It really wasn’t that long ago that Cornell Basketball could be uttered with sincerity in the same sentence as the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Michigan State. Now, just four short years later, Cornell comparisons have fallen to the company of Grambling State, Southern Utah, and Lamar. Of course, that’s what happens when you go from the Sweet Sixteen to a 1-13 non conference record faster than you can say Wroblewski or Chemerinski.
I write it again because it’s stark. 1-13, what do you do with that? In theory, it’s simple. You change.
1999. It’s been fifteen years since Dartmouth finished Ivy League play with more wins than losses. Under head coach Dave Faucher, last millenium’s final incarnation of the Big Green went 10-4 to finish three games back of a title and in a respectable third place. In the decade and a half since then, the Big Green have finished at 7-7 twice but have not reached the promised land of a winning record. With Ivy teams four through seven currently separated by less than 40 teams in the Pomeroy rankings, some have suggested that the boys of Hanover may have a shot to improve on last year’s 5-9 finish and break the 15-year streak of futility.
Looking at their results so far this year though, you may be inclined to think this is the same old Dartmouth of years past. In their seven wins, the Big Green have yet to beat a team in the top 85% of Division I, racking up victories over five sub-300 squads and two D-III outfits. But credit Dartmouth- the team has not fallen into the common trap of playing down to the competition; the young troops have gone out and beaten all seven of those weak teams by double-digits. Against its strongest opponents, Dartmouth has stayed competitive on the road, taking Illinois to the wire in Champaign behind a barrage of late-game three-pointers and playing Harvard even for a half in Allston.
So far though, the Bulldogs have been a disappointment. At 6-8, Yale’s best win is on the road at Hartford, a five point victory against the country’s 263rd best team according to Pomeroy. Opportunities for BCS wins were squandered at Rutgers and at Providence; stinkers were laid against average squads such as Bryant and Albany. So what’s going on? What’s keeping this Yale team from being as good as it should be?
With a performance worthy of praise from even the most ardent Tiger fans, the Penn Quakers outlasted Princeton last night at The Palestra, 77-74, vaulting themselves into a tie for first place in the Ivy League in the process. Good for you, AQ. And good for you, Jerome Allen. The Penn faithful should cease calling for your job… at least for a while.
The Quakers established clear dominance inside right from the start, feeding Darien Nelson-Henry and Fran Dougherty again and again for relatively easy baskets. An early foul by Hans Brase sent him to the bench in favor of Pete Miller, who quickly drew two more, sending the coaching staff to their drawing boards. Penn continued to have its way through most of the first half, helped by the Tigers’ inability to convert their bread-and-butter three point shots.
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not comment on Saturday night’s game.
The Penn-Princeton rivalry is, and always has been, special. In fact, as I recall our games at both the Palestra and that drafty, geodesic aircraft hanger in New Jersey, my ears still ring. Saturday’s contest was indeed no exception in our shared history as the Quakers finally showed a flash of the kind of team that everyone (including me) thought they could, would, and should be. The Tigers are a decent team (I stop short of classifying them as “a good team” because, after all, it’s the Tigers), and Penn, along with the much-vilified Jerome Allen, should be congratulated for taking them down in exciting fashion. The Red & Blue somehow managed to do everything they hadn’t done during most of their brutal and disappointing non-conference schedule, namely: rebound (42-25), defend, and play a full 40 minutes of hoops. Still, they almost gave the game away by once again beating themselves with costly fouls and turnovers. Their bench play was also better but, in general, remained mostly invisible. Princeton, for their part, happened to have an off night from the three point line, a usual strength of their team, thus validating the axiom, “live by the three, die by the three.” Tonight, they died. [Ed. note: This is what’s possible when you shoot over half of your attempts from behind the arc– 50.7%, the highest percentage in the country– you are bound to have off nights like that.]
Coming off of a 50-point first-half and an impressive 81-61 win against St. Francis (NY), Columbia needed to accept that not everything that worked against the Terriers would work against the Seawolves. It was a good thing that last night was the Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo show at Levien.
Stony Brook was led by a 20-point effort from their big man, Jameel Warney, but it wasn’t enough to overcome two heroic efforts from Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, who both posted career-highs – 24 pts and 29 pts, respectively.
Entering their final non-conference game against Stony Brook (KenPom #113) tonight, Kyle Smith’s Columbia Lions are generating some serious buzz. After a heartbreaking defeat against Manhattan and a hard fought loss to then-#2 Michigan State, the Lions are 8-4 over their last 12 games. Coach Smith is settling on his eight-man rotation, and these young Lions are looking like a team that can contend at the top of the league. The unanswered question remains; is this the same Columbia team from last season that looked strong entering conference play, but then limped to a 4-10 conference finish, or is this a different pride of lions?
The biggest question entering this season was how the Columbia guards would fill the void left by Brian Barbour and limit turnovers. Although the Lions turn the ball over on 19.4% of their possessions (226th in the country), the turnovers aren’t killing Columbia, and are simply a product of Smith’s unconventional, high-risk, high-reward offense.
Princeton turned in a gritty performance on New Year’s Eve against the Golden Flashes of Kent State at Jadwin Gymnasium. Despite squandering a 15-point lead to trail by one inside the final minute, the Tigers held on 73-68 to run its surprising season record to 10-2. Kent State slipped to a respectable 9-4.
The Tigers won the game at the free throw line, making 29 of 40 while the Flashes managed just 14 of 22. Princeton enjoyed its greatest number of trips to the charity stripe in nine years.
Will Barrett led four Tigers in double-figures with 19, including 4 of 8 from behind the arc. Hans Brase (15 points to go with a team-high 9 rebounds), Ben Hazel (13) and TJ Bray (11) rounded out the Tigers’ balanced offensive display. Bray’s 5 assists moved him into sixth place on the Princeton career list, just nine behind Coach Henderson.
The teams were evenly matched in almost every statistical category other besides free throws. For the first time this season, Princeton was outscored from three point range in a game the Tigers won. Henderson was visibly relieved to survive a tough game in which his team was arguably outplayed at home. Neither team made a field goal in the final 4 minutes, but Princeton kept the Golden Flashes at bay by making the most of its numerous FT chances down the stretch. Henderson got ten players on the floor for significant minutes, a big factor in keeping his key players out of foul trouble.
Next up is a Saturday visit to Lynchburg, VA for an afternoon contest against the Liberty Flames, the final non-conference game for the Tigers before the Ivy opener at the Palestra on January 11.
As the calendar year winds to a close, let’s look back at some of the most exciting Ivy League basketball finishes in 2013.
February 2, 2013: Cornell over Penn, 71-69. Galal Cancer’s bank shot in the closing seconds lifted the Big Red to a big win in the Palestra.
February 2, 2013: Harvard over Brown, 89-82 2OT. On that same night, Harvard battled Brown through two thrilling overtimes at Lavietes. In regulation, Sean McGonagill’s jump shot with one second left completed a seven point comeback in the final 1:57. In the first OT, Steven Albrecht’s trey sent the game to a second extra period with just :20 on the clock. The Crimson grabbed the W behind Wes Saunders and Christian Webster’s efforts in the second OT.
March 8, 2013: Penn over Brown, 66-64. In a bizarre finish after Penn rallied from six down with two minutes left, Brown had a foul to give with 1.1 seconds left in a tie game. Steve Albrecht fouled Miles Cartwright immediately on receiving the inbounds, but Cartwright managed to draw the shooting foul by chucking the ball at the hoop. He sunk two of three with :00.7 on the clock to win it for Penn.
November 22, 2013: Siena over Cornell, 71-70. Up 10 with 3:54 to go, Bill Courtney picked up a technical foul and Siena went on a 10-1 run, completing their comeback with 6.5 seconds to play on a putback. Tarwater’s three missed at the buzzer as Cornell’s winless streak dragged on.
5. November 12, 2013: Manhattan over Columbia, 71-70.
Game Reset: The Lions led their NYC rival 70-67 as the clock dwindled under 10 seconds. Michael Alvarado’s pump fake got Maodo Lo in the air, earning the Jaspers three shots at the stripe with :4.0 to go. Alvarado’s first missed. His second was good. His third shot drew the back iron, and fell toward the left block. Emmy Andujar grabbed it and missed long on the putback, but George Beamon was on the weak side and his follow-up banked home as the buzzer and whistle sounded. Though it took some sorting out in the chaos, Beamon had tied the game while being fouled right at the buzzer. The officials put 0.5 seconds back on the clock, and Beamon stepped to the stripe and calmly drained the free throw for a 71-70 lead. Columbia’s desperation alley-oop to Luke Petrasek just missed and Manhattan escaped Levien with an unlikely victory.
There seem to be a few clear divisions within the league after six weeks of hoops. Princeton and Harvard has been the thrilling Ivy narrative thus far, with both teams on torrid runs to start the season. Many thought this would be a runaway title for the Crimson, but it’s great for Ivy supporters to see a second team step up the way the Tigers have. It certainly makes for an exciting conference slate (circle Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 on your calendars, folks).
There’s another tight battle going on in the middle of the league though, as Brown, Columbia, and Yale jockey for that 3rd position in the Ivy. This year, with up to six teams looking at the possibility of an over-.500 record, there will be something to play for below the title chase. Those middle-of-the-league contests promise to be pretty exciting as teams play for postseason berths in the NIT, CBI, and CIT.
Dartmouth and Penn have been slotted in the sixth and seventh slots, two teams that appear to be going in opposite directions.
And then there is Cornell, a team that is historically bad to the point that the 0-10 Tiny Red are owners of the worst defense in all of the 351-team Division I universe, conceding 1.198 points per possession, a far cry from the D-I average of 1.035 ppp.