Sunday Thoughts

A young, quick Penn squad was too much to handle for Harvard as the Crimson fell a game back in the loss column and handed Princeton control of the Ivy title chase with one weekend to play.
A young, quick Penn squad was too much to handle for Harvard, as the Crimson fell a game back in the loss column and handed Princeton control of the Ivy title chase with one weekend to play.

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.

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Modest Expectations, but a Hint of Urgency in Hanover

To move the program forward, Dartmouth needs to grab more than one conference victory this season, a feat the squad hasn
To move the program forward, Dartmouth needs to grab more than one conference victory this season, a feat the squad hasn”t accomplished since 2009.

On most teams, when all but two players on the squad are freshmen or sophomores, there’s not usually a great sense of urgency. But make no mistake – there will be a sense of urgency in Hanover when Ivy League play begins on Saturday against Harvard. For the past three years, Dartmouth has stumbled to a five-win season, going 1-13 in the conference each year. And with a 3-10 record and one more non-conference game yet (a winnable January 17 tilt against D-III Colby-Sawyer), a fourth consecutive five-win season is looking like a distinct possibility.

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RG3, Eli, and the Quakers

The Ancient Quaker comforts himself and other Penn fanatics by urging perspective and looking optimistically at the improving youth on this blundering 2-11 squad.
The Ancient Quaker comforts himself and other fanatics by urging perspective and looking optimistically at the improving youth on this blundering 2-11 squad.

I understand this is a basketball article. So what then do these three seemingly disparate entities have to do with each other? Allow me to explain.

RG3, a rookie quarterback, arrives at a formerly woeful organization and, overnight, changes the culture of his team with his confidence and preternatural talent. On the other hand, there is Eli Manning: also a tremendously gifted quarterback, but during his first few years in the Meadowlands, Eli didn’t change very much. With every pass that sailed over a receiver’s head or fluttered toward their feet, the boos rained down from the tough New York crowd. Eli at times looked lost, out of control, overwhelmed, bewildered. Occasionally though, he would have a game that showed that he indeed had great potential: a flash of brilliance amidst the chaos of his first few years. Regardless, the postscript is well known by now: RG3’s career accomplishments, no matter how well he performed this year, remain to be seen, while Eli, the formerly befuddled rookie, has two Super Bowl MVP trophies and is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame.

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Brutilation

Watching the Quakers has not been enjoyable thus far, but The Ancient Quaker is encouraging Penn

fans to be patient with this young squad.

Long ago in a black and white world, in a time before LEDs, LCDs, flat screens and the electronic mugging that is pay-per-view, big time heavyweight boxing was routinely broadcast on network television. In November 1982, Howard Cosell was the announcer for the mercilessly one-sided match between Larry Holmes and his opponent, Randy “Tex” Cobb of Philadelphia. As Cobb’s blood spattered across the screen in front of millions of Americans that night, I thought I heard Cosell utter, “Oh, this is…it’s just…it’s ‘brutilation.’”

Brutilaton. A classic Cosell malapropism which I think means both brutal and mutilation. (Following the bout, Cosell was so horrified by the fight that he retired from broadcasting boxing permanently.)

After watching the Quakers bludgeon their way to yet another loss against an uncharacteristically poor Villanova squad, I thought of Cosell’s manufactured word. It was indeed

brutilation. They brutalized the Wildcats while mutilating the game. It didn’t even look like basketball. (The cheesy smugness of the announcers didn’t help either. “Well Ross, this game has taken almost as long as one in the NFL, two hours and thirty two minutes. I’m gonna miss my train.”) Another painful contest in which my beloved Quakers struggled mightily with field goal percentage, poor defense, turnovers and, of course, fouls. Penn is now in the top five nationally in committing fouls. They almost beg the opposition to don suits of armor before taking the court. (However, Henry “The Hatchet Man” Brooks somehow made it through Saturday evening’s contest without his usual DQ. I suppose during a season like this, one must be thankful for the little things.) Worse still, with Fran Dougherty the sole shining light in this awkward and ungainly season effectively neutralized over the last few games, no one has stepped up to fill the yawning scoring vacuum. The entire team plays but no one scores. There are obviously big problems everywhere and I’m exhausted just thinking about them, so where are we now that Ivy play is less than one month away?

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Checking in on Yale

The young Bulldogs have had a tough start, but there are reasons for optimism in New Haven and they can be found in the frontcourt.

While it may be tough to see in terms of results, especially after today”s eight point loss to New Hampshire, this young Yale Bulldogs team is making progress. So far, the biggest problem has been getting good shots and taking care of the ball. The Bulldogs rank near the bottom of Division I in shooting percentage and turnover rate. Today”s loss was a perfect example: 1-14 shooting from three (7%) and 18 turnovers.

The reason for the low shooting percentage has simply been a lack of dangerous offensive weapons. Opponents have keyed on Austin Morgan and have kept him mostly quiet. Other than Justin Sears, no one has demonstrated the ability to score. And Coach James Jones sure has given everyone a chance. Besides Morgan, there isn”t a player on this roster playing more than 60% of the team”s minutes. Yale has been going with the old 11 man rotation.

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Checking in on Dartmouth

Dartmouth looks to turn the corner as a program after winning its first D-1 road game in nearly two years at Longwood

last Saturday.

Through five games, Dartmouth is about where most observers pegged them to be record-wise. For the first time since 2004, the Big Green won its home opener, defeating Maine 67-54 on Nov. 10 before suffering a three-game losing streak, including a pair of double-digit losses to New Hampshire and Bucknell. The UNH loss was particularly demoralizing as Dartmouth shot just 16-of-60 (27%) from the floor while allowing 44 free throws at home on Nov. 13. While that loss was the low point of the young season, the last two games have hinted at the potential — both good and bad — that Dartmouth could bring to the table come Ivy League play.

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Weekend's Best: 11/10

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:

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Season Preview: Dartmouth Big Green

A young Dartmouth squad showed flashes of progress last year. They’ll try to take another step forward by moving out of the basement this season.

In 2011-12: 5-25, 1-13, 8th place

A Look Back: Dartmouth has been treading water for a while now, and the last three seasons have been eerily similar: a few non-conference wins, an Ivy home win towards the middle of the season and a whole lot of defeats. The Big Green has won just five games in each of the past three seasons and hasn’t won an Ivy road contest since February 21, 2009, when Ivy Player of the Year Alex Barnett led Dartmouth to victory at Princeton.

Dartmouth opened 1-2 before heading across the continent for the Great Alaska Shootout, falling to San Francisco and

Central Michigan but nabbing a win over DII Alaska-Anchorage. Wins against Elon and Longwood were the only other highlights from a losing non-conference season that mostly featured games against local competition – a 65-47 loss at Notre Dame on Dec. 10 being the notable exception.

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Cornell Deserves Some Love

Johnathan Gray has been a great addition to Bill Courtney's arsenal of backcourt weapons, leading the Big Red to a sweep of Yale and Brown last weekend. (Photo Credit: Connor Archard, cornellsun.com)

Before this past weekend, Cornell had been coasting under the radar, going about its business without many outside of Ithaca taking notice. These days, it’s hard to get attention in the Ivy League if you’ve never had Harvard printed across your chest. A Top 25 ranking and an alumnus starting for the New York Knicks makes for a pretty compelling story. Whatever room was left on the back pages has gone to the only two teams thought to be contenders for the crown: Penn and Yale. It’s hard to blame the casual fan for not paying Cornell much attention. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks, the Big Red has been about what everyone expected this season. No points too high, no points too low. A split against Columbia. One of two at home against the Ps. A loss at Harvard. A win at Dartmouth. A 3-3 conference record. Sounds about right. No real story in that.

This week though, Cornell is deserving of a little pub, a little recognition. It’s not only that Cornell managed a sweep of Yale and Brown, it’s how it was done. Early Friday night, all of Cornell’s nightmares were coming true. To say Yale started hot and Cornell started cold would have been a serious understatement. The Bulldogs came out dominating this game, utilizing every strength and exploiting every Cornell weakness. The front court duo of Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg accounted for 9 of the game’s first 14 points. Yale was out-rebounding the Big Red 16-5 (with seven of those boards coming on the offensive glass) and Cornell was shooting the ball poorly from the outside. For a while, it felt as though Yale was one play away from breaking the game open and waltzing to its fourth consecutive victory and eighth in nine attempts.

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Season in Review: Brown Bears

Sean McGonagill dropped 39 points on 15-19 shooting against Columbia on February 4th, 2011 at the Pizzitola Center. (Photo Credit: brownbears.com)

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.