Saturday”s league contests had Ivy fans expecting two very close games between traveling partners. Instead, we got
two pretty decisive victories from Columbia and Brown. The Lions” victory provided more evidence that Columbia is a real contender this year. If they want to compete for the title, this was a road game they needed to have. Meanwhile the day”s biggest statement came from Brown. The Bears” victory wasn”t necessarily unexpected, but the way they routed Yale was certainly a surprise. For such a balanced team with many different ways to put the ball in the bucket, it”s worth noting that the Bears now boast the third-best defense in the league, yielding fewer than 1 point per possession. With Albrecht back now, perhaps we have to raise the ceiling for the quickly-improving Bears: reaching the top half seems to be within the realm of possibilities.
Cornell and Yale will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out a way to salvage a split with their traveling partners after disappointing opening weekends–Cornell with an eye on fixing the defense, and for Yale, the offense.
In some of the season”s final non-conference action, Harvard had a stirring comeback that fell short in Memphis and Penn was dismantled by St. Joe”s in a Big 5 matchup. Let”s take a look at this weekend”s top performers:
To be successful in this league you have to play consistent basketball: 40 minutes, 14 games at the same high level. Emerging from a long weekend 0-2 could be the difference in two-to-three spots in the final standings. High highs and low lows just don’t work in a league without a conference tournament.
Consistency will be of foremost importance for Cornell because the Red have been everything but over
its 17 non-conference games. This team’s failure to string together 40 consistent minutes and struggles against fellow mid-majors have led some to re-evaluate it from a dark horse title contender to a bottom half finisher.
While certainly a fair assessment based on the non-conference eye-test, it’s hard to count out the Red just yet. Cornell is certainly offensively challenged. What the Red have going for itself is its style of play. At times, Cornell looked too fast for its own good, but the positives of successfully playing fast in the Ivy League cannot be ignored. Bill Courtney’s up tempo, run for 40-minutes style of basketball is different from just about everyone else in the league. Cornell manufactures almost 3% more possessions per game than Penn, the second fastest tempo in the league, and over 7% more possessions per game than the Ivy League average. Defensively, Cornell has the size, speed, and athleticism to force teams who like to play 60-65 possessions per game to shoot up above 70. Opponents will try to slow Cornell down and force the Red to execute a half court offense, but I’m of the mindset that it’s easier to speed a team up than slow it down. Rushed basketball leads to bad shots and forced turnovers, especially on the second night of a back-to-back Ivy weekend.
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.
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.
The opening two nights of the college basketball season gave Ivy hoops fans a lot to celebrate. On Friday night, Harvard got the kinks out against a solid D-III squad in MIT and Penn mounted the greatest comeback in program history (!) to knock off UMBC at the Palestra.
On Saturday, the League kept rolling, as Cornell got great production from their guards, beating Western Michigan 80-75, and Princeton won a tight one on the road thanks to some late-game heroics, 57-53 over Buffalo. Yale came out firing against Sacred Heart in a late-afternoon matinee in West Hartford, and looked like they would
cruise to an early victory, but the Pioneers stormed back to force OT and dealt the Bulldogs a painful defeat, 85-82.
In the nightcap, Dartmouth won their first season opener since 2005, slowly pulling away from Maine in the second half at Leede Arena, 67-54, while
Columbia annihilated Furman in South Carolina, 68-47, behind a backcourt barrage. Here are the weekend”s best performances:
Two steps removed from the historic Sweet 16 team and the first season that Bill Courtney had his own recruits to work with, the 2011-2012 campaign served as a building block for Courtney and his program. A 5-9 non-conference record coupled with 7-7 in Ivy play defines
the word mediocrity, but did so in a way that provides promise for the future. An overtime win over future NCAA Tournament darlings, Lehigh, looks a lot better now than it did in early December. Near misses on the road against BCS foes, Illinois, Penn State, and Maryland showed the potential this team had. Road woes and inconsistent play kept the Red out of the league’s top half, but a win over Princeton and a thrilling overtime defeat of Yale showed what this team is at its best. Returning a decorated freshman class, including the league’s rookie of the year will allow Cornell to keep building. What won’t be easy to replicate is the production and leadership of Cornell’s starting backcourt. Drew Ferry led the league in three point shooting and Chris Wroblewski departs East Hill as the school’s all-time assist leader.
Best (Share of) Title Clincher: While Harvard rode its big men on the block to a close victory on Friday, it was the Crimson”s perimeter play that won the game on Saturday at Cornell. Harvard shot 12-26 from three, led by four second-half triples from Brandyn Curry. Up 12 with eight minutes to play, it looked like the Crimson would be able to coast to a share of the conference title, but Cornell made a late 16-6 run behind Chris Wroblewski that got the Red within two at 57-55. Wroblewski missed a tough layup with 3:20 left though, and Cornell only managed two stops the rest of the way as Harvard got nine straight points from Oliver McNally to finish off the game (including another impressive 4-4 performance at the line). McNally led the Crimson with 17 and Curry added 12. Kyle Casey pitched in with 11, while Keith Wright had 8 points and 11 rebounds. For Cornell, Wroblewski had a great night in his finale at Newman, finishing with 19 points and 7 assists in the upset bid. Galal Cancer looked under control and more mature in his final game as a freshman, notching 8 points, 3 assists, and just 2 turnovers in 26 minutes against the league”s best defense. With the close victory, Harvard earns at least a share of the Ivy title. Crimson eyes will be glued to ESPN3 on Tuesday night as a Penn loss to Princeton will hand the Cantabs their first NCAA bid in 66 years. A Penn victory will force a playoff (most likely next Saturday at Yale from what we hear)
for the second straight year. Would Harvard”s 26-5 at-large profile with five Top 100 wins be enough to garner an at-large bid if Penn wins the playoff? The Crimson would prefer not to find out.
A truly dramatic Friday night in the Ivy League ended with all the favorites pulling out victories.
Best Game: We were treated to a classic Ivy battle at Levien Gymnasium last night as Harvard prevailed 77-70 over Columbia in overtime. A packed gym that included Jeremy Lin and Spike Lee created a raucous atmosphere for a contest with massive title implications and the Crimson and Lions did not disappoint. Harvard jumped out to an early ten-point lead behind easy inside scores from Keith Wright and Kyle Casey. Late in the first half, Columbia settled down and started taking away the inside pass, creating turnovers that helped the Lions get back in the game. Freshmen Alex Rosenberg and Cory Osetkowski combined for 12 critical first-half points to bring the Lions within 34-30 at the half.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair as Harvard alternated between the block and the perimeter, showing their versatility. Columbia countered with Brian Barbour, who solidified his spot on the All-Ivy First Team with a jawdropping performance down the stretch against the League”s best backcourt defender in Brandyn Curry. Time after time, Barbour managed to penetrate, get to the bucket and finish from tough angles at the rim.
With four minutes to go, Harvard led 59-53. With Columbia on the ropes and needing a bucket, Harvard forced the Lions into a long possession. As the shot clock wound down, Cisco kicked the ball to the top of the key to Cory Osetkowski, the 6″10″ big man who had yet to hit a three all year. Osetkowski banked home the critical trey ball and Levien erupted. Columbia
added a Barbour jumper on its next trip down the floor before Brandyn Curry nailed a three to push the lead back to four with less than two minutes remaining. Columbia got it down to two and got the ball back after a Wright travel, and Barbour found a way to tie the game with another shifty drive. Harvard held for the final shot, but McNally”s three didn”t fall.
In overtime, the teams traded defensive stops for three minutes before Laurent Rivard and Kyle Casey hit two dagger threes that gave Harvard an advantage that they wouldn”t relinquish. The result was a clutch, hard-fought victory for Harvard, drawing them within one win of another Ivy title, and yet another heartbreaking loss for Columbia. Harvard now faces Cornell. A win gives the Crimson at least a share of the league championship, while a win coupled with a Penn loss to Yale would give Harvard the outright title and the NCAA bid. Columbia will host Dartmouth on Senior Night.
Welcome to the ninth and final IHO Power Poll (based on games through 02/27/12). Please note that these rankings are based off of our best guesses of how the Ivy League picture will sort itself out. We always love to hear your gripes and whines in the comments below.
1. Harvard (10-2), (24-4)- Saturday’s loss to Penn was painful for the Crimson for a number of reasons—Senior Night, the home winning streak, the title implications—and it may grow even more so depending on the results of next week. In a matter of minutes, Harvard went from being assured of at least a share of the Ivy crown to potentially watching the NCAA Tournament from home. Credit Zack Rosen for carrying the Quaker squad, but the Crimson handed Penn the opportunity as a result of turnovers (11 in the first 12 minutes), mental errors (a length of the court layup with three seconds left in the first), and questionable personnel strategy (Corbin Miller on the court and Keith Wright riding pine). As nice as the win over Princeton was, the loss to the Quakers was far worse, and the specter of another traumatic conclusion is, for the first time, beginning to loom over Harvard’s dream season. -C. River Banks