In the Ivy League, where at-large postseason bids are pretty hard to come by, the non-conference season is often treated as a warm-up lap, a series of exhibitions dedicated to getting the kinks out and teaching players the system. When January rolls around and the league slate begins, the fourteen-game tournament brings with it a whole new level of intensity. Since that’s the way it is in our corner of the college basketball landscape, there is absolutely nothing more debilitating and frustrating than a serious injury in November or December. For Columbia, that nightmare scenario came to fruition in the late stages of a loss to the Furman Paladins.
Brown, Sean McGonagill: The Bears’ sophomore point guard picked up where he left off last season with an impressive 20 point (7-12 shooting), 10 assist performance in a 86-66 victory against D-III Johnson & Wales.
Columbia, Blaise Staab: Staab came out of nowhere to be the bright spot for Columbia on a night when Agho and Barbour couldn’t finish at the rim. Staab, who played a grand total of 70 minutes in his first three years in New York, finished with a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and looked comfortable mixing it up with the nation’s best in Storrs, CT during the Lions’ respectable 70-57 loss.
Penn, Zack Rosen: Rosen had a monster night for the Quakers, tallying 26 points on 10-16 shooting, including 4-6 from range. The Quakers put UMBC away early in the second half behind some shutdown defense en route to a 59-45 triumph.
Yale, Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite: The Bulldogs held off a late charge from CCSU to win their opener 73-69 behind 23 points and 13 rebounds from their senior star, Mangano. Captain Reggie Willhite also had a big night, dropping in 21 and adding six steals and six boards.
These are scenes from UConn and Columbia’s respective attempts at Midnight Madness. In front of 16,000 fans in the XL Center there’s Andre Drummond, the No. 1 recruit in the country according to ESPN.com and likely next year’s top pick in the NBA Draft, with a ridiculous windmill alley-oop off a pass off the backboard from last year’s Illinois Mr. Basketball Ryan Boatwright. In a basement on 118th street, there’s Wushu.
It’s fair to say there’s more excitement surrounding this UConn team than there is for Columbia. But here at Ivy Hoops Online, we’re most excited to see how one of our own can fare against the defending national champions. On paper, the Lions are in deep trouble. UConn is a consensus top-10 team, favored to win the Big East. They’re led by preseason All-American guard Jeremy Lamb, feature two more starters in the Naismith Watch List’s top 50 players (Alex Oriakhi and Drummond), and have one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Here’s the case for Columbia: the Lions return most of their key players including the incumbent Ivy League scoring champion Noruwa Agho (the only player on either team on his conference’s first team last year). Four of the team’s top five scorers come back. Coach Smith’s squad will have much greater continuity from last season than Coach Calhoun’s. In the recent past, Columbia has been able to keep it respectable against the top teams in the country. Their last game against a top-10 saw the Lions within nine points of Syracuse at the half before losing 85-60 back in 2009. Before that, they lost by single digits to Notre Dame in ’05 and UCLA in ’01.
The Ivy League has a broad fan base scattered all over the country. With that in mind, we created the lists below for fans looking to catch a piece of live action this season.
The following is a composite Ivy League schedule of every basketball game involving an Ivy League team within approximately 90 minutes of NYC, Philly, Boston, Syracuse, and Los Angeles.
Without further ado, I present the official IvyHoopsOnline preseason predictions for the 2011-2012 season.
The good news for Columbia is that they return a proven backcourt duo in Noruwa Agho and Brian Barbour. The pair made for a dangerous tag-team last year, dominating foes that allowed them to get to the rim and take high percentage shots. The Lions lived and died by Agho and Barbour, as the pair accounted for 47.9 percent of Columbia’s points during the conference season. Despite this backcourt dependence, Columbia could very easily have finished last year in the top half if they had held on to late-season leads at Princeton and against Yale. In games where the Lions weren’t outmanned in the frontcourt, they performed extremely well, pulling out sweeps of Cornell and Dartmouth, and splits with Penn and Brown. It all starts with the two guards though, and there’s no reason to think that this season will be very different.
In Agho, Columbia has a true scorer. As much as some critics disparaged his efficiency numbers last year (and the All-Ivy First Team selection certainly did take his fair share of shots), Agho shouldered a bigger load than any other player in the league because the Lions lacked another consistent scoring option on the wing or down low. With little help surrounding him, Agho coasted to the conference scoring title. Meanwhile, Barbour quickly emerged as one of the league’s best point guards, posting the conference’s second-best offensive efficiency numbers behind Harvard’s Oliver McNally. First-year coach Kyle Smith leaned heavily on his young point guard, as Barbour played the third-greatest share of minutes for his team of anyone in the Ivy at 86.9 percent (Agho was fourth at 85.5 percent).
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.”
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.
Rivals.com (Yahoo Sports) ranked the Ivy League 20th in their countdown of college basketball”s 32 conferences. The first half of the article consists of the usual praise for Cornell and Princeton”s recent postseason performance. The author, David Fox, seems to suggest that Harvard, this year”s prohibitive favorite, may have a different competitor to deal with at the top of the standings with Princeton losing Maddox and Mavraides. He cites Penn and Yale as the two squads with which the Crimson may have to contend, while suggesting Brown may make a leap from the bottom behind the youth movement led by McGonagill and Rafael Maia.
The rankings below the article though, at times, seem to be disconnected from the analysis. Princeton is left in the #2 spot, ahead of Penn and Yale even though Fox claimed Harvard would have different competition for the title. Additionally, Ian Hummer is given a spot on the league”s second team. If Hummer carries the Tigers to a second place finish this year after losing Maddox and Mavraides, I have to like his chances to make the first team.
The projected standings also show Brown staying put in the #7 slot despite the aforementioned praise and the prediction that Maia will be the league”s Rookie of the Year. While there are certainly minutes for Maia in the Bears” frontcourt that other freshmen may not see, a ROY season combined with last year”s ROY in the backcourt in McGonagill as well as All-Ivy Honorable Mention Tucker Halpern on the wing, who shot 40% from distance last year, and it seems like the Bears should be able to finish higher than 7th.
Other choices that deserve further examination include “Best frontcourt: Harvard,” which could also have been awarded to the Yale Bulldogs with the duo of Mangano and Kreisberg (with freshmen Sherrod and Childs-Klein coming off the bench). Best backcourt was given to Penn, though Brandyn Curry, Christian Webster, Oliver McNally, and Laurent Rivard may have something to say about that up in Cambridge.
Interestingly, in the “Coach on the hot seat” category, Rivals chose “None.” But if, as they predicted, the Bears fail to move up from the bottom this year, you have to think that things are going to get uncomfortably warm for Coach Agel in Providence.
I recently read a great statistical preview of the upcoming season on . Definitely check it out for an interesting read. Essentially, using some Pomeroy-level formulas, which I am going to take at face-value, the mastermind behind T14GT generated some very intriguing numbers and projections based on player-level and team-level statistics from past seasons. The resulting formulas generated the following projected win totals for 2011-2012:
“1. Harvard – 12.0
2. Yale – 8.5
3. Princeton – 8.4
4. Penn – 6.8
5. Cornell – 6.3
6. Columbia – 5.6
7. Brown – 5.5
8. Dartmouth – 2.8″
My initial reaction to these standings is that the order seems to generally fall in line with how I see this season proceeding. Nevertheless, I wanted to chime in with some quick thoughts on the projections and where I see things playing out differently since it”s tough to quantify the impact that a great recruiting class or a departing coach might have on a team. I”ll take the above projections to be each team”s season win total over/under and go team-by-team with my picks.
Harvard- 12.0 wins (IHO says: right on) Harvard is everyone”s runaway favorite and rightfully so, given that they return everyone and add the league”s best recruiting class. Not much to argue with there.
Yale- 8.5 wins (IHO says: over) This Yale team is set to turn some heads this year. I was excited to see the projections backing up what I”ve seen on the court; this team may be the only squad capable of taking down the Crimson this year. We saw last year how evenly these teams matched up and how seriously they take the rivalry in two classic battles. Both home teams narrowly prevailed in “10-“11 and we can expect the same type of thrilling contests this year, as Yale has added some serious height in their incoming freshman class (6″11″ Will Childs-Klein, 6″7″ Matt Townsend, and 6″ 7” name-of-the-year candidate Armani Cotton) to back up Mangano and Kreisberg. This year though, if we”re lucky, the winner of The (Basketball) Game may also determine the league champion.
Princeton- 8.4 wins (IHO says: under) Princeton clocks in with between 8 and 9 wins in this projection, good for third in the league, I don”t see them putting it all together that quickly. Losing Mavraides and Maddox is a big blow for the defending champs, but losing a head coach is devastating. It takes more than a summer for a head coach to lay down his system, and I just can”t see the Tigers responding this quickly with a top 2 or 3 finish. Not saying it”s impossible, but in a league that relies heavily on good coaching and scheming, it would be a remarkable accomplishment for Princeton to compete for a league title again this year. I have them landing in the middle of the pack with a .500 record.
Penn- 6.8 wins (IHO says: over) Penn is a team with a void to fill with the departure of Jack Eggleston. Despite that, the trio of Miles Cartwright, Zack Rosen, and Tyler Bernardini will see how far they can lead this year”s Penn team. Those three players combine to make up as good a backcourt as you”ll find in the Ivy League this year, but they can”t do it alone. It”ll be very interesting to see how quickly Penn can bring their front-court up to speed. The Quakers might be able to get away with their lack of depth on the offensive end, but established big men like Mangano and Wright are surely licking their chops looking at the freshmen and bench players they”ll be matched up with against Penn. Still, IHO thinks the terrific trio of guards will be enough to take down the bottom half of the league and steal a game or two against the big boys.
Cornell- 6.3 wins (IHO says: under) Chris Wroblewski put the Big Red on his back last year, shooting the lights out and leading Cornell to a respectable finish in the middle of the pack, one year removed from the team”s legendary Sweet 16 run. Consider that Cornell had an unbelievable 13 players make at least one start last year, and you”ll realize that this is a team that is still figuring out its identity. We know they can shoot the ball, but there are too many question marks to think they can contend with the top echelon this year. IHO wants to see how the Big Red freshman class fares in non-conference play before committing to a number, but for now, we think Cornell has a lot to prove.
Columbia- 5.6 wins (IHO says: under) As is often the case in this league, the lack of an effective big man presence inside will leave Columbia relying on their guard play. Last year, Noruwa Agho proved himself as one of the league”s most explosive scorers–though T14GT recently put forth a compelling argument that he may be the . Brian Barbour”s quickness on the ball will be helpful and his 2:1 assist to turnover ratio is impressive, but it won”t result in many points unless the Lions have added a few knockdown shooters. Last year, Columbia finished dead last in 2-point shooting and 3-point shooting. Besides that, over 72% of their shots last year came from Agho, Ampim and Brian Grimes. Agho found a way to score–albeit by putting up a lot of shots, but Ampim and Grimes clocked in far below average on KenPom”s Offensive Efficiency index. It”s simple: the Lions will need to find a way to get better shots and knock them down if they want to improve upon last year”s finish.
Brown- 5.5 wins (IHO says: over) It might surprise some people, but there”s a lot to be excited about in Providence. The Bears return Rookie of the Year point guard Sean McGonagill who will most likely start alongside transfer Steve Albrecht, who sat out last year after an impressive freshman campaign at Toledo. The Bears also return Tucker Halpern on the wing who showed signs of brilliance last year, including a 29 point performance in a near-upset of Harvard last year. Dockery Walker returns from a great freshman campaign in which he proved he was capable of being a much-needed inside presence, an energy guy, and a monster on the defensive boards. With the addition of a solid freshman class, including Brazilian center 6″9″ Rafael Maia, the Bears have the ability to make the jump into the top half for the first time since the days of Mullery.
Dartmouth- 2.8 wins (IHO says: under) The Big Green have only won two games in the past two years, and they didn”t have a single player average double figures in points per game. That being said, they return Jabari Trotter who shot the ball over 40% from deep last season, as well as R.J. Griffin who put up 20 against Harvard last season. The Big Green will be counting on a solid class of freshmen to step in and contribute immediately if they want to be competitive in the league this year. Their top priority this offseason should be holding onto the ball–Dartmouth doesn”t return a single player with an assist-to-turnover ratio over 1.