Last weekend’s Pizzitola Center reversal closed the book on yet another Yale-Brown split, the sixth in nine straight years of Bulldog-Bear back-to-back conference openers. The main man responsible for turning the previous week’s result around for the Bears: the unstoppable Sean McGonagill whose hot hand (29 points on 8-11 FG, 7-9 3PT) singlehandedly stopped a late Yale run and iced the game for Bruno. In what might have been their most complete effort of the year, the home team looked organized, prepared, and sharp– assisting on 19 of 27 field goals, including five impressive dimes from big man Rafael Maia.
The offense functioned exactly the way Brown fans had hoped it would entering this season with freshman Tavon Blackmon doing a solid job handling duties at the point (7 assists), while McGonagill was allowed to focus on pouring in shots from every corner of the floor. Dockery Walker provided an energetic spark off the bench with 10 points on 5-6 shooting, and Steve Spieth was all over the court with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
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?
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.
After the first weekend of February 2013, it looked more likely that Yale would finish in last place in the Ivy League than 3rd place. The Bulldogs were coming off of a throttling in Hanover at the hands of lowly Dartmouth, and only had an overtime home victory over Brown to show through four league contests. At 1-3 and heading south to face the P’s, the Elis were staring 1-5 right in the face. But something special happened on that trip: Yale developed an identity as a physical, glass-crashing basketball team. Behind 32 offensive rebounds in two nights, the Bulldogs swept the Penn-Princeton road trip for the first time since 1987. That weekend propelled the young team, which was largely considered to be in a rebuilding year, back into the top half of the Ancient Eight for the 13th consecutive season. Freshman Justin Sears emerged as one of the league’s best rookies, crashing the offensive boards as well as anyone in the conference, and showing a knack for getting to the line and scoring. Sophomore Armani Cotton also made a splash, going for a career high 20 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Holy Cross, and earning a more central role as the season progressed. The Elis finished the year with three straight victories, including another sweep of Penn and Princeton, this time in New Haven–shaking up the title chase and sending old Blue into the offseason with some serious momentum for 2013-14.
After an Ivy season with more twists and turns than this past season of Homeland, it was only fitting that the final back-to-back weekend would feature one last surprise at the top of the Ancient Eight ladder. Entering Friday, Princeton seemingly had one hand on the trophy, needing to win what was sure to be a hard-fought battle at The Church in New Haven, as well as at Brown, a team Princeton had completely stifled in its previous meeting at Jadwin. Harvard, on the other hand, with no margin for error, would be forced to contend with a Columbia squad eager to go out with one final win in its disappointing season, as well as depleted Cornell. Realistically, we seemed to be looking at a Princeton title or a playoff. Few could have predicted what went down.
Harvard did what it has done all year and found a way to win. Once again, it wasn”t particularly pretty, but they made the plays they needed down the stretch. Against Columbia, Harvard led the Lions by 1 with just over 30 seconds left before Steve Moundou-Missi made a huge steal and flew in to slam the ball home to secure the W. On Saturday, Harvard led by 15 with 6 minutes to play, but a furious Big Red comeback almost made things interesting in the closing moments. The Crimson held strong though, keeping Cornell from scoring any FGs in the final 2:30, closing out a 65-56 victory. The win clinched a share of the Ivy title, and all eyes turned to Providence. Harvard”s players followed the score updates from Brown-Princeton, and got to enjoy a second round of celebrations when the final score came across the screen. The Crimson returns to the dance for the 2nd straight year, looking to improve upon its first round exit last season. Most bracket predictions have the Crimson as a 14 seed at this point, though it seems reasonable to expect Harvard to land anywhere between a 13 and a 15.
All season long, Princeton and Harvard have traded places in our Power Poll, but the Crimson”s well-documented Jadwin blues, coupled with a shocker of a loss at the Palestra on Saturday, leave the Tigers in control of the title picture. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but Mitch Henderson”s veteran squad will be a strong favorite in its final three road games and the young Cantabs can only take care of business and scoreboard watch at this point. Outside the top two, the Brown Bears were the big movers this week, while the injury-stricken Big Red continued to tumble. This will be our final Power Poll of the year, but make sure to check back next week for our IHO All-Ivy Awards.
1. Princeton (9-2) (5 first place votes, 40 points)– Ian Hummer wouldn”t let Princeton lose on Friday. The senior stepped up and played a complete game on both ends of the floor, willing the Tigers to victory in the final minutes of Harvard”s comeback attempt. The atmosphere at Jadwin was electric on Friday, as the students showed up in force to support the orange and black on national television. There was a fan in a Gumby suit, two people dressed as bananas, and a man in an American flag one-piece jump suit who came within inches of hitting a half-court shot for $10,000. In other words, Jadwin was the place to be on Friday, and on the biggest stage, the Tigers came through. Saturday was Senior Night, and while Harvard was down in Philly gacking up its chance at a championship, Princeton was struggling with a hangover, trailing Dartmouth at the half. Henderson did what he had to do to get his squad motivated at the break though, as the Tigers opened up a double-digit lead and held on for the crucial 68-63 win. Now, with three games to play– all on the road, mind you– every Princeton fan has suddenly become a math major, calculating the odds of winning out against the league”s 3rd, 4th, and 5th placed teams. Using Pomeroy”s odds for each game, here”s your answer (and it might surprise you): Princeton”s chances of winning out are 38.76%. Of course, there are other feasible ways Princeton can win the title, but let”s be serious. Harvard isn”t losing to Columbia again and Cornell is trotting out its B-Team with all those injuries. I know I wouldn”t bet against Hummer at this point, but let”s see this race for what it is: not over yet. -Bruno March
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.
In a year where it seemed like 11, even 10 wins, might be enough to capture the crown, both favorites have mostly avoided stumbling thus far (Yale, Columbia notwithstanding…), to the point that it seems realistic that 12 wins may only earn entry to another thrilling playoff. We”re looking far ahead here with 2.5 weekends to go, but the Tigers and Crimson appear to be rounding into top form at this point, setting the stage for one, maybe two, bitterly fought clashes between two teams with a quickly growing rivalry– experience and length vs. youth and athleticism, the old guard vs. the new kids on the block. Friday should be a real treat for fans of the league, and really, fans of good, hard-fought basketball.
Finally, we are starting to see a bit of separation in the Ivy League standings. Harvard held serve at home to break the tie at the top with Princeton; Cornell swept its Brown/Yale road trip to keep its own outside title chances alive; Columbia and Dartmouth could not grab a win last weekend and fall out of the race for third. A few interesting conference stats to ponder: To date, 31 Ivy League games have been played. Eighteen home teams have been winners (58%); 10 of 31 games have been decided by four points or less or in overtime (32.3%, highest % in nation); and only 2 of 31 games have been blowouts of greater than 19 points (6.5%, second-fewest in nation). In summary, your eyes haven”t deceived you. This year has been full of close calls and great finishes. Without further ado, let”s get to the rankings.
1. Harvard (5 first place votes, 40 points)- Up until last weekend, the Harvard Ivy jaunt had been a white-knuckle ride. Then Kenyatta Smith happened. After being relegated to the bench because of his propensity for turnovers and fouls, the sophomore big man—a former prized recruit who many had written off as a bust—received a surprising starting nod. Smith rewarded Coach Amaker for the move by putting up 20 points, 10 blocks, and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against Penn, and following up that career-best performance with 14 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks in 20 minutes against Princeton. Propelled by Smith”s post play, particularly his protecting the paint on the defensive end, the Crimson put together its first wire-to-wire league wins of the season. It was a stunning turnaround for Smith personally and a Harvard team that was knocked on its heels after a blowout loss at Columbia a week earlier. Perhaps last weekend was a flash in the pan for the sophomore center, but if not, the Crimson might have found the missing piece for its defense of the 2012 Ivy title. –C. River Banks