Season Preview: Columbia Lions

The Lions will only go as far as All-Ivy guard Noruwa Agho can carry them. (Photo credit: gocolumbialions.com)

The good news for Columbia is that they return a proven backcourt duo in Noruwa Agho and Brian Barbour. The pair made for a dangerous tag-team last year, dominating foes that allowed them to get to the rim and take high percentage shots. The Lions lived and died by Agho and Barbour, as the pair accounted for 47.9 percent of Columbia’s points during the conference season. Despite this backcourt dependence, Columbia could very easily have finished last year in the top half if they had held on to late-season leads at Princeton and against Yale. In games where the Lions weren’t outmanned in the frontcourt, they performed extremely well, pulling out sweeps of Cornell and Dartmouth, and splits with Penn and Brown. It all starts with the two guards though, and there’s no reason to think that this season will be very different.

In Agho, Columbia has a true scorer. As much as some critics disparaged his efficiency numbers last year (and the All-Ivy First Team selection certainly did take his fair share of shots), Agho shouldered a bigger load than any other player in the league because the Lions lacked another consistent scoring option on the wing or down low. With little help surrounding him, Agho coasted to the conference scoring title. Meanwhile, Barbour quickly emerged as one of the league’s best point guards, posting the conference’s second-best offensive efficiency numbers behind Harvard’s Oliver McNally. First-year coach Kyle Smith leaned heavily on his young point guard, as Barbour played the third-greatest share of minutes for his team of anyone in the Ivy at 86.9 percent (Agho was fourth at 85.5 percent).

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Season Preview: Dartmouth Big Green

Senior David Rufful looks to lead a young Dartmouth squad out of the Ivy basement. (Photo credit: dartmouthsports.com)

It was a long winter in Hanover. The 2010-11 Dartmouth men’s basketball team compiled a 5-23 record, including just one league win, to match its results from an equally forgettable 2009-10 campaign. The Big Green had some moments—opening a 28-point lead on Cornell and holding on to the win, forcing Yale into overtime on the road, dominating Penn in the first half on the last Saturday of the season—but its final record was befitting of its talent on the court. Dartmouth’s adjusted offensive efficiency was just .883 points per possession, a number that confirms the Big Green had one of the most anemic offenses in the whole country.

“We just didn’t have anyone that could score the ball,” head coach Paul Cormier succinctly noted in last week’s teleconference.

A new class of freshmen offers a glimmer of hope for the Dartmouth faithful. Cormier, now in the second year of his second tenure, has made it clear that he intends to give his recruits a lot of burn on the hardwood, even suggesting that we might see a few of them in the starting lineup. A team of freshmen can hardly be expected to compete with the top teams in a year as deep as 2011-12, but the youth movement will perhaps pay big dividends and lift the Big Green out of the Ivy cellar down the road. 

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Season Preview: Brown Bears

Co-captain Tucker Halpern will try to instill some consistency to a talented team that struggled to put together back-to-back forty minute efforts last season. (Photo Credit: brownbears.com)

The Brown basketball team showed last year that it was talented enough to beat anyone in the league when it knocked off tournament-bound Princeton and held double-digit leads twice against co-champion Harvard. Harnessing that talent and executing a game plan for a full forty minutes is the next step for a young Bears squad that looks to leap into the top half this season. Brown is a dangerous offensive team with proven weapons in the backcourt and on the wing, not to mention the help arriving on the interior. Last year though, the Bears struggled on the defensive end, ranking last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 1.09 points per possession (adjusted for opponent). On several occasions, the Bears failed to generate stops in key situations, including a 46-point half surrendered to Harvard in a head-scratching game at Lavietes. This season, the Bears will look to buckle down and get serious about defending their bucket.

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Season Preview: Harvard Crimson

Brandyn Curry, finally healthy after playing through knee problems the last two seasons, looks to have a breakout year in the Crimson backcourt. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

 

Harvard enters this year with few unknowns. Returning its entire roster from last year’s Ivy League co-champions, anything less than an NCAA tournament appearance would be a massive disappointment. But that’s not to say reaching March Madness will be a cakewalk for Tommy Amaker’s crew. The Crimson faces a difficult non-conference slate before squaring off against the strongest field the Ancient Eight has seen in recent memory.The gauntlet begins in earnest the week of Thanksgiving, as the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis will provide some measure of exactly how Harvard stacks up against premium competition. It begins the tournament with a matchup against Pac-12 newcomer Utah, and an opening win would probably pair the Crimson with Florida St., which is coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Reigning national champion UConn looms as the top dog of the eight teams in the tournament, though in all likelihood Harvard would not face the Huskies in the Bahamas unless it reaches the final.

But the Crimson will face UConn in Storrs in early December, looking to avenge a 29-point loss at the XL Center a year ago. This game, the centerpiece of Harvard’s non-conference slate, is bracketed by a pair of road tests against America East favorites BU and Vermont (and a game against independent Seattle). The schedule hardly softens as it enters the holidays. Harvard hosts Sun Belt contender (and fellow NIT participant) Florida Atlantic in a student-bereft Lavietes on Dec. 22, and then it shoots for its annual “upset” of Boston College a week later. The Crimson rounds out its non-Ivy schedule against a trio of middling Atlantic 10 schools—St. Joe’s, at Fordham, and George Washington—as well as a gimme at Monmouth.

Of course, November and December are only a preamble to the games that actually matter—the 14-game tournament. Almost across the board, members of the Ancient Eight have improved, and each will save its best shot for the prohibitive favorite from Cambridge. The road to March will be difficult for Harvard. Rarely has a team been such a consensus preseason pick; rarely has a team had so much room to fall short of expectations.

Backcourt:

Outside the paint, the ball is in sure hands for the Crimson. Junior Brandyn Curry has proved to be one of the best distributors in the conference, averaging the most assists (5.9 per game, and 7.0 per 40 minutes) and boasting the best assist-to-turnover ratio (2.29) among Ivy players last season. Curry was at his best the last weekend of the regular season when he posted 13 points and 14 assists against Penn and then 10 points and 10 assists in the banner clinching win over Princeton. Bob Ryan gushed afterward, “Somewhere in America a ballyhooed power conference point guard might have exceeded Curry’s mastery of the position this weekend. But I doubt it.”

This year, Curry is finally healthy after healing from a knee injury that has nagged him the last two seasons. At times, the Harvard guard struggled finishing around the rim, shooting just 47 percent from two (en route to posting the lowest effective shooting percentage of all the Crimson’s major contributors), but if he regains some explosiveness, you should expect his scoring and his assists numbers to improve.

Joining Curry in the backcourt is co-captain Oliver McNally. The senior has perfected the art of doing the little things. He shoots over 90 percent from the stripe (after shooting 75 percent as a freshman); he turns the ball over just 1.5 times per game (the lowest rate among the top 15 league leaders in assists); and he only takes, and usually makes, good shots (a team-best 60.4 effective field goal percentage). This leadership is evident on the court as well as the stat sheet. McNally has a knack for drawing the tide-turning charge and draining the run-capping bucket. The great chemistry between him and Curry allow both players to stay on the court at the same time, and most Ivy opponents have a difficult time defending two All-Ivy caliber guards.

McNally and Curry generally combine for 80 percent of the backcourt minutes (with at least one of them on the court for an even larger percentage of game play). The small remainder of the ball-handling duties will fall to sophomore Matt Brown, who distinguished himself as a defensive specialist last year, and freshmen lookalikes Corbin Miller and Max Hooper (though Hooper might prove to be more of a wing player). Technically, sophomore Laurent Rivard is called upon to join the backcourt in free-throw situations as well.

Frontcourt:

Nominally forwards or off-guards, junior Christian Webster and Rivard provide wing play for the Crimson offense. Webster is primarily a slasher, unafraid to drive into the lane, though he also knocks down threes at almost a 40 percent clip. Webster’s aggressiveness is a crucial ingredient to Amaker’s offensive philosophy, as it earns the junior frequent trips to the charity stripe (123 free throw attempts on 246 field goal attempts) where he makes 89.4 percent of his freebies. This style of play makes Webster the most consistent perimeter scorer on Harvard’s roster: he was held to fewer than eight points just three times all season.

Though Rivard also showed a willingness to venture into the lane, he primarily specializes as a shooter. His 39.6 percentage from deep betrays the extent of his impact on the court. Rivard is a threat to shoot from as deep as 25 feet, denying defenses the choice to pack the middle. The Canadian emerged as an early contender for Ivy League Rookie of the Year after a torrid December and January, but his production dipped in the middle of conference play enough for Brown’s Sean McGonagill to pass him. Regardless, Rivard was, and will remain, one of the most feared shooters in the league as well as perhaps the Ivy’s best sixth man.

The Crimson’s true frontcourt consists of junior Kyle Casey and co-captain Keith Wright. Last year, Casey was a trendy preseason pick for Ivy League Player of the Year, but a well-documented foot injury hampered him all season. Still, he gutted out a 10.7 points, 6.0 rebounds per game line that earned him an all-league second team nod. This year, Casey returns at full strength. His combination of athleticism and size is unmatched by anyone in the conference. His ability to score in a variety of ways—off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, post ups—make him Harvard’s most interesting and fun-to-watch player. He has the highest ceiling of anyone on the Crimson and could be primed to make the same kind of leap we saw from Wright last year.

Wright’s transformation was the biggest reason for Harvard’s success a year ago. He became the go-to guy in place of Jeremy Lin and carried the Crimson further than it’s ever gone, averaging 14.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game en route to being named Ivy League Player of the Year. His ability to stay on the court last year (upping his minutes from 21.4 per game to 32.3) was perhaps the biggest reason for his success, and, continuing a trend throughout his college career, Wright has shown up to camp in tremendous shape yet again. For what he lacks in explosiveness, Wright makes up for in strength. Yale’s Greg Mangano was his only equal last season; until we see more competition, we can only assume Wright will provide more of the same dominance.

Barring injury, Harvard’s rotation is largely set. As a result, the much-heralded freshman class will likely play a complementary role and compete for minutes off the bench alongside veterans Andrew Van Nest, Jeff Georgatos, and Ugo Okam. Still, the Crimson is rightly excited to see exactly what it has in Steve Moundou-Missi, Wesley Saunders, Kenyatta Smith, and Jonah Travis. They provide some relief against the inevitable attrition from the Ivy League’s grueling schedule, as well as a glimpse into the future of Harvard hoops.

Final Thoughts:

If you could have any team’s frontcourt, you might pick the Yale or Princeton bigs over Harvard’s. If you could have any team’s backcourt, you might pick the Quaker or Big Red ball handlers ahead of the Crimson’s. But no team comes close to matching the talent from Cambridge in both areas.

Of course the season will surprise us in a million different ways, but right now, my guess is that Tommy Amaker feels like a man holding ace-king suited at the poker table. Who knows, maybe he’ll get screwed on the river, but pre-flop—before the first tipoff of a long season—he wouldn’t trade hands with anybody.

Season Preview: Cornell Big Red

Cornell will rely heavily on its dynamic senior point guard, Chris Wroblewski, to lead a young, banged-up team into battle this season. (Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Nineteen months have passed since Cornell was in the national spotlight, knocking off highly-ranked NCAA Tournament foes. Seventeen months have passed since Bill Courtney set up shop above the court at Newman Arena, attempting to fill the rather large shoes of the departed Steve Donahue. Sixteen months have passed since the seniors of 2010 crossed over from student-athletes to alumni, and the only remnants of the fairy-tale run were role players. Seems like it’s time to accept the baby-faced Red for who they are instead of comparing them to Cinderella.Let’s take a look at Cornell heading into year two of the new era:

Key Losses

Adam Wire (3.8 ppg, 5 reb, 1.8 ast, 1.3 stl), Mark Coury (5.3 ppg, 3.8 reb) and Aaron Osgood (6.9 ppg, 4.3 reb)

Statistically speaking, Wire, Coury and Osgood aren’t huge losses for the Red. Realistically speaking, the trio of departed seniors leaves a gaping hole in the paint. Wire, Osgood and Coury were the only true post players of note on last years squad and with the three gone, the Red will be forced to rely on younger, thinner, less experienced players in the frontcourt.

Key Additions

Galal Cancer (Guard), Devin Cherry (Guard), Nenad Tomic (Forward), Dave LaMore (Forward/Center), Shonn Miller (Forward), Deion Giddens (Forward/Center), Dominick Scelfo (Guard – Sophomore, missed entire Freshman year due to injury)

To replace the departed seniors in the lane, the Red has added four potential impact frontcourt players. Reports from Cornell’s annual Red-White scrimmage indicated that Tomic was the most impressive of the new bigs. LaMore and Miller missed the game with injuries and Giddens is seen as a raw prospect who is still developing. LaMore is expected back within a matter of weeks and Miller is expected back by the end of November.

To an already deep backcourt rotation, the Red adds Cancer, Cherry and Scelfo. The trio will allow Wroblewski to play off the ball more frequently this year. Cancer does everything on the court – he had seven rebounds and five assists in the Red-White scrimmage

– while Cherry appears to be more of a scorer. Scelfo was expected to see the court last year as a freshman before it became apparent that he would miss the entire year. Expect him to break into the rotation this year as well.

Overall, the seven newcomers will be expected to produce. The class is talented and, if healthy, should provide immediate help to a team on the rise.

Key Games

November 11th – @ St. Bonaventure – In the season opener, the Red will face Andrew Nicholson, a legitimate NBA prospect in the paint. At 6’ 9”, he gave Cornell fits last year with his inside-outside game putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds. Demitrius Conger also returns at the small forward position for the Bonnies, one year removed from a 22-point, 14-rebound performance at Newman Arena. Backcourt play kept the Red in the game last year and this one should be a sign of things to come. If the frontcourt can slow down St. Bonaventure enough inside, the Red have a chance both on opening night and in the Ivy League conversation. Nicholson and Conger may be as tough of a frontcourt pair as the Red see outside of Harvard – yes, the Crimson are that good upfront.

December 19th – @ Illinois – Replacing the annual Syracuse game on the slate is a pair of Big Ten games (also @ Penn St. on December 22nd). Last year a young Cornell team put a scare into Minnesota – then ranked 13th in the country. If the Red can break through and get a win over a major conference team in the non-conference it could be a big confidence booster as the season progresses.

January 3rd – @ Maryland – Same goes for this one.

January 13th – vs. Princeton – The Tigers should be a top-half team if they find a way to fill the huge hole that is left by the departure of Kareem Maddox. It’s the Ivy opener for Cornell and should be an indicator of how the Red match up with Ancient Eight squads lacking a dominant big man (everyone other than Harvard and Yale).

January 21st – @ Columbia – The Red was swept by it’s travel partner last year and looks to get back on track versus the Lions in the first of their two matchups of the year.

February 3rd – @ Harvard – Can Cornell compete with the elite? On paper, Harvard shouldn’t lose a league game this tapscott year. On hardwood it’s never quite that simple. Keith Wright and Co. should be the season’s biggest test for a young and thin frontcourt.

A Look at the Roster

With the backcourt rotation including as many as nine different players, expect to see three or four guards on the floor at times. Anchoring the crew will be seniors Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry. Both will likely predominantly play off the ball – which will be somewhat new to Wroblewski – as Jake Matthews, Miles Asafo-Adjei, Galal Cancer and Dominick Scelfo should all wow gold kaufen billig see some time at the point.

Senior Max Groebe is working on a pulled hamstring. Injuries have hampered Groebe throughout his career online casino nederlandsegokken in Ithaca and if he is finally healthy he has the potential to score 20 points any time he steps on the floor.

Former manager, Jonathan Gray will likely round out the guard rotation. He can play any position one through three and was perhaps the biggest surprise of last year. Expect him to continue to be the utility man for Cornell.

Overall, Wroblewski-Ferry and Co. should challenge Curry-McNally in Cambridge and Rosen-Cartwright in Philadelphia for the title of top backcourt in the Ancient Eight. The guard play is clearly the strength for the Red and will carry the team throughout the year.

Guards will likely play substantial minutes on the wing, but expect to see Anthony Gatlin (when healthy) and Manny Sahota find a few minutes at the three. Peter McMillan could play in spots too (see Minnesota last year for evidence that he can provide a big boost in a pinch). If Errick Peck and Dwight Tarwater are on the floor together, one of them will likely play on the wing as well. Gatlin came on strong down the stretch last season and could push for increased playing time as a senior, but the perpetually-injured Texas native has been sidelined since knee surgery in September. His return may take some time.

At the 4, Errick Peck will likely see most of the minutes – he was moved to the power forward position in the second half of last season – with Tarwater and Tomic also seeing time. Tarwater is slightly undersized but provides explosiveness and perimeter play that Tomic lacks. Tomic gives more size and rebounding in the post. When healthy, Peck has the ability (as shown in league play last year) to be an all-Ivy pick but right now the timetable for his return is unclear. He’s still recovering from minor knee surgery in July and is not yet back at 100%. Peck did not see action in the Red-White scrimmage.

Tarwater missed most of his freshman season with mono and could be a huge addition to the undersized Red – especially if Peck is not ready for opening night. Courtney and his staff are reportedly excited about his improvement and are very high on Tarwater this year.

Freshman Shonn Miller may have to wait to carve out time in the rotation. Currently hampered with a stress fracture, Miller’s return won’t come any time soon. When he does return, Miller’s size at 6’ 7” could be an asset to the Red.

In the post, Josh Figini and Eitan Chemerinski will be looked to for production on both ends of the court. With the trio of Coury, Osgood and Wire departing, the sophomore and junior will be asked to take on expanded roles. Reports indicate that both have put on weight and have improved over the summer, although the Red failed to finish inside effectively in their pre-season scrimmage.

Adding depth in the middle will be freshman Dave LaMore. LaMore is expected to return from an ankle sprain in the coming days, and at close to 230 pounds, LaMore has the ability to provide some girth against bigger posts.

Rotation

Expect the rotation to go as deep as 13 or 14 on opening night, and potentially 15 or 16 if players return quickly from injuries. The combination of having too many bodies in the backcourt and not enough in the frontcourt may leave everybody with fewer minutes than expected. Early on Courtney may struggle with the rotation (as was the case last year), but expect him to find the answer more quickly than in his opening campaign. Energy will likely trump skill for the opening tip and the starting five once again may not be the top five for the Red.

Because of Courtney’s unorthodox lineups from last season, a starting five won’t be much of an indicator of the overall rotation (although for the record I expect Cancer, Ski, Asafo-Adjei, Peck – if healthy – and Figini to take the floor for the tip on opening night). That being said, here’s a projected minute breakdown:

Guys Playing Projected Starter’s Minutes (25 min): Wroblewski, Ferry, Peck

Major minutes in Major Spots (15-25 min): Figini/Chemerinski, Tarwater, Cancer

Sure to Find Key Minutes (7-15 min): Groebe, Gray, Matthews/Asafo-Adjei/Scelfo

Could Work into the Mix (2-7 min): LaMore, Gatlin, Cherry, Tomic, Sahota, McMillan

How They’ll Finish

Ceiling: Cornell finds the right chemistry early, gets Peck, Groebe and the rest of the infirmary back from injury on the early side and between Chemerinski and Figini find an offensive touch in the paint that they didn’t get from the bigs last year. On the defensive end they do enough to limit the opposition on the low block. Overall, this is a run and gun team and they simply outscore people.

A deep rotation keeps legs fresh against more athletic major conference teams (they manage to knock off Illinois, Penn St. or Maryland in addition to a couple of decent mid-majors) and allows the Red to run most league teams off the floor on grueling Ivy weekends. They manage a 10-win Ancient Eight slate, garnering second place behind only an undefeated Crimson squad. Overall, the Red win 20-games and set themselves up for a shot at knocking off Harvard the following year with a solid recruiting class.

Floor: The Red struggle to gel after an inconsistent pre-season due to a string of injuries. With a larger roster than last year, the coaching staff takes even longer to come to a consensus on a rotation. Cornell looks like the Penn teams under Glenn Miller, losing disenchanted players who were promised playing time that they never see, and lose games by large margins along the way. They strike out against all decent opponents in the non-conference season and can’t seem to get it going in league play either.

Somehow, the Red fall at Dartmouth and get swept by Columbia for the second straight year. They steal a win each from Penn, Dartmouth and Brown (all at home) and fall to 7th place in the Ivy League. Overall they win just 7 games, including one against Division-III Albright College. Meanwhile they cement a spot in the Ivy cellar for the coming year, losing recruits who see the quickly self-destructing Red as a “bad fit.”

Projection: The Red manage a close miss at Penn St. in the preseason after getting revenge against Binghamton, BU and Lehigh at home. Taking the momentum of improvement into league play, the Red start quickly by knocking off Princeton and Penn at home. Cornell sweeps Dartmouth and Brown but also gets swept by Harvard. Overall they finish 4th in the league at 8-6 (14-14 overall) behind the undefeated Crimson, 10-4 Yale and a surprise Columbia team that finds a top-half finish. Penn and Princeton find their way back into the Ivy basement finishing above Brown and Dartmouth to round out the league.

Season Preview: Penn Quakers

Zack Rosen will lead the young, guard-heavy Quakers against a demanding non-conference slate this season. (Photo Credit: pennathletics.com)

Key Losses: Two words: Jack Eggleston. The versatile forward was the Quakers’ anchor for the past two seasons, providing remarkably consistent play and a calming presence. He was also a walking matchup problem — a 4 who could drill threes (45% last season), forcing an opposing big man to guard him on the perimeter and thus opening up the middle of the floor. With some intriguing underclassmen ready to fill his shoes, Captain Jack will probably be missed less on the court and more in the locker room. Every team needs that dependable guy to look to when things get tough, and Eggleston (42-73 career record) certainly had plenty of experience dealing with tough times.

Forward/center Conor Turley leaves a similar void. Turley was always underrated because of his unimpressive statistical production, but he did all of the Quakers’ dirty work: setting solid screens, boxing out with authority, reeling in key offensive rebounds, and knowing the system inside and out. With Turley gone, the team loses toughness and physicality inside.

Key Additions: Though coach Jerome Allen needs to be wowed in order for freshmen to earn significant playing time, this year’s class has some ‘wow’ to it. Besides finding a legitimate shot-blocking, post-up center (and there aren’t many of those in the Ivy League),

Allen filled each of his team’s needs. Say goodbye to buzzer-to-buzzer efforts from lead guards Zack Rosen and Miles Cartwright; Patrick Lucas-Perry and Camryn Crocker should finally give the Quakers’ talented depth in the backcourt (no, Malcolm Washington did not qualify). English import Simeon Esprit and celebrity son Marin “Don’t Call Me Toni” Kukoc — who missed his entire freshman season with back problems — may not crack the rotation, but they offer an attractive combination of size and skill on the wing. Finally, freshmen Greg Louis and Henry Brooks could help make up Best online will allow you to open a special account just on them. for the loss of Eggleston with their inside-out games. The online casino opportunity is there for both to seize minutes at the 3 and/or the 4.

Key Games: There are certainly some calendar-circler games on Penn’s schedule, including Nov. 14 vs. Temple, Nov. 25 vs. Pitt, diskretion och risk. Dec. 3 at Villanova, Dec. 10 at UCLA, and Jan. 1 at Duke. Hard-fought efforts in at least a couple of those Braun gifted justin bieber fans with a car, the sporty, electric Fisker Karma. major challenges will go a long way in boosting confidence. But the real test of the season will begin Jan. 30 against Princeton. Of course, the Princeton games are always the biggest of the season because of the bitter, storied rivalry between the teams. What usually makes them even more crucial is the fact that they’re played mid-week. How Penn fairs in its early Monday-Friday-Saturday stretch at home against Princeton, Yale Koop krasloten met drie of meer . and Brown will reveal everything you need to know about this year’s team. Then they’ll have to do it again with three season-closing games at those same schools from March 2-6.

Strengths and weaknesses: This team’s strength should be its and poker supply the biggest industries of growth. ability to play small and fast. The loaded backcourt will lead the way, but the swing men are just as important. Early indications are that traditional small Detendez-vous et passez par le mobile casino plaisir des jeux de ligne. forward Rob Belcore could play some power forward this season, and the slender Kukoc even said Sunday goldbyte.org that he is preparing to do the same. That strategy will make Penn much, much tougher to defend — especially if Lucas-Perry, Crocker or sophomore Dau Jok breaks through to facilitate a three-guard lineup — but will leave the Quakers’ severely undersized on defense. It’s a risk worth taking, in my opinion, because Allen does such a good job of instilling a defensive mentality in his teams. I grew up watching Villanova evolve into a top program while starting FOUR guards and a 6’7 center. If coaches can spark a whatever-it-takes, warrior-like mentality in their players, size truly does not matter and, in fact, the challenge of playing bigger teams brings out the best in everyone.

Even better for Penn, guys like 6’9 senior Mike Howlett and budding sophomores Fran Dougherty and Cam Gunter are quality options as traditional big men (one will likely start at center either way). Combined with a host of players who can play multiple positions, those mobile bigs will allow the Quakers to adapt their style of play depending on matchups. Teams with height and bulk inside like Harvard and Yale could present the biggest problems, but again, the matchups will be equally difficult if/when Keith Wright or Greg Mangano is forced onto the perimeter against quick lineups. Another potential weakness to monitor will be confidence and ability to handle pressure. This group went through too much heartbreak last season from failing to execute at key moments in games. Sometimes, players on an on-the-rise team can’t shake their losing past.

Outlook: Like most basketball teams, Penn’s ceiling will depend on how well the individual parts mesh together to create a cohesive whole. I believe the Quakers’ season will come down to how much or little the freshmen contribute. The core of returnees is likely not deep enough to win the Ivy League. If the freshmen are still a year away from making an impact, it should be another middling season here in Philly, 3rd place at best. But if just one freshman guard and one freshman forward enjoy Cartwright-like rookie seasons (33.8 minutes, 11.7 points per game), this team’s potential will soar and make — yes, I’ll say it — the league title a possibility. The thing about freshmen is that regardless of ESPN or Rivals ratings, you don’t know what you have until they actually play in collegiate games. In this case, that could work for or against the Quakers.

Season Preview: Princeton Tigers

The Princeton Tigers will have a tough task defending their Ivy crown with their first five league games away from friendly Jadwin Gymnasium. (Photo Credit: Jessica Hill, Associated Press)

 

All right, Tigers fans, time to stop basking in the warm nostalgic glow of a certain Doug Davis pump fake. We’re only a few weeks away from a brand spanking new season of college basketball, and the Princeton squad is still something of a question mark as it sets out to defend its Ivy League Title and NCAA tournament berth. Will new coach Mitch Henderson be able to fill the Sydney Johnson-shaped hole on the sidelines and the hearts of Princeton fans? What heretofore role players might rise up a la Kareem Maddox 2010 to replace the departing seniors?

Can the Tigers overcome the (understandable and near universal) preseason coronation of Co-Defending Co-Ivy League Champion Harvard? We take a crack at these questions and more in our 2011-2012 Princeton Basketball Preview.

 

Key Losses:

Arguably the two best players on last year’s squad, seniors Dan Mavraides and Kareem

Maddox, have departed central Jersey to seek their fortunes in Europe (Mavraides is playing in Greece; Kareem’s tearing it up in the Netherlands). But at least Princeton fans had a whole season to steel themselves for the inevitable departure of the seniors. Not so with head coach Sydney Johnson, who, after the magic carpet ride of last season and one final tear-filled press conference, suddenly left for Fairfield University and the greener grass of athletic scholarships and (ahem) a lot more money. The loss of the seniors will have a more immediate impact on the Tigers, who will struggle to replace the second team All-Ivy point guard in Mavraides and Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-Ivy Maddox. But who, oh who, will be up to the challenge of replacing Johnson’s steady hand at the helm?

 

Key Additions:

Mitch Henderson, that’s who! Yup, Princeton figured if they couldn’t have Johnson, they’d get the next best thing – his teammate on the Cinderella-ific 1996 team that upset UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They went out and got the living embodiment of Princeton basketball nostalgia – the photo of Henderson jumping in the air after the final buzzer, arms raised in victory, is arguably the single most iconic image of Princeton basketball. Henderson knows the system, and while there are some growing pains any time a new regime takes over, the transition should be relatively smooth.

In other additions, the Tigers brings in four solid freshman recruits who have Princeton written all over them – a sweet passing big man in Bobby Garbade and a sharpshooting guard in Clay Wilson, who averaged 27 points a game in Oklahoma last year. Per normal university operating procedure, these young guns probably won’t see much of the court this year, but don’t be surprised if at least one of the freshmen steps up and contributes in a meaningful way by the end of the year.

 

Key Games:

Princeton kicks off the season with the traditional smorgasbord of local and far flung out of conference best online casino opponents, including an early rumbling with ACC foe NC State. Princeton will look to defend its season opening, tone-setting victory last year against cross-town rivals Rutgers; that game has been moved to the middle of the season on the schedule and will serve as something of a midway out-of-conference bellwether.

But the real test of the season will come when Princeton starts Ivy League play with a five game road swing. Fortunately for the Tigers, they won’t be seeing Cambridge in those early games – Princeton takes on Harvard at home in the Tigers’ seventh Ivy League game, which sets up the tantalizing possibility of two undefeated squads fighting out Round Four of their battle royale for league supremacy. Princeton finishes the season with a three game Ivy League homestand against Yale, Brown, and Penn.

 

Projected Starters:

Princeton returns four of five starters (kind of) (see also: Brendan Connolly):

Junior Ian Hummer was the second leading scorer on the team last year and carried the Tigers during much of their league play – the forward will be the key to Princeton having any shot at repeating last year’s success. He was a second team All-Ivy selection last year, and don’t be surprised if he makes the leap and ends up as one of the premier players in the league. Joining him at forward is the sweet shooting senior, Pat Saunders, who started the last 29 games of the season for the Tigers.

In the backcourt, senior Doug Davis will look to ride the momentum of The Shot to a bounce-back season after a junior campaign that, on the whole, failed to live up to his stellar play for the first two years at Princeton.

Finally, “starter” Brendan Connolly (who was routinely pulled for Kareem Maddox three minutes into most games last year) will have a chance to ditch those quotation marks and become the Tigers’ go-to big man. The junior had a big day against Harvard in the playoff game last year, pouring in 9 points on 3-3 shooting in only 15 minutes of play.

The final guard spot is up for grabs, but look for sophomore T.J. Bray to emerge as the frontrunner for the spot – last year he was the only freshman to see real court time, including some play in the NCAA tournament game against Kentucky. Elsewhere on the roster, expect junior forward Mack Darrow to be the first man off the bench.

 

Final Thoughts:

It feels a little bit like people are writing off the Tigers prematurely. Yes, two of their best three players from last year are gone, and yes, they have a new coach, and yes, they didn’t add any players who will look to have a huge immediate impact. It’ll be a tough league to crack this year, but the Tigers have a long non-conference season to get to know their new coach and figure out how this team plays best.

Additionally, Princeton is in the rare, enviable position of defending their Ivy League title with no expectations whatsoever, unlike a Harvard squad that will enter the season with talent coming out of its ears but also a bull’s eye on its back. While Harvard and Yale scrabble for attention at the top of the standings in celebration of their New England sibling rivalry, maybe Princeton will fly under the radar, staying within striking distance before finally making a charge late.

Season Preview: Yale Bulldogs

Junior Ivy League POY candidate Greg Mangano will lead the Yale Bulldogs on their championship quest this season. (Photo Credit: ivyleaguesports.com)
The 2011-2012 Bulldog squad comes into this season with significant hype and expectations. Yale returns arguably the league’s best player in Greg Mangano (feel free to check out his Twitter if you want to hear his opinion on the subject) and is losing only one major contributor from last year’s squad in point guard Porter Braswell. In fact, the preseason optimism in the Elm City feels quite similar to four years ago, when the team found itself in a somewhat similar place as it does now.The 2007-2008 Yale squad was coming off a surprising 10-4 season the year before, in which junior point guard Eric Flato had a breakout (though not quite 2011 Mangano-esque) season, as that Bulldog team rode its junior class and underclassmen to 10 league wins, including a home upset win against Penn, which resulted in an amorphous mob of Ivy title dreaming fans at center court after the final buzzer. Things were looking up for Yale, and with Princeton down and Penn losing Zoller and Jaaber, there was an opening for a program that was not traditionally a powerhouse to step up and take control of the conference. That program was… Cornell. I won’t go too much further into the 2007-2008 season, as that isn’t the point of this piece, and moreover, it wasn’t a particularly exciting season for Yale and its supporters. Let’s just say the preseason buzz proved a bit unwarranted.

Anyway, this Yale team shares some similarities with the squad that returned in the fall of ‘07: a couple of players who had breakout seasons the year before (‘11: Mangano, Morgan; ‘07: Flato, Pinick), a split with the previous season’s champion or co-champion, and high expectations. It seems, though, that the resemblance ends there and history may not repeat itself.

Here is a close look at who the Bulldogs are going to put on the hardwood this year.

Backcourt:

When the Bulldogs traveled to Chestnut Hill to face BC in the third game of last season, junior guard Austin Morgan quickly became a household name (at least among the households of people who read this blog… Or households of BC fans maybe). It was quite a performance: Morgan dropped 25 with six threes and the Bulldogs led the game from start to finish. Austin went on to average 12.6 points per game last year and provided backcourt stability and balance for the team. This balance was critical to combat opponents who started to game plan against Yale’s interior strengths. This year, Morgan looks to play a major role for the Bulldogs once again.

Reggie Willhite, the senior captain this year, will be an interesting player to watch. Reggie played limited minutes as a freshman and started just four games the next year, but began to develop a penchant for getting steals, nabbing 27 during his sophomore campaign. When he worked his way into the starting lineup this past year, he continued his work on the defensive end, finishing third in the league in steals with 40, while also shooting just under 45 percent from the field on the year, good for top ten in the Ivy League. Willhite made the leap last year, starting all 28 games for the Bulldogs. This Yale team doesn’t need to replace significant scorers, and the Bulldogs will look to Reggie to average around ten points per game once again, while continuing to be a force on the defensive end.

One player who will play a large role in whether this team can challenge for the league title will be junior Mike Grace. Grace saw significant playing time as a freshman, finishing third on the team in assists, but was hampered by an injury through much of last year. He could step into the role of starting guard with the graduation of Porter Braswell, and form a strong backcourt with Willhite and Morgan. Given this team’s strength in the frontcourt, some consistency at the guard positions could bump this team from slightly above average to legitimate challenger for a league title.

Junior Sam Martin, who almost never saw the floor his freshman year, saw increased action last year, as he developed into a three point shooter. Martin shot the ball very well and earned a lot of praise for his play on the team’s China trip this summer, and Coach Jones has been vocal about how high he is on Martin’s shooting ability.

One guy I am interested in watching is sophomore Isaiah Salafia. He struggled a bit from the field in his limited minutes last year, but shined in helping Yale pull out a hard-fought overtime victory over Dartmouth. I’ll pick Isaiah as a sleeper contributor for the Bulldogs this year.

Frontcourt:

Greg Mangano has certainly been the talk of the town in New Haven, as the New Haven area native put forth a monster junior year, making him a serious candidate for Ivy League POY last year, averaging a double-double and also providing three blocks per game on the defensive end, highlighted by a seven block effort against Brown in an early conference victory. After declaring for the NBA Draft then retracting his name and playing with some of college basketball’s finest players on the World University Games team, Mangano comes in as the Lindy’s pick for this year’s Player of the Year, anchoring a Bulldog frontcourt that matches up favorably with every other frontcourt in the conference.

Mangano and sophomore Jeremiah Kreisberg give this team a lethal 1-2 punch down low. The 6-10 Kreisberg was the rookie of the year for the Bulldogs, shooting 55.6 percent from the field last year while averaging 7.2 points and 4.5 board while starting every Ivy League game. Kreisberg played on Israel’s U-20 team over the summer, getting some valuable international experience in the off-season. If these two can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, this team features two dominant players down low and at the high post who will be a very difficult matchup for other Ivy squads.

Aside from these two, the Bulldogs will likely rely on a pair of impressive freshman. One Bulldog who will be fun to watch is 6-6 forward Brandon Sherrod, who was Connecticut’s high school Player of the Year last year, sporting six triple doubles and averaging 16 points, 14.5 rebounds and 6 blocks. It could be fun to see if Coach Jones throws the three of these guys out on the floor together to see how high the blocked shot tally will go. Meanwhile, 6-11 freshman center Will Childs-Klein will also likely be called on to step in and provide some key minutes when the Bulldogs have their top big men on the bench. If the Bulldogs are in foul trouble down the stretch in key games this year, these two frosh may go a long way in determining whether this is a middle of the conference team or a legitimate title contender. In a league with effectively no margin for error, every league game will prove vital, and it’s almost a certainty the Bulldogs will turn to these two youngsters late in a close game during the Ivy campaign.

Yale’s depth is one of their greatest strengths this season. There are other names I haven’t yet mentioned here who could very well end up playing big roles for the ‘Dogs. Rhett Anderson stepped in early last year and started the team’s first seven games, and we could see the veteran big man play some important minutes off the bench. Freshman name of the year candidate Armani Cotton averaged over 20 points per game in high school. As a 6-7 guard, his length could be a disastrous matchup for some teams. Sophomore Greg Kelley will finally see the floor after missing his freshman year to an injury and if his game is half as good as his blog (midmajorchillin.blogspot.com), the Bulldogs will be extremely deep at every position except point guard.

The backcourt and perimeter play will be key for the Bulldogs. Will they be able to knock down the big shots when teams double down on Mangano? Can they keep up with a team that tries to push the pace? Will they be able to avoid the pitfalls of the 14-game tournament without dropping a game to team in the bottom half like they did to sharpshooting Cornell (and almost at home to Dartmouth)?

Final Thoughts:

This team is capable of winning the title. If Michael Grace (or someone else) develops into a consistent point guard, Mangano and Kreisberg stay healthy and one or more of the freshman bigs can step in and play right away, this team will be a nightmare matchup for most Ivy teams. It’ll be interesting to see the combinations that Coach Jones puts together when he wants to, for example, “go big”, and the pace that he employs (you have to assume he’s going to want to slow it down). The non-conference schedule will help us answer many of these questions.

Will the Bulldogs win the league and go to the tournament for the first time since that tough 1962 overtime loss to Billy Packer and the Demon Deacons? It’s certainly going to be a tough task for anyone to top Harvard. But if anyone is going to do it, it’ll be the boys from New Haven.