Believe it or not, the conference slate is merely three days away, and in some sense, that”s a bit of a shame because the Ivy League has really been cranking into gear over the last couple weeks, sticking it to some big conference squads. Wins over California, Bucknell, and Providence (among other impressive performances) have elevated the league all the way to 18th in the Pomeroy conference rankings and to 23rd in the conference RPI. While some had feared that in such a down year, the Ivy champ would receive a dreaded #15 or even #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, it now seems that the Ancient 8 king will earn a more palatable #13 seed, according to Joe Lunardi”s first edition of Bracketology, released January 8th. Furthermore, all eight Ivy teams have defenses ranked in the top 215
teams of Division I, but only three have offenses ranked in the top 215. With that in mind, we are going to buck convention and predict that offense wins championships as those three top 215 offenses make up our top 3 spots in this week”s Power Poll.
I understand this is a basketball article. So what then do these three seemingly disparate entities have to do with each other? Allow me to explain.
RG3, a rookie quarterback, arrives at a formerly woeful organization and, overnight, changes the culture of his team with his confidence and preternatural talent. On the other hand, there is Eli Manning: also a tremendously gifted quarterback, but during his first few years in the Meadowlands, Eli didn’t change very much. With every pass that sailed over a receiver’s head or fluttered toward their feet, the boos rained down from the tough New York crowd. Eli at times looked lost, out of control, overwhelmed, bewildered. Occasionally though, he would have a game that showed that he indeed had great potential: a flash of brilliance amidst the chaos of his first few years. Regardless, the postscript is well known by now: RG3’s career accomplishments, no matter how well he performed this year, remain to be seen, while Eli, the formerly befuddled rookie, has two Super Bowl MVP trophies and is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame.
When asked about Brown”s chances of winning during pre-game warm-ups, this was a night in which I honestly said, “There is a better chance of me shitting gold tonight. I”m just hoping they can score 50.” And then later, with 1:32 remaining and a 67-60 Friars lead, “Great effort tonight, but one day, they have to figure out how to win one of these.” Then something miraculous happened.
Well, several miraculous things in succession actually. The Bears threw away an inbounds pass and Providence took over, up 7 with less than 90 seconds to go. Brown, as they did so many times on this night, dug in and forced a tough shot that missed. Rafael Maia, one of Brown”s two frontcourt rookies, grabbed his 11th rebound and pushed the ball up the floor. The ball found its way to Tucker Halpern who ripped a pass across the court to Sean McGonagill who nailed a three to cut the deficit to 4. Had to have that one.
The opposite of deep is shallow, so understand that I am not suggesting that the gentlemen in Providence are materialistic, dull or anything of that ilk when I call this year”s version of the Brown Bears, the Shallow Bears. But rarely in college basketball have we seen the kind of bad luck that has resulted in Brown only carrying 9 active players on its roster this season. In contrast, here are the roster sizes around the league:
Harvard: 13 players
Dartmouth: 15 players
Penn: 15 players
Yale: 15 players
Columbia: 18 players
Cornell: 20 players
So Brown, thanks to many, many injuries, is playing with about 40% fewer players than the average Ivy team. In another league, the Bears might be able to get away with this if they were lucky enough to stay healthy. But with the punishing back-to-back contests of the Ancient 8, a deep bench that can spell your starters for 15 minutes on Saturday night is a near-necessity.
Long ago in a black and white world, in a time before LEDs, LCDs, flat screens and the electronic mugging that is pay-per-view, big time heavyweight boxing was routinely broadcast on network television. In November 1982, Howard Cosell was the announcer for the mercilessly one-sided match between Larry Holmes and his opponent, Randy “Tex” Cobb of Philadelphia. As Cobb’s blood spattered across the screen in front of millions of Americans that night, I thought I heard Cosell utter, “Oh, this is…it’s just…it’s ‘brutilation.’”
Brutilaton. A classic Cosell malapropism which I think means both brutal and mutilation. (Following the bout, Cosell was so horrified by the fight that he retired from broadcasting boxing permanently.)
After watching the Quakers bludgeon their way to yet another loss against an uncharacteristically poor Villanova squad, I thought of Cosell’s manufactured word. It was indeed
brutilation. They brutalized the Wildcats while mutilating the game. It didn’t even look like basketball. (The cheesy smugness of the announcers didn’t help either. “Well Ross, this game has taken almost as long as one in the NFL, two hours and thirty two minutes. I’m gonna miss my train.”) Another painful contest in which my beloved Quakers struggled mightily with field goal percentage, poor defense, turnovers and, of course, fouls. Penn is now in the top five nationally in committing fouls. They almost beg the opposition to don suits of armor before taking the court. (However, Henry “The Hatchet Man” Brooks somehow made it through Saturday evening’s contestwithout his usual DQ. I suppose during a season like this, one must be thankful for the little things.) Worse still, with Fran Dougherty the sole shining light in this awkward and ungainly season effectively neutralized over the last few games, no one has stepped up to fill the yawning scoring vacuum. The entire team plays but no one scores. There are obviously big problems everywhere and I’m exhausted just thinking about them, so where are we now that Ivy play is less than one month away?
While it may be tough to see in terms of results, especially after today”s eight point loss to New Hampshire, this young Yale Bulldogs team is making progress. So far, the biggest problem has been getting good shots and taking care of the ball. The Bulldogs rank near the bottom of Division I in shooting percentage and turnover rate. Today”s loss was a perfect example: 1-14 shooting from three (7%) and 18 turnovers.
The reason for the low shooting percentage has simply been a lack of dangerous offensive weapons. Opponents have keyed on Austin Morgan and have kept him mostly quiet. Other than Justin Sears, no one has demonstrated the ability to score. And Coach James Jones sure has given everyone a chance. Besides Morgan, there isn”t a player on this roster playing more than 60% of the team”s minutes. Yale has been going with the old 11 man rotation.
Through five games, Dartmouth is about where most observers pegged them to be record-wise. For the first time since 2004, the Big Green won its home opener, defeating Maine 67-54 on Nov. 10 before suffering a three-game losing streak, including a pair of double-digit losses to New Hampshire and Bucknell. The UNH loss was particularly demoralizing as Dartmouth shot just 16-of-60 (27%) from the floor while allowing 44 free throws at home on Nov. 13. While that loss was the low point of the young season, the last two games have hinted at the potential — both good and bad — that Dartmouth could bring to the table come Ivy League play.
After a wild and often depressing week in which the three league favorites looked downright flawed, I figured it was time to put together the first IHO Power Poll of the season and try to sort this situation out. Let”s get one thing straight: all eight teams have problems right now. If league play started tomorrow, there”s not a single result that could take place that would truly shock me. Dartmouth over Harvard? It could happen. Brown over Princeton? A hot shooting night for the Bears and it”s a wrap. I”m not trying to suggest that the league is upside-down, because it”s not. It”s just a very weak year at the top and in the middle, so we”re probably going to see some of the lower teams steal some games. As far as postseason aspirations go, that”s not a good thing, but for fans of the 14-game tournament, it should make for a lot of exciting basketball. Let”s get to the rankings:
1. Harvard (2-3)– The defending champions haven”t done much to deserve this top spot, but hey, neither has anyone else, so it belongs to the Crimson for at least another week. Vermont exposed Harvard”s defense, making the extra pass to get open looks inside and using simple screens to get open looks from deep. Over and over again. When it was all said and done, Harvard had allowed 85 points on 60% shooting. Rotations were too slow, closeouts were late, and the rest of the league received a nice blueprint for how to beat this young Crimson squad. On the plus side, Amaker still has a lot of time to get his guys ready for the games that count, and Siyani Chambers has proven himself to be a stud at point guard. Saunders has been impressive and Rivard continues to fire away from range (46%). They”re going to be okay– and this year, that might be enough.
I’m going to be blunt. Cornell is struggling. A 23-point home loss to Stony Brook will make people say that. The Seahawks’ 23-point victory marked the first 20 point defeat for Cornell at Newman Arena since falling to Georgia Tech by 21 points on November 23, 2003. Stony Brook may not be the eventual national runner-ups like Georgia Tech was in 2003-2004, but they were good enough to expose many of the Big Red”s deficiencies. This game was more than Cornell going cold from the field at the same time that Stony Brook was heating up. It was a game where statistical tendencies took over. It didn’t start like that though. From the tip, it looked like Cornell may have turned a corner. Two consecutive wins in Vegas, ten strong opening minutes against a good Stony Brook team. It was 19-19 and Cornell’s ball movement looked much improved. The Red was taking high percentage shots,
shooting 54.5% from the field. Then at the 9:48 mark in the first half, everything changed. The disparity between an efficient defense and a flawed offense became apparent. Losing by 23 at home to a team Cornell historically
has had success against should raise eyebrows, but it’s something I wouldn’t be all too concerned with.
(In the interest of completing our Season Preview series, please forgive the serious tardiness of this final entry…)
In 2011-12: 20-12, 10-4, 3rd place
A Look Back: Princeton had an up and down non-conference slate in “11-“12, falling to the likes of Morehead State, Elon, and Siena while knocking off teams like Buffalo, Rutgers, and Florida State–nipping the Seminoles in a 3OT instant classic in which Ian Hummer had a monster 25 points and 15 rebounds. By the time the Ivy season rolled around, it seemed as if Princeton was coming into form.
But the Tigers dropped three of their first five conference games (all of which were on the road): at Cornell, at Penn, and at Yale, to quickly fall out of the title race. But Hummer and Co. really got rolling over the second half of the conference season, dealing Harvard its first loss at Jadwin in February and reeling off a sweep of Columbia and Cornell at home to move to 6-3 and set up a season-saving opportunity at Lavietes. It was not to be though, as Harvard overcame a ten-point deficit to even the season series at one. Effectively eliminated, the Tigers played their best ball of the season down the stretch, winning their last four, including a convincing victory over archrival Penn to deny them a piece of the Ivy crown. Hummer recorded a double-double with 18 and 10 and the Tigers earned a berth in the CBI. Princeton hung 95 on Evansville in Round 1 behind a career-high 31 from Doug Davis on sizzling 9-11 (5-6 from three) shooting. Princeton”s season, though, ended in the Tigers” next game at Pittsburgh.