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.

Preseason Teleconference: Coaches Say the Darndest Things

Ivy coaches around the league phoned in to share their thoughts on the upcoming season. (Photo credit: Google Images)

If you took everything said in the preseason media teleconference at face value, then you’d think every team has a shot to win the Ivy League title this year. Here are a few of the best sound bites from Wednesday, taken beyond face value.

Yale head coach James Jones on the Bulldogs’ preseason No. 2 ranking: “Every year for the last I don’t know how many, we’ve always been picked lower than we’ve finished. We’re picked second; there’s only one more spot to go to, so hopefully it works out for us.”

In the middle of a vanilla interview, Jones whips out this nugget. That’s a suspiciously juicy factoid for a coach—I’m guessing the SID gave it to him. For the record, the last time Yale failed to surpass its preseason ranking was 2007-08. By the way, looking through old preseason rankings is a hoot: last year Cornell got a first place vote; in 2009-10, Penn was picked third; the 2008-09 Tigers were chosen dead last. I wonder if the previous season is a better predictor of preseason polls than the end of year rankings.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson on the Tigers’ scheduling difficulties: “When you’re in a position like ours—we like being in a situation like this—where teams don’t want to play you, especially this year with a good group coming back, it’s a little more difficult to get your phone calls returned.”

Humblebrag! “They hate me cuz they ain’t me,” Henderson added.

Paul Franklin, The Trenton Times: “It hasn’t been that long, obviously, since you played…or maybe it is. [Pause for laughter]. Sorry about that.”

Penn head coach Jerome Allen: “It’s OK.” 

Paul Franklin of The Trenton Times stole the show on Wednesday. Reporter chumminess is an especially awkward variety of male flirting, but in the hands of a skilled veteran like Mr. Franklin, it’s borderline magical.

“1995 was like so long ago, AMIRITE?! ROFL!!!”

Jerome was unfazed, and in his chocolatey, midnight DJ voice he gave a courtesy chuckle and forgave the age crack.

Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker on 2009-10: “Jeremy made so many other people better. I think that’s always the mark of a special player, which Jeremy was for us.”

The Jeremy Lin narrative has taken a slightly disappointing turn, as he’s become one of those NBA bench players that fans cheer for ironically. Well Tommy Amaker is not going to let that spoil his legacy in Cambridge: JEREMY LIN IS THE BEST PLAYER IN HARVARD HISTORY. THAT’S THREE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS.

Dartmouth head coach Paul Cormier on the Big Green’s inexperience: “One good thing about having freshmen is sometimes that lack of experience doesn’t affect their confidence and they just feel that they’ve been successful at whatever level they’ve been at and hopefully that some of that success can carry over.”

What Cormier is trying to say is that freshmen don’t have the Dartmouth stink yet. The Dartmouth stink doesn’t wash off. One season in Hanover and you’re permanently stinky. It sounds like his plan is to quarantine every member of last season’s 5-23 team by keeping them on bench rest and to start anew with this freshmen class. It’s like the plot of The Walking Dead.

Paul Franklin, Trenton Times: “Playing a little devil’s advocate with you here: if I’m a hardcore Cornell fan and I start harassing you with, ‘Hey coach, when are we going back to the Sweet Sixteen?’, what’s your response?”

Cornell head coach Bill Courtney: [Laughs] “I’ll tell you what, it’s funny because you get a lot of that when I go to the grocery store or the movies or something like that… We’re working towards that and we’ll continue to work until we get back to that point.”

Franklin: “Alright, you’ve got five years then I’m coming after you.”

Courtney: [Laughs] “I hear you.”

More gold from Franklin. The question is legitimate—when will the Big Red climb back to the top of the Ivy League?—but I wonder what he means by “coming after you.” I can only assume that Mr. Franklin has some ferocious tickling in store for Courtney if he can’t lead the Big Red back to March Madness by 2016.

Columbia head coach Kyle Smith, on senior guard Noruwa Agho: “I just feel he’s one of the best all-around players in the league and one of the best all-around players I’ve ever been around… I don’t know if that will show up as much in the stats, but it’s certainly showing up with his leadership.”

The Myth of Noruwa Agho lives on, but Smith at least seems to acknowledge that Agho’s raw stats hide his inefficiency. Thankfully for Columbia, Agho might lead the league in leadership, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

Brown head coach Jesse Agel: “This league is really, really good. There are no nights off. There are no more weekends where, you know, Penn and Princeton would go somewhere and say, ‘Well, we’ve just got to get through this weekend and we should win two.’ I don’t think anyone’s thinking that anywhere now.”

Franklin: “No more sightseeing, huh?”

Agel: [Laughs] “I don’t know what you could see on some of those rides. Having lived up in the deep Northeast, not much sightseeing in the winter.”

Franklin: [Laughs] “Alright, thanks.”

Agel: “Sure.”

Franklin does it again! It might be the preseason, but Mr. Franklin is in rare form. He forced a chuckle out of Jesse Agel, who might be the most humorless coach in the Ivies. But Agel snaps back into his sour mien with a terse “sure” to close out a riveting, if hardly informative, hour and a half teleconference.

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.

Quakers Way Out of Line

The Palestra, not on Friday night. (Photo Credit: pennathletics.com)

The Daily Pennsylvanian elicited shrugs and modest agreement yesterday by suggesting that Penn Athletics axe The Line, the annual tradition of staying overnight at the Palestra in order to be the first to buy season tickets (and, historically, have first dibs on NCAA Tournament tickets).

Now that the Quakers have fallen from their lofty perch atop the Ivy League, The Line has failed to engender the same enthusiasm as in years past: last Friday, fifty students showed up for the festivities. In the wake of this diminishing interest, some would rather avoid the embarrassment of a poor turnout than continue the tradition.

The only real counter to this position is a tenuous appeal to Tradition. Deadspin writes, “You can’t call something a tradition if you shut it down when things are glum.” I agree, and so does Eamonn Brennan. In general, we care how long a tradition has been running because that reflects the level of commitment. If we’ve really reached the end of The Line, then Penn supporters have become just like any other fair-weather fan base. That shift is perhaps the final death knell of the Quakers’ Ivy League superiority.

So while Penn fans smugly assert that their return to the top is a matter of “when (not if),” Line-haters only hasten the Quakers’ demise by jumping off board a sinking tradition. Man up, fans. Suffer the embarrassment of a few lean years, then thump your chest when Penn climbs back to the top. Otherwise, when Quaker basketball does reclaim its former glory, that team will be part of a separate tradition, one entirely divorced from the days when Penn was truly in a league of its own.

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.

Tweet of the Week

In this weekly series, we examine the wisest, most insightful, and profound Twitter musings of our favorite Ivy scholars who also happen to play basketball.

The preseason is a time of questions, from the immediate to the big picture. Who will win the league? Which freshmen will impress? Should the Ivy League have a postseason tournament? Does defense matter? Curiosity reigns this time of year, but I don’t think any basketball prognosticators have asked the weighty question on Keith Wright’s mind:

Maybe his tweet is just a question from class (it is), but I prefer to look at it out of context. First, we can relax, knowing that this is just a hypothetical situation. Real genies obviously don’t offer ultimatums. You tell a genie what you want, and he delivers. If your genie starts making conditions for your wishes, you find a new genie.

Second, I’m assuming Wright’s conundrum is choosing between one great lover and the possibility of many, good and bad, paramours. Although the phrasing of his question might suggest the genie is in fact the one responsible for the “awesome orgasm,” I’m willing to bet Wright is not actually tempted by the sexy advances of a smoky, probably blue, supernatural spirit.

Wright’s question, then, boils down to the tradeoff between physical satisfaction and personal choice. Is it better to have your needs met regardless of circumstance or, for better or for worse, to have the freedom to determine your own fortune? It’s an age-old question that governs everything from relationships to politics. So while Dickie V polishes his crystal ball for a clearer picture of March, Wright spends his fall pondering mankind’s fundamental questions. We might need to start calling the Harvard big man the Big Aristotle.

By the way, you tell that genie that you’d rather play the field.

Around the League: 10.19.11

Check out these Ivy basketball links you may have missed from the past few days:

 

Blue Ribbon came out with their Ivy predictions earlier this week on ESPN.com. (Photo Credit: blueribbonyearbookonline.com)

Blue Ribbon came out with their team-by-team previews of every Ivy League team on ESPN.com. For those of you without access to ESPN Insider, we’ll give you the quick rundown on what we thought was worthy of noting.

Up at Dartmouth, Coach Cormier thinks that a big factor in terms of whether or not the Big Green will be successful this year will be the way upperclassmen react to diminished roles as the talented freshmen begin to acclimate themselves and take minutes from the older players. The Blue Ribbon preview is optimistic, but suggests that the Big Green won’t be able to compete in the top half until these incoming recruits are juniors or seniors. Still, it’s nice to see Dartmouth headed in what seems like the right direction for the first time in years.

  • “A lot of [the veterans] will start and get time early,” [Cormier] said. “As the freshmen get their feet under them, I think [the veterans will] have to adjust to whatever the playing time happens to be. It’s a very good chance it will be severely reduced, and they’ve got to handle whatever role they get. And if that happens, then I think we could surprise some people.””(Blue Ribbon, ESPN.com)

Out in Providence, Coach Agel is hopeful that this young Brown team will be able to get over the hump. Blue Ribbon noted that the Bears led the league in scoring with Harvard, but came in last in scoring defense. Consistency is the story for Brown because after beating Princeton and leading Harvard by double-digits in both games last year, there’s no doubt that the Bears are talented enough to compete with the league’s best. Can they improve their strength down low and bear down (pun intended) and get stops in the second halves of big games? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining where the Bears finish, as many publications have them finishing anywhere between 4th and 7th.

  • “If we can start getting more physical and defending, we’re going to be one of those teams that people say is a dark horse,” Agel said. “We’re making strides. We’ve just got to get over the hump in the league. We’ve played extremely well out of conference — better than Brown has ever played out of conference in a two-year period — now we’ve just got to catch a break.” (Blue Ribbon, ESPN.com)

Down in Philadelphia, Coach Allen refuses to be content with the big leap the Quakers made out of the bottom half last year. We know the Quakers will be as good as anyone at the guard spots and on the wing with Rosen, Bernardini and Cartwright, but Allen challenged his stars in the Blue Ribbon preview to improve the weak spots in their game. Of Rosen, he said, “He does a lot for us from the locker room to the court. I wish he was a much better defensive player. But having said that, you couldn’t ask for a better leader among the group.” Of Bernardini, Allen would like to see improvement on the glass. “We all know that he’s a tremendous shooter, but he has some other natural abilities. If he exhausts them this season, it will make us a better team.” Finally, of the young Cartwright, “He’s going to be asked to have more of a leadership role this year on both ends of the floor.” Of course, the big question mark for Penn is the frontcourt where they have struggled with youth and injuries. In the final analysis, Blue Ribbon rated their backcourt an “A”, their frontcourt a “C+”, and suggested that a return to the top tier was not imminent this season.

Blue Ribbon reserved the most praise, expectedly, for Harvard and, perhaps less expectedly, for Yale. The Bulldogs were given a serious shot at winning the title this year thanks to the Mangano/Kreisberg/Morgan trio that looked so dangerous at times last year. The Bulldogs haven’t truly challenged for a title since the ’06-’07 10-4 campaign led by dynamic guard Eric Flato. This time, it’ll be the big man, Mangano, who carries the load for the Elis on the quest for a championship.

Meanwhile, over at the DP, IHO contributor Brian Kotloff and Kevin Esteves discuss expectations for Penn, suggesting this year’s version of the Quakers may see improvement on the same steep incline as Princeton did in ’09-10 under third-year Sydney Johnson.

And finally, we’ll end on a light note. Yale sophomores Jeremiah Kreisberg and Greg Kelley have a blog that they update frequently. It seems to be a pretty hilarious insider’s take on life playing basketball at a Mid-Major. Today’s post, for example, consisted of some serious excitement over receiving three pairs of brand-new Nike socks in their lockers. Check it out, it’s worth some good laughs.

 

The Great Debate: Cornell 2009-10 vs. Harvard 2011-12


Who would win a hypothetical one-game playoff between 2009-10 Cornell and 2011-12 Harvard? (Photo Credit: gocrimson.com)

Ed Note: Our Cornell and Harvard writers participated in a debate over how a one-game playoff between the 2009-10 Cornell squad and the 2011-12 Harvard team would play out. This was a hypothetical game pitting the teams against each other. The debate was not meant to compare what each team has accomplished because Harvard, despite the lofty expectations, has done nothing yet this year. The point of this exercise was to compare how these teams would match up with one another and perhaps determine a ceiling for this heralded Crimson bunch if their unprecedented Ivy recruiting class lives up to the hype. With that out of the way, Sam Aleinikoff (SA) represented Cornell and C. River Banks (CRB) wrote in support of Harvard.


SA:

A year removed from a gut-wrenching finish to Ivy play for the Crimson, we’re putting Harvard back in another one-game playoff at Ivy Hoops Online, fictionally pitting this year’s Crimson against the 2009-2010 squad from Cornell. Let’s start by taking a look at the rosters before we get the debate going.

Cornell Big Red

G – Louis Dale – 5-11, 180 lbs – Senior
Accolades: Three-time First Team All-Ivy, 2008 Ivy League POY, 2008-2009 AP All-American Honorable Mention, 2010 Mid-Major MVP (awarded by collegeinsider.com)
Stats: (2009-2010) 12.8 ppg, 4.7 ast, 2.9 reb, 1.4 stl, 39% 3pt, 85% FT
Currently: Playing his second pro-season in Germany. Nicknamed “The Solution” by ESPN during the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Dale is terrorizing the likes of “The Answer” (Allen Iverson) overseas.
Hit List Includes: Outplaying John Wall in the Sweet Sixteen to the tune of 17 pts, 4 reb and 2 ast; torching Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin for 26 pts, 3 reb and 3 ast; dominating Juan Fernandez and Temple with 21 pts and 7 ast.

G – Chris Wroblewski – Sophomore
Accolades: 2008-2009 Ivy League ROY, 2009-2010 All-Ivy Honorable Mention, 2010-2011 Second Team All-Ivy
Stats: (2009-2010) 9 ppg, 3.2 ast, 2.7 reb, 46% 3PT, 87% FT
Currently: Trying to help the Red recapture the glory during his senior year at Cornell.
Worth Noting: Ski was named Third-Team Academic All-America and was honored as one of the top 15 student-athletes in college basketball.

F – Ryan Wittman – 6-7, 215 lbs. – Senior
Accolades: 2006-2007 Ivy ROY, Three-time unanimous first team All-Ivy, Unanimous 2009-2010 Ivy POY, 2009-2010 AP All-American Honorable Mention
Stats: (2009-2010) 17.5 ppg, 4 reb, 1.8 ast, 43% 3PT, 83% FT
Currently: After a year bouncing between Italy and the NBA D-League, Wittman is currently unsigned for the 2011-2012 season.
Ryan Wittman “Facts”: The UN Security Council has determined that Ryan Wittman’s jump shot is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Poor shooters can’t hit the broad side of a barn; Ryan Wittman hits all sides with a single shot (Courtesy of ryanwittmanfacts.com).

F – Jon Jaques – 6-7, 220 lbs. – Senior
Accolades: Tri-captain with fellow senior Jeff Foote and Alex Tyler, burst onto the scene as a Senior after seeing limited time over the first 3 years
Stats: 8 ppg, 3.4 reb, 1.2 stl, 1 ast, 48% 3 PT
Currently: A year of pro-ball in Israel was enough on the other side of the pond for Jaques who will now turn to coaching and join the staff at Stevens Tech in New Jersey.
Clutch Moments: The first meaningful minutes of his career came when he stepped onto the floor to sink game-icing free-throws vs. Drexel. Just a few games later, scored 20 pts to lead Cornell over St. John’s in MSG.

C – Jeff Foote – 7-0, 265 lbs. – Senior
Accolades: 2-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, 2009-2010 First Team All-Ivy, two-time second team All-Ivy
Stats: 12.4 ppg, 8.1 reb, 2.3 ast, 1.9 blk, 63% FG
Currently: Unsigned after playing his first professional year in Israel and Spain.
Poster Collection Includes: Kyle Singler (Duke – 2010 NBA Draft), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin), Arinze Onuaku (Syracuse), Wes Johnson (Syracuse – Lottery Pick), JaMychal Green (Alabama).

Head Coach – Steve Donahue – 10th Year with Cornell
Bio: Donahue won the Ivy title in each of his final three years with the Red. After a run to the Sweet Sixteen to close the 2009-2010 season Donahue jumped to the ACC, accepting the job at Boston College.

Bench
In the rotation: Alex Tyler (captain, 2 year starter), Geoff Reeves (2 year starter, lock-down defender), Max Groebe (UMass transfer, deadly shooter), Adam Wire (inch-for-inch likely the top defender on a team that included the Ivy League Defensive POY), Mark Coury (starter at Kentucky, relegated to the bench at Cornell, known for his toughness and defense), Errick Peck (Freshman Phenom)

The Case for the Red
The glass slipper never quite fit for the Red during the 2009-2010 season because Cornell was no Cinderella. Legitimately one of the top 25 teams in the country, the Red were thrown onto the national scene after a near-miss at top-ranked Kansas. The non-conference slate included wins over St. John’s, Alabama, UMass, St. Joe’s and La Salle. The conference schedule was a 13 game victory lap (with a 1-game hiccup) that made the rest of the league look like a group of high school teams. Highlights included a 36-point blowout of a 21-win Harvard team, a 14-point average margin of victory in league play and carrying the league back to national prominence with the Ancient Eight’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 30 years.

Harvard has an uber-athletic, highly-experienced squad returning this year, but the depth, talent, cohesion and intangibles just don’t match up. Anything short of a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament should be a disappointment for the Crimson this year, but in a one-game playoff there’s no question that 2009-2010 Cornell comes away victorious. Let’s just remember how clutch Harvard is in one-game playoffs…

CRB:

Harvard Crimson

G – Oliver McNally – 6-3, 180 lbs. – Senior
Accolades: Two-year co-captain
Stats: 10.1 ppg, 3.3 rebs, 3.1 ast, 49.1% FG, 44.2% 3PT, 92.6% FT
Worth Noting: Playing in the shadow of somewhat flashier company, McNally is the heart and soul of the Crimson, often supplying the biggest buckets in the biggest moments, like his game-winning runner at the Palestra last season or his last second free throw to force overtime at Yale in 2010.

G – Brandyn Curry – 6-1, 195 lbs. – Junior
Accolades: 2010-11 Second Team All-Ivy, 2010-11 Academic All-Ivy
Stats: 9.3 ppg, 5.9 ast, 3.8 rebs, 2.3 A-T ratio, 73.3% FT, 42.3% FG
Worth Noting: A crafty lefty and a sizzling ball-handler, Curry is the Crimson’s quarterback on offense and a lockdown perimeter defender.

F – Christian Webster – 6-5, 205 lbs. – Junior
Accolades: 2010-11 Honorable Mention All-Ivy
Stats: 13.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 ast, 89.4% FT, 43.5% FG, 39.9% 3PT
Worth Noting: Webster is a slasher from the wing, who is often tasked with jumpstarting the Crimson offense by attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line.

F – Kyle Casey – 6-7, 225 lbs. – Junior
Accolades: 2009-10 Ivy League ROY, 2010-11 Second Team All-Ivy, 2009-10 Honorable Mention All-Ivy
Stats: 10.7 ppg, 6.0 rebs, 1.1 blks, 50.5% FG, 78.6% FT
Worth Noting: An athletic scorer, Casey improved on a stalwart freshman campaign despite being hampered by a broken foot for much of last season.

C – Keith Wright – 6-8, 240 lbs. – Senior
Accolades: Two-time co-captain, 2010-11 Ivy League POY, 2010-11 Unanimous First Team All-Ivy, 2010-11 AP All-America Honorable Mention
Stats: 14.8 ppg, 8.3 rebs, 1.8 blk, 1.5 ast, 58.4% FG, 70.4% FT
Worth Noting: Wright made the leap last season from good big man to veritable paint monster; a willing passer and skilled finisher, he was a nightmare matchup for each opponent and the foundation of Harvard’s historically efficient offense.

Head Coach – Tommy Amaker – Fifth Year with Harvard
Bio: After stints at Seton Hall and Michigan, Amaker arrived in Cambridge, and, ever since, he has piloted Harvard’s meteoric rise to the top of the Ivy League standings. He is one of the most in-demand coaches for top college basketball programs.

Bench
In the rotation (projected): Laurent Rivard (standout sharp-shooter, looking to build on a superb rookie campaign), Wesley Saunders (much-heralded freshman who will try to crack the rotation), Kenyatta Smith (see Saunders), Steve Moundou-Missi (see Smith), Jonah Travis (see Moundou-Missi), Ugo Okam (giant center with developing skills and five-fouls to give), Matt Brown (energy guy and defensive specialist), Andrew Van Nest (serviceable big man who likes to launch the three), Jeff Georgatos (steady frontcourt presence who can hold it down in the post)

The Case for the Crimson

There is a growing trend among sportswriters to christen champions in the preseason. Considering the fates of the Miami Heat, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Eagles, I don’t want to join that chorus and anoint the 2011-12 Harvard basketball team the successors to the 2009-10 Big Red. But for the sake of discussion (and out of enthusiasm for the upcoming season), I’m willing to consider a hypothetical one-game playoff between the two teams.

Can Harvard win? Yes. I don’t have the luxury of pointing to a list of accomplishments because, well, they haven’t accomplished anything as of yet. But Curry-McNally-Webster-Casey-Wright match up with Dale-Reeves-Jaques-Wittman-Foote at least as well as the Penn team that authored the lone blemish on Cornell’s league record and the Princeton squad that took the Big Red down to the wire twice. I’ll grant that those midseason games lack the urgency of a one-game playoff, and Cornell would likely be at its best in this imaginary playoff against Harvard. But I still think the Crimson has a decent shot. Here’s how I see it going down:

Foote is the Big Red’s big advantage (literally). His size was almost impossible to counter, especially with the Ivies’ lack of size on the bench. However, this Harvard team is unique in its ability to make Foote earn his points. It has at least eight different players that it can put on the big man—that’s forty fouls on a sub-60 percent free-throw shooter. On the other end, the Crimson has the offensive talent to challenge Foote in the paint and perhaps put him in foul trouble. In the backcourt, McNally and Curry are arguably the equals to Dale and Reeves (if that seems outlandish, please just wait to see the kind of year Curry has). That leaves Wittman and Casey. I know Wittman is a demigod in Ithaca, but, despite whatever memes you’ve created for him, he still missed 57.4 percent of his threes. I think a healthy Casey can bring as much to the table as the Big Red POY, though I guess this season will be the true test for that statement.

Of course, a Crimson victory is predicated on a lot of breaks falling its way, but none of them seem too farfetched, no? How do you see The Game playing out tactically and strategically?

One more question: Without trying to sound controversial, I personally think the Big Red dynasty has been overly mythologized. Of course, they won all of those games, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and they deserve every bit of the credit that has come their way. But other unheralded mid-majors have advanced beyond the first weekend—Richmond and VCU last year, St. Mary’s and Northern Iowa in 2010, Davidson and Western Kentucky in 2008, etc.—all of which were stellar teams, but these squads can easily be thought to have “outperformed” their expected result. Yet, for some reason, Ivy fans have taken it for granted that Cornell was exactly as good as its No. 17 ranking. Does even a little part of you think maybe the Big Red was fortunate to beat Temple and Wisconsin (despite the one-sidedness of those contests)? Are these just the sour grapes of a Harvard fan who still hasn’t gotten over that 36-point shit-kicking?

SA:

First of all, let’s take a look at that final point…”fortunate”?

Quite honestly, Temple and Wisconsin were both fortunate that the score didn’t truly represent how one sided those match-ups were. The shellackings that the 2009-2010 Red put on their NCAA tournament foes in the first two rounds were far from fortunate.

A comparison to 2010 Richmond (13-3 in the Atlantic 10, regular season wins over Purdue, Arizona State, Seton Hall and Wake Forest) is welcomed. Richmond looked like a Sweet Sixteen team and was a Sweet Sixteen team.

I’ll take the Northern Iowa comparison too. A team that lost just five games all year, was under-seeded because of the conference it plays in, had a seven foot center who gave BCS big men fits, knocked down shots from every part of the floor and played Kansas tight – sound familiar? Oh yeah. Cornell and Northern Iowa from 2009-2010 were comparable teams, were legit top-25 teams and would both beat 2011-2012 Harvard nine times out of ten.

Davidson 2008 – close calls against top-10 teams in the non-conference, dominate in their league, show their true colors against the big conferences in the Tournament. Davidson was also deserving of it’s spot in the final rankings.

VCU went from a slightly above average CAA team to a Final Four participant. Yes, agreed, they outperformed in March (April finally brought them back down). Cornell was no VCU. There is no Final Four banner in the rafters of Newman Arena, but there were also no 11-loss regular season and no consistent slip ups against the likes of Georgia State, James Madison or Drexel. There should be no questions that Cornell 2009-2010 is no VCU.

Cornell was also no St. Mary’s. See the match-ups against a one-year-away Richmond team and an imploding Villanova squad if you want to understand what it means to be fortunate in March.

Western Kentucky? They needed OT to beat Drake and then got 13-seeded San Diego in Round 2. Again, see Western Kentucky’s 2008 NCAA Tournament for an example of fortune.

Cornell was not fortunate. March of 2009 was merely a continuation of what they had done since November.

Let’s digress from the Cornell – (insert successful mid-major team here) comparisons. The real debate is Cornell vs. Harvard.

In the frontcourt: Hack-a-Foote still gives the 7-footer a chance at the line and even a 60% FT shooter makes a majority of his shots. Also – suggesting Van Nest or Okam in the post against Foote? Please, please, Tommy Amaker, make that mistake again. On the defensive end, Donahue’s constant substitutions between Foote, Coury, Tyler and Wire – not to mention his man, 1-3-1, 2-3, 3-2 and match-up zones – and Wright and Casey would get nothing in the paint. Wright finds foul trouble much to quickly against lesser, smaller foes. Foote, with 4 inches and 25 pounds on him would be virtually unstoppable. Casey is a nice piece but he has neither the strength to match Coury or Tyler in the post, nor the perimeter play to match Jaques. Forget Wittman, Casey wouldn’t be tabbed with that responsibility.

On the wing: Webster on Wittman might be the best matchup Harvard would get. Webster’s length and athleticism could frustrate Wittman on the perimeter, but Webster is a glorified slasher and an overrated defender. Wittman would get his in transition or off a quick release from the Red’s ball movement. Best case for Harvard: Wittman puts up 15 points on 15 shots and Webster manages to get a few buckets in transition to make up for his lack of legitimate half court production against such a long, smart, athletically-underrated team.

In the backcourt: McNally on Wroblewski could be a toss up. McNally has more size. Ski has the passing ability. Both have stability, consistency. The only difference is that McNally is asked to take on a bigger role with his teammates around him faltering. Against Cornell’s best on ball defender he can’t get much.

Dale vs. Curry is almost a joke. Curry may have the quickness but in every other facet of the game Dale has the edge – shooting, off the dribble, on the boards, generally leading a team…the list goes on. If he puts up 17 on John Wall and 20 on the combination of Jeremy Lin, Curry (as a freshman) and anyone else the Crimson had in the backcourt, please, please bring on Curry on his own. Turn the TV on because Dale is about to go off.

On the bench: Talent, experience and cohesion (Red) vs. unproven, yet highly touted, underclassmen (Harvard). Good luck Harvard.

A neutral site keeps this game within 20 and interesting until midway through the second half. That’s when Wright is sitting with 4 fouls apiece, Van Nest and Okam have been thrashed for a few too many and the freshman are tabbed with fighting the top true center the mid-majors have seen since Andrew Bogut.

Yes, Harvard is talented and could steal one out of 10 from Cornell – that was better than Penn’s chances and they pulled it off in the Palestra – so maybe, just maybe, in Lavietes the Crimson could too. The Princeton comparison is ridiculous. A slow-it-down team that relies on steady coaching is a far cry from Harvard’s up and down style.

Keith Wright and Harvard look like a poor man’s Levoy Allen and Temple who the good-not-lucky Red beat handily in March. Cornell wins going away, 78-63.

CRB:

I only brought up the possibility that 2009-10 Cornell is remembered too fondly in the context of this playoff, not in order to besmirch the best Ivy team of this decade. But since I’m the lone wolf crying in the wilderness on this point, I guess we’ll drop the argument.

In the frontcourt: I witnessed Foote’s abuse of Van Nest in 2010—it wasn’t pretty. So believe me, I don’t have any delusions of Van Nest, Okam, or any of the freshmen somehow stopping “the top true center the mid-majors have seen since Andrew Bogut.” They are perfectly capable of fouling Foote though, and the visual of the 7-footer standing on the free-throw line does not inspire much fear in the heart of this Harvard fan. If the Crimson loses by Foote hitting his freebies, so be it. Also, I think you might be underrating Casey’s impact. Sure, you can say he doesn’t have Tyler’s strength or Jaques’ “perimeter play,” but I’d argue that Tyler doesn’t have Casey’s “perimeter play” and Jaques doesn’t have the big man’s strength. What’s to prevent Casey from exposing their weaknesses as opposed to the other way around? Lastly, to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that Wittman and Casey would be matched up in my initial Wittman/Casey comparison; I meant to contrast only their production.

On the wing: I’m glad you afford Webster as much respect as you do. He’s the least flashy of Harvard’s contributors and sometimes overlooked, but without Webster’s wing play, the Crimson’s inside-out offense becomes one dimensional. I’ve never considered Webster a great defender, and Wittman is so tall with such a quick release that I don’t see him being all that effective stopping the shooter. I’d hope for the kind of 15-point off night from Wittman that you’re describing.

In the backcourt: As pleased as I am over your feelings on Webster, I’m just as disappointed in your assessment of Curry. The kid can play. He’s not as essential to Harvard as Wright, but I think you could argue that he was the Crimson’s best player throughout league play last year. Your flippant dismissal of him as a “joke” really only conveys to me that you haven’t seen him play enough. A junior, his story is only half written at this point, but I would not at all be surprised if, when all is said and done, his mantel has some of the same hardware as Dale’s. I would absolutely turn on my TV and get my popcorn ready for the Dale-Curry matchup. I don’t think it would be nearly as one-sided as you imagine.

On the bench: I’ll concede any and all points in this area because, at this stage, the Harvard freshmen are a relative unknown.

Coaching: Amaker knows how to run a program, but, fairly or unfairly, his Xs-and-Os have always been called into question. Donahue’s bona fides are stronger, and he is more familiar with the 2009-10 team than Amaker is with his 2011-12 squad. Coach D probably has the edge in a game situation.

I’m surprised that you think Cornell would win nine of out ten times. If you wanted a number from me, I would have said two out of three and a mean outcome of Cornell 75, Harvard 71 (I hope commenters won’t hesitate to post their predictions below). That’s no slight to the Big Red, I just think this Harvard team can be that good. If the Crimson manages to live up to the expectations for this season, it would be interesting to revisit this argument again in the spring.

SA:

Curry is no joke. Watching him twice in person last year, I thought as a sophomore he was the most impressive member of a highly-talented Harvard squad. It is the Dale-Curry match-up that I think would be a joke. My memory of Dale may be tainted because his final three games in a Cornell uniform were likely the best three games of his career, but if Dale were to play in his NCAA Tournament form (which I’ll mention once again was good enough to outplay John Wall, Trevon Hughes and Juan Fernandez), then I think this is no contest.

Nonetheless, you bring up a good point. This analysis completely depends on the time of year that we’re talking about. Cornell in November 2009 was very different from Cornell in March 2010. I’m sure the same will be true for this year’s Harvard team. Cornell in March vs. Harvard in November is a no-brainer for me. Cornell in March vs. Harvard in March could be a very different story.

If the young bench develops and Wright, Casey and Co. continue to improve, I could easily see Harvard raising a Sweet Sixteen banner of their own in Cambridge. If the team is virtually the same as the one we saw last year, I see a quick exit from the tournament. Regardless, the fact that Harvard has the talent and experience to even warrant this discussion says something about the Crimson’s outlook for the year.

The one thing that struck me watching Harvard last year is that they looked like a BCS conference team minus a couple inches. Keith Wright at 6-10, Kyle Casey at 6-9, Christian Webster at 6-7, Oliver McNally at 6-5 and Brandyn Curry at 6-2 – that’s a scary starting five in any conference in America. The athleticism and talent is there at every position to compete with just about anyone in the country. They can score in bunches, defend and force turnovers, get up and down the floor like a major conference school. With a couple added inches this team would be a top-25 team all year.

The Cornell 2009 – Harvard 2011 should be an interesting argument in the Spring once we have a better sense of this year’s group in Cambridge. Who knows, maybe I’ll be eating my words if Harvard manages to run the table in the Ivy League and make a little noise in the nonconference.

Either way, basketball season is upon us. Midnight Madness publicly kicked off the season for Harvard earlier this weekend and Cornell faithful will get their first glimpse of their team in less than a week at the annual Red-White scrimmage. Regardless of who you root for, with the hardwood squeaking once again and slates wiped completely clean, its tough to complain this time of year.

CRB:

Absolutely. This frivolous comparison is just one of the many subplots in what should be a fascinating season. I wish you the worst of luck, my friend.