smith happened. After being relegated to the bench because of his propensity for turnovers and fouls, the sophomore big man—a former prized recruit who many had written off as a bust—received a surprising starting nod. Smith rewarded Coach Amaker for the move by putting up 20 points, 10 blocks, and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against Penn, and following up that career-best performance with 14 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks in 20 minutes against Princeton. Propelled by Smith”s post play, particularly his protecting the paint on the defensive end, the Crimson put together its first wire-to-wire league wins of the season. It was a stunning turnaround for Smith personally and a Harvard team that was knocked on its heels after a blowout loss at Columbia a week earlier. Perhaps last weekend was a flash in the pan for the sophomore center, but if not, the Crimson might have found the missing piece for its defense of the 2012 Ivy title. –C. River Banks
We have a lot of love for all of the Ivy teams, especially on a day like Valentine”s Day. From Hummer”s smooth moves getting to the bucket, right on down to Dartmouth”s overachieving group of freshmen, there”s a storyline that warms the heart on every squad. The Big Red, the team perhaps most suited for a holiday like today, is led by Shonn Miller, who must have a fear of commitment because no one doles out rejections like him these days. Even Harvard, the ice cold Ivy villain to many, has Siyani Chambers– the heartbeat that keeps the Crimson going. Columbia”s Cupid has to be Brian Barbour, whose artfully placed arrows travel in the form of assists and currently have the Lions safely out of last-placed heartbreak in this edition of the Power Poll. But enough with all this mushy stuff, let”s get to the rankings.
1. Princeton (4-1) (5 first place votes, 40 points)– Things would have been quite different for the Tigers had Columbia not destroyed Harvard on Sunday, but here they are, still sitting in the top spot, despite the end of the 21-game Ivy home winning streak. Let”s skip over Friday”s domination of Brown (Hummer, Koon, and Bray were transcendant, Barrett was solid and Brase and Connolly were game-changers on defense) because Saturday was much more interesting. The loss to Yale was a total surprise given how efficiently the Tigers had been dominating their league opponents, winning their first four games by an average margin of 13 points. Henderson will certainly have the Tigers working all week on how to handle the pressure of an extended zone because after Yale”s successful execution of that game plan, the rest of the league is sure to borrow that strategy against the Tigers. There”s also no way a team with Princeton”s size should ever allow the league”s worst shooting team to shoot 55% from the field. Lost in Saturday night”s upset was another impressive performance from Denton Koon. Princeton”s 6″8″ sophomore continues to impress by knocking down the majority of his looks. In fact, Koon has shot at least 50% in all of his last five games and in nine of his last ten. Leaving him open to help on Hummer is no longer a valid option for opposing defenses. Princeton heads up north for Dartmouth on Friday before the biggest game of the season on Saturday night at Harvard. –Bruno March
There”s a new squad at the top of our rankings (and a new one at the bottom). In between, the Ivy”s surprise team is two possessions away from being undefeated and the league”s dark horse is already out of contention. One league favorite has underperformed shockingly and somehow still finds itself at the top of the standings, while the Ancient Eight”s doormat benched its captain and ran away with a comfortable victory. Just when we think we”ve got this league figured out, another back-to-back weekend kicks off and provides us with a shocking result, so please indulge us as we engage once again in this biweekly exercise of inevitable futility. This week, all five IHO writers submitted polls and the results are below.
1. Princeton (3-0)(5 first place votes, 40 points)– Princeton handled the C”s with relative ease, dispatching of Cornell behind a career high 22 points from Denton Koon. Ian Hummer also had 22 points on Friday and added nine rebounds in a game the Tigers ran away with early in the second half behind a 15-0 run. A desperate Columbia came to Jadwin on Saturday, eager to get a much-needed victory after losing to hapless Penn. Princeton allowed this one to stay close until the end, but Hummer”s wingman on this night, TJ Bray, hit a huge three with 2:55 to play to give the Tigers a five point lead, and after a beautiful Brendan Connolly retro hook shot, Princeton made sure that five point margin would not be breached again, winning 72-66. Through three games, Princeton has the most efficient offense and defense in the Ivy, and the best player in Hummer. Things are looking up for the coasting Tigers, who get Brown and Yale at Jadwin this weekend before finally leaving the friendly confines of Central Jersey for Dartmouth and Harvard in two weeks. –Bruno March
With the first round of the 14-Game Tournament in the books, we may be finally starting to see the slightest bit of separation in the middle of the league. The top three favorites all held serve in their openers and the Brown Bears, winners of three in a row, have come on strong to make a push for the top half in this edition of the Power Poll. The bottom four teams all look pretty flawed after picking up losses, but Yale and Cornell narrowly earn the 5th and 6th slots based on their slightly more efficient offenses and having at least one Top 200 win. Without further ado, let”s get to the poll:
1. Harvard (1-0), (9-6)- Harvard”s 60-50 loss at Memphis felt something like a win after the Crimson came all the way back from a 20-point deficit, even taking a brief lead with just over 6 minutes remaining. Of course, a 16-4 Tiger run to close out the game sent Harvard packing with an L, but there”s reason to be optimistic if you”re a Crimson fan. Saturday marked the sixth straight game that either Steve Moundou-Missi or Jonah Travis posted an offensive rating above 100. The two undersized big men have been sneakily effective against some pretty stiff competition since mid-December. If Moundou-Missi and Travis can stay out
of foul trouble (the duo averages 10 fouls per 40 minutes), this resurgence bodes well for a Harvard offense that faces five of the six worst Ivy defenses over the next three weeks. -C. River Banks