Several weeks ago, I was inspired by The Ancient Quaker’s epic power poll. If the AQ can create a ranking of the Ivy basketball teams so detached from Planet Earth that Penn would come in at No. 1, why couldn’t I do the same?
Behold, then: a totally scientific and rational power poll, with just three weekends left in the season.
I will follow the guideline established by the AQ from his power rankings: “I’ve decided to rank the teams as I see them which of course has nothing to do with reality.”
Chaos reigns yet again in the Ivy League. At one point on Saturday night, Dartmouth and Penn led Princeton and Harvard by healthy margins. Princeton would fight back to win, 68-63 on Senior Night, moving to 9-2 in the conference. Harvard, on the other hand, was unable to dig itself out of a 16 point hole, and fell a game behind Princeton in the loss column when Christian Webster”s desperation three at the buzzer fell short. Meanwhile, Brown completed a surprising road sweep of the C”s when Tucker Halpern”s step back three at the buzzer splashed through the net to spoil Senior Night at a stunned Levien Gymnasium. In Ithaca, Yale”s victory over undermanned Cornell was the only ho-hum result of the night.
Tony Hicks is making a serious late push for Rookie of the Year. The award seemed completely wrapped up for Siyani Chambers a few weeks ago, but Hicks is averaging 23.8 ppg in his last four games, including 24 points in Saturday”s victory vs. Harvard. Hicks convincingly outplayed Chambers, who struggled to a 1-5 shooting, 7 turnover performance. Fellow freshman Darien Nelson-Henry was the other half of this superfrosh tandem, as the big man took advantage of Harvard”s size disadvantage, going for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Henry Brooks and Miles Cartwright also pitched in with 12 a piece for the Quakers, who had one of the wildest
up and down weekends imaginable, falling at home to Dartmouth before outplaying league-leading Harvard for the unconventional split.
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.
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.
At the start of last season, the Bears had plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Point guard Sean McGonagill was coming off a freshman season in which he was named Rookie of the Year, ranking 4th in the league with 5.4 assists per game and showing he could really fill up the stat sheet with a 39-point explosion against Columbia. Forward Tucker Halpern was primed for a breakout year, having earned an All-Ivy honorable mention as a sophomore after averaging around 12 and 5. McGonagill and Halpern were
also set to receive help in the middle from highly-touted 6-9 Brazilian newcomer Rafael Maia, who was expected to provide a much-needed defensive presence in the middle, as well as some scoring on the block.
Before the season even began, though, Brown caught some horrible breaks: Halpern went down with an illness that would keep him out all year, and Maia was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. With a decimated frontcourt, the Bears had to rely largely on McGonagill, combo guard Matt Sullivan, and sharpshooter Stephen Albrecht, a Toledo transfer, to carry the load offensively. The forward trio of Andrew McCarthy, Tyler Ponticelli, and Dockery Walker all had good stretches at times, but they couldn’t make up for the losses of Halpern and Maia, and Brown finished in second-to-last place in the Ivy League.
Best Clutch Defense: The Crimson pulled this one out thanks to a late-game stretch of lockdown defense. Between 8:17 and 2:02 remaining in the game, Harvard held Princeton scoreless, a stretch during which a 55-54 Tigers lead turned into 59-55 Crimson advantage (Harvard wasn”t exactly lighting it up late in this one either). The Cantabs went 8-8 from the line down the stretch to seal the victory. The scoring was provided by the big men on this night, as Kyle Casey went for 20 pts and 8 rbs, while Keith Wright pitched in with 12 pts and 6 rbs. Brandyn Curry gave Harvard a key second half spark and finished with 15 pts, 6 ast, and 0 turnovers. Oliver McNally also added 13 including going 6-6 from the line in the final eighteen seconds. For Princeton, the scoreless drought doomed the Tigers, who stopped getting the good looks that had been so plentiful in the first half. The ball stopped moving crisply and the shots were contested, and they just didn”t fall. Ian Hummer and Doug Davis each had 14 and Patrick Saunders had 12 points in a huge first half, but didn”t get any looks in the second half. With the loss, Princeton falls out of the Ivy title race. Meanwhile, Harvard”s home win streak moves to 28 and the Crimson can now turn its focus to Penn. Harvard can clinch at least a share of the Ivy title with a win tomorrow night.
Okay Brown fans, I have avoided this for too long. I tried to hold off writing about the Bears until there was something encouraging to say. It’s certainly been a tough opening month in Providence after boundless optimism ran wild this summer. This seemed like it would be the season Coach Jesse Agel’s squad turned the corner and challenged for the top half of the league with highly touted Brazilian recruit Rafael Maia taking over the frontcourt and a young, talented team growing a year older. With McGonagill commanding the point, sharpshooting Toledo transfer Stephen Albrecht finally getting on the court and knockdown shooter Matt Sullivan sharing minutes, the backcourt was supposed to be able to challenge anyone’s. Tucker Halpern was going to pick up exactly where he left off on the wing, looking to consistently replicate the 29 points he dropped on Harvard last year. Maia and Dockery Walker/Andrew McCarthy were going to fill up the paint with their length and bring a focus on defense back to the Pizzitola.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone the way Brown had hoped.
The Brown basketball team showed last year that it was talented enough to beat anyone in the league when it knocked off tournament-bound Princeton and held double-digit leads twice against co-champion Harvard. Harnessing that talent and executing a game plan for a full forty minutes is the next step for a young Bears squad that looks to leap into the top half this season. Brown is a dangerous offensive team with proven weapons in the backcourt and on the wing, not to mention the help arriving on the interior. Last year though, the Bears struggled on the defensive end, ranking last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 1.09 points per possession (adjusted for opponent). On several occasions, the Bears failed to generate stops in key situations, including a 46-point half surrendered to Harvard in a head-scratching game at Lavietes. This season, the Bears will look to buckle down and get serious about defending their bucket.
This is the third piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Brown Bears ended the year at 11-17 (4-10), finishing seventh in the conference.
Tucker Halpern clutched both sides of the plastic receptacle, head buried, stomach violently convulsing, while 1,532 people curiously looked on. A bad meal in Ithaca, besides being a great band name, was the culprit that had sent him fleeing off the foul line on this night, the last night of the season, at Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia. Several sick teammates looked on in their sweats from the bench, as the Bears were only able to dress eight players on this night. Columbia won the game in a rout, but the mass food poisoning was merely the final straw in a season that had once held serious promise. Injuries, missed opportunities, and finally bad meat did in the Bears during the 2010-2011 campaign, though some reasons for optimism can certainly be parsed from the wreckage of an otherwise forgettable 11-17 year.
The Bears opened last season on an encouraging note by knocking off Atlantic-10 foe, Fordham, in the Bronx. In fact, after getting blown out by in-state rival, URI, Brown won their next two games to move to 3-1 for the first time since the 2000-2001 season when the Bears went on to reach the NIT. The rest of the non-conference slate was filled with inconsistent performances as the young squad tried to put it all together. A couple of times they did, including an impressive road win at Maine against a Black Bears team that ended up finishing tied for third in the America East. All in all though, there were ominous signs early in the season as the team had trouble competing on the boards and in the paint. Remember, this was a young team adjusting to life in the post-Mullery era. The only upperclassmen who logged significant playing time all season were Peter Sullivan, who put the team on his remarkably broad shoulders too many times to count, Adrian Williams, the speedy shooter off the bench, and Garrett Leffelman, the streaky sniper who never really found the mark in his senior season.
So when freshman Dockery Walker came off the bench and provided some much-needed energy against American, it was a sign that the younger generation was ready to step up. Given the chance to play serious minutes for the first time, Walker made it count, pulling down 13 rebounds and adding 10 points for his first double-double in the loss. He followed that performace up with another double-double in a rout of Lyndon St.
One month later, it was Sean McGonagill’s turn to lead the youth movement. The freshman had been running the show admirably at the point guard position all year, garnering a Rookie of the Week award early in the season, but no one could have predicted what happened on February 4th, 2011 against Columbia. Two days earlier, McGonagill’s season looked like it may be in jeopardy after a violent collision in practice resulted in broken teeth and a destroyed lip, requiring surgery the next day. He was fitted for a mask, Rip Hamilton-style, on Friday morning, and marched onto the court Friday night against Columbia.
In what had to be the individual highlight of the season for the Bears, McGonagill put on a performance for the ages, setting or tying several Pizzitola Center records with a 39-point effort on 15-19 shooting. McGonagill scored a whopping 28 of those points in the second half, re-defining the phrase “in the zone,” and eventually leading Brown to a 87-79 triumph, their first of the conference season.
A week later, it looked like the Bears had started to turn the corner. They wiped their feet on chronic doormat Dartmouth, 75-66, and waltzed into Boston like the British taking Bunker Hill, outscoring Harvard 53-31 in the first half, shocking the home crowd at Lavietes into silence behind 63 percent shooting from the field. Alas, the Crimson defended their home court admirably in the second half of this battle, holding the Bears to 13 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and rattling off 46 of their own in that span to turn the game on its head and ride into the night with a comfortable eight point victory.
In the third conference game of the season, team captain Peter Sullivan had suffered a gruesome shoulder dislocation, which caused him to miss five games. Without Sullivan, the team missed his strength on the glass and lacked his unparalleled ability to slash to the rim and get to the free throw line. When he returned in mid-February, the Bears were on the verge of falling into the basement with Dartmouth. Instead, after a tough loss at home to Penn, Brown came out and stuck it to the league-leading Tigers, riding Sullivan’s magical night at the line (16-16) to a 75-65 win, and dealing Princeton their first loss of the conference season. Overall, Sullivan dropped in 26 and added 8 boards for the Bears, who were starting to look like one of the best bad Ivy League teams ever.
The next weekend, the Bears played host to Harvard again. Certainly, one had to think the Crimson would have their guard up this time and play hard from the opening tip. But no, it was the Bears who again dominated the first half en route to a 41-30 lead at the break behind 15 points on 6-7 shooting from Tucker Halpern. Certainly, one had to think the Bears would be able to protect a double-digit lead after blowing one only two weeks earlier to the same team. But no, like the Empire, the Crimson struck back again, even quicker this time, regaining the lead after only eight minutes in the second half. Halpern tried to rally the troops for one more comeback, knocking down a late trey to cut the deficit to two, but his career-high 29 points were wasted in the end as Harvard held on for another comeback victory.
The Bears’ final two weeks were highlighted by Adrian Williams’ monster 26-point Senior Night performance, in which Brown dropped a century on the lowly Big Green, and the aforementioned food poisoning incident.
Surely, the Bears are anxious to turn the page on last season and put the program in the hands of a capable young team that has shown a few halves of brilliance. Now if they can just put it all together for a full 40 minutes and pack bag lunches for the Ithaca trip, they should be all right.