Thursday, October 29, 2009

CBS Sports Ivy League Preview

Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion: Cornell
Top returning scorer: Ryan Wittman (Cornell), 18.5 ppg
Top returning rebounder: Jeff Foote (Cornell), 7.2 rpg

Predicted Finish
1. Cornell
2. Princeton
3. Harvard
4. Penn
5. Columbia
6. Yale
7. Dartmouth
8. Brown

First Team All-Conference
G - Louis Dale, Cornell
G - Jeremy Lin, Harvard
F - Tyler Bernardini, Penn
F - Matt Mullery, Brown
F - Ryan Wittman, Cornell

(In predicted order of finish)

1. Cornell

Even as rivals bring in more talent to try to compete, Cornell appears to be in great shape to not only win its third consecutive Ivy League title but also to put itself in position to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament.

It seems almost unfair that a team returning all five starters should also bring in a host of new players that includes two Division-I transfers, but that's the situation Steve Donahue finds himself in.

The biggest problem won't be finding five capable players to fill the court at all times, but to work the minutes enough to keep everyone fresh and happy.

Cornell starts off with three players who will challenge for league Player of the Year honors. The frontrunner is Ryan Wittman, a two-time All-Ivy first-teamer with NBA size and shooting ability on the wing.

But point guard Louis Dale won Player of the Year honors in 2007-08, and Jeff Foote was the league's Defensive Player of the Year last season at center. The three give Cornell the size, speed, and shooting ability to cause match-up nightmares for opponents.

Also returning is starting forward Alex Tyler, and guards Geoff Reeves and Ivy Rookie of the Year Chris Wroblewski in the backcourt, and that's as solid a group of six as has existed in recent Ivy history.

But there's more.

Joining the rotation will be UMass transfer Max Groebe in the backcourt and Kentucky transfer Mark Coury in the paint. Both have the skills to make an instant impact in Ivy play, and give Donahue incredible lineup flexibility.

There are also key reserves Adam Wire and Jon Jaques, and six freshmen among the 10 other reserves. The Big Red bench will be deep and talented enough to outscore the starting fives of several of the other teams in the Ancient Eight.

But with many of the key players seniors who have bowed in the NCAA tournament first round two years running, the goals are higher than winning the league.

A brutally tough non-conference schedule is designed to prep the Big Red for the postseason, both in terms of the level of competition and the RPI.

If Cornell can win a few games against opponents that include Kansas, Syracuse, Alabama, Seton Hall, St. John's, UMass and St. Joseph's, it will be in prime position to get a good enough seeding to make its dreams of making noise in the NCAA tournament a reality.

2. Princeton

Last season's Princeton team was an inspiration to terrible teams everywhere, because it showed how quickly things can turn around.

Coming off a 2007-08 season that saw the Tigers stagger to last in the Ivy and a 6-23 overall record, Sydney Johnson's crew didn't show many signs of dramatic improvement early.

Princeton went 5-8 in its non-conference games and showed no signs it could contend. But it surprised with a strong league season, contended for the title until the final week and ultimately finished tied for second with an 8-6 record.

Johnson hopes to build on that success, and the core of last year's surprising squad is back to help him do so.

All five starters return, led by the backcourt of Doug Davis and Dan Mavraides. Both averaged in double figures a year ago and were particularly solid in league play.

Marcus Schroeder joins them on the wing, with Kareem Maddox and Pavel Buczak in the frontcourt.

Also returning for the Tigers is sixth man Patrick Saunders, experienced big man Zach Finely and newcomer Ian Hummer. Hummer may see time at wing forward, since the Tigers have more depth on the inside than they do on the outside.

Traditionally, the Tigers have been one of the Ivy League powers. Johnson and the Tiger faithful hope that last year shows that after a brief fall from grace, Princeton can regain a position in the league hierarchy.

3. Harvard

Tommy Amaker was brought in with an impressive resume, with his background as an assistant at Duke and head coach at Seton Hall and Michigan. His mission? To turn Harvard into a big-time college basketball team and a perennial power in the Ivy League.

Entering his third season, the Crimson are making progress. The talent level is high, and Amaker has used his recruiting acumen to bring in another solid class.

But the pressure will be on him and the program to show improvement in 2009-10, especially since recruiting season saw many of the team's higher-rated targets wind up elsewhere.

That's not to say Amaker doesn't have a lot to work with. He returns several key components from a team that beat Boston College as well as Cornell and finished with a 6-8 league record a season ago.

It all starts with Jeremy Lin, who filled up the stat sheet a year ago like nobody else in college basketball. He finished in the top 10 in the Ivy league in every statistical category, and at times seemed unstoppable on the court.

Sophomore guard Oliver McNally will join Lin in the backcourt, coming off a strong freshman season. Also looking to take a leap forward in his second season is center Keith Wright.

The rest of the frontcourt will be controlled by Doug Miller, Paul Magranell and Andrew Van Nest, along with highly touted freshman Kyle Casey. Max Kenyi is the top returning guard off the bench.

When Harvard was at its best a year ago, it could compete with any team on its schedule, but the problem was that it wasn't at its best very often. Getting a high level of play consistently from his players will be the key as Amaker hopes to take the Crimson to the next level.

4. Pennsylvania

Year in and year out, there's no Ivy League program with more of a big-time feel than Penn. That can be good and bad, as coach Glen Miller and the Quakers are finding out.

Penn might play in a league noted for academics, but it's located in a city that prides itself on being perhaps the biggest college basketball hotbed in the country.

The Quakers aren't only members of the Ivy League, they're part of the Big Five, a city-wide group that also includes Villanova, Temple, LaSalle and St. Joseph's.

Add Drexel to the mix, and there's no shortage of big-time basketball in the area -- and no shortage of fans with high expectations.

That hasn't been a great thing for Miller, who has struggled in Years 2 and 3 since taking over for Fran Dunphy, who now is coaching at local rival Temple.

Two seasons out of serious Ivy League title contention have left the fans restless, and it would be good for his long-term future at the school if he could improve upon last season's disappointing 6-8 conference mark.

For that to happen, Miller will be counting on Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini.

Bernardini, the Ivy League's Rookie of the Year last season, is a high-scoring forward and team leader. Rosen, who many think should have won that honor a year ago, already is one of the best point guards in the league entering his sophomore season.

The question is, who will play alongside them? One player who looked like the answer last season was Harrison Gaines, but he elected to transfer. So Miller is hoping for some of the players who lost last year to injuries -- such as Andreas Schreiber and Darren Smith -- to fill the void.

The 2008-09 season was Penn's first losing season in the Ivy League since 1990-91. Regardless of injuries, bad luck or the unusually talented Cornell team at the top of the preseason standings, that's not going to fly for the Quakers faithful for much longer.

5. Columbia

With the new talent at Joe Jones' disposal, Columbia is one of the few teams in the Ivy League that can match up with Cornell.

Columbia offers challenges that few can match among the Ancient Eight. In addition to the 13 returning players, new faces add host of challenges for opposing coaches to deal with.

The Lions have added Brian Grimes, a transfer from LaSalle who missed the 2008-09 season because of a torn ACL, and 7-footer Max Craig, a transfer from Loyola Marymount.

That, combined with returning frontcourt players Asenso Ampim and Zack Crimmins, gives the Lions some depth in an area that it had trouble with a season ago.

The backcourt was the strength of the team, and nearly everyone of note is back in 2009-10.

Patrick Foley missed significant time because of an injured foot but can take the team to another level if healthy. Nico Scott and Noruwa Agho are contenders for All-Ivy honors, and Kevin Bulger and Steve Egee are capable threats off the bench.

Columbia isn't quite at the level of its Ivy League travel partner, but even with the Big Red's additions, the separation is not as large as it has been in the past.

This is a team that can definitely surprise.

6. Yale

The Bulldogs suffered some key losses during the offseason, but there's still enough in New Haven to give Yale a shot at staying in the top half of the standings.

Alex Zampier is the only returner among the top three scorers of a year ago (Ross Morin and Travis Pinick graduated). He averaged 13.2 points per game in 2008-09 in earning honorable mention honors on the All-Ivy team.

The loss of Morin and Pinick affects the Bulldogs in the scoring column and on the glass. That will put pressure on the veterans returning in the frontcourt -- Garrett Fiddler, Michael Sands, Paul Nelson and Jordan Gibson.

Fiddler in particular brings a physical presence to the paint but now will need to be more active on offense as well.

But the key to the team might be at the point. Porter Braswell had an up-and-down season a year ago and will be looking to emerge as a force as a junior.

If he doesn't, he will be pushed hard for minutes by freshman Michael Grace.

James Jones has led the team to a .500 or better finish in the Ivy League for the past nine seasons.

Getting that to double digits will be difficult, but the pieces are in place to make that a definite possibility in 2009-10.

7. Dartmouth

The Big Green were one of the Ivy surprises in 2008-09.

After being buried in the basement thanks to only two victories in the non-conference schedule, Dartmouth rebounded behind Ivy League Player of the Year Alex Barnett to stay in the conference race until March, finishing with a 7-7 record.

Unfortunately for coach Terry Dunn, Barnett graduated. That means the underclassmen who let Barnett carry the load a year ago will need to step up their production.

Chief among those players are sophomores David Rufful and Jabari Trotter, who both had their moments a year ago but deferred to the red-hot Barnett most of the time.

Now that the security blanket is gone, both will have to adjust to their new roles in the offense.

So will the rest of the veterans, but the good news is that there are a lot of them on the roster.

Forwards Herve Kouna, Josh Riddle and Clive Weeden and guards Ronnie Dixon and Robby Pride all were effective role players a year ago.

It's difficult to predict how the Big Green will do, since last year was so Barnett-focused that there weren't many opportunities for the remaining players or any pressure for them to step up their game.

Both will be abundant in 2009-10.

8. Brown

There's nowhere to go but up for the Bears.

After coming in last place in the Ivy League with a 3-11 conference record in Jesse Agel's first season at the helm, the Bears welcome back a solid core of players who will look to make a bigger impact in the standings this time.

Like last year, Brown will be dominated by its frontcourt.

Leading the way is center Matt Mullery, a first team All-Ivy pick who took to Agel's motion offense like it was second nature. He averaged 16 points a game, highlighted by a 20-20 double-double against Harvard.

Back alongside him is Peter Sullivan, who will also see younger brother Matt added to the backcourt. Sullivan was the fifth-leading scorer in the Ivy a season ago, and led the conference in minutes played.

The other forward slot will likely be taken by either Chris Taylor or Stefan Kaluz.

Once again, the questions occur in the backcourt, specifically ball-handling. Adrian Williams will open as the point guard, with Garrett Leffelman alongside.

However, if Marques Coleman can come back from the injury that sidelined him a year ago, he could move into the lineup and shift Williams to the wing. That would give Agel increased flexibility to use a smaller lineup.

There's no question Mullery and Sullivan are good enough to get the Bears a few more Ivy victories than the team earned a year ago. Now, the task for Agel and his staff is to find the right mix of players who can do the same.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This piece lists Bernardini as last year's ROY. Incorrect.