The Week That Was
In the last 32 games played, there were no results that sent shock waves across the world of Ivy League hoops. Over the course of the past two weeks, the members of the Ancient Eight pretty much beat the teams they were supposed to beat and lost to the teams from the more powerful conferences. They amassed a collective 17-15 record and currently stand #15 in the conference RPI rankings. Not bad. At the top of the heap was my preseason pick Harvard, who went a perfect 4-0. On the other end of the spectrum was defending champ Cornell, which went winless in its four games.
- More and more we see the little guys from the mid-majors being able to compete with the schools from the BCS conferences. Butler and Gonzaga have pretty much become the gold standard for this over the past few years. Last year Saint Mary’s and, of course, Cornell joined the party. What allows these schools to compete? And in particular, with regard to the Ivy League, what separates the men from the boys; the pretenders from the contenders? It is the ability to rebound; to hold one’s own on the boards. A simple look back over the past two weeks illustrates this point.
- On the negative side of the ledger, there have been some pretty ugly rebounding margins. Yale, in its three losses, was outrebounded by 12 against Quinnipiac, seven against Providence, and nine versus Illinois. Cornell had rebounding deficits of 15 against Seton Hall, a whopping 22 against St. Bonaventure, eight against BYU and 15 against Syracuse — all losses. But leading the way is the guard-rich Penn Quakers. Zach Rosen is a solid POY candidate and Miles Cartwright may turn out to be Freshman of the Year. But neither will matter if they cannot fix their inside game. In their three losses the Red and Blue were demolished off the boards by 11 versus Manhattan, 22 against Drexel, and 15 versus Pitt.
- After absorbing those statistics, it is easy to see why Harvard and Princeton remain the clear-cut Ivy League favorites. They are the only two squads that hold an advantage over their opponents on the boards, and we are not talking SATs here. Princeton holds about a +3 rebounding advantage per game while Harvard is an impressive +4, considering they are doing it without Kyle Casey. Admittedly, the quality of the opponent has had a lot to do with the aforementioned deficits. And with about six weeks still to go before conference play begins, coaches have time to address the problem and tinker with lineups. The road to the league title is definitely paved with… glass.
- Harvard (5-1) – Harvard takes over the top spot thanks to a five-game winning streak. The backcourt duo of Brandyn Curry (7.2 assists per game and leading the league) and Christian Webster (16.5 ppg) are beginning to live up to the promise they showed as freshmen on a consistent basis. Add forward Keith Wright (16.0 PPG and 8 RPG), the returning Kyle Casey, and a useful freshman class, and you have a Crimson team that will leave the rest of the league red with envy.
- Princeton (4-3) – Truth be told, the Tigers are three points away from being an impressive 6-1. A collapse of presidential proportions led to a one-point defeat at James Madison, a game in which Princeton led by 13 at halftime. Playing their third game in three days, in what can only be described as an heretical loss, the Tigers fell by two to Presbyterian.
- Brown (3-3) – Rarefied air for the Bears. They get the nod here with a .500 record aided by a rather weak schedule. Leading the way are forwards Peter Sullivan and Tucker Halperin averaging 15.6 and 12.8 PPG, respectively.
- Columbia (3-4) – Despite the loss to Bucknell, the Lions seem vastly improved and are playing hard for new coach Kyle Smith. A solid backcourt, led by Noruwa Agho (17.3 PPG) and running mates sophomore Brian Barbour and freshman Dyami Starks, give Columbia a nucleus on which to build.
- Penn (3-3) – the Quakers may find it difficult to escape the second division any time soon given the strength of their non-conference schedule. However, they continue to show flashes of brilliance led by junior Zach Rosen and freshman sensation Miles Cartwright. At Pittsburgh, in a game that featured Big East standouts Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, it would not be an exaggeration to say Rosen was the best player on the court.
- Yale (3-3) – Another team at .500 and one that appears to be much-improved after their unlikely win at BC. The Elis boast four players averaging in double figures led by underclassmen Austin Morgan (16.8) and Greg Mangano (15.7 PPG/8.5 RPG). A blowout at then-#19 Illinois has been Yale’s only clunker.
- Cornell (2-5) – How the mighty have fallen as the Big Red are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Their record should put them in the power poll basement but it’s difficult to rank them below their colleagues from Hanover. Coach Bill Courtney continues to struggle to find a blend, mixing returning contributors, 2009-10 bit players, and a talented freshman class. There are twelve players averaging more than eight minutes a game.
- Dartmouth (2-5) – Though they seem destined once again for the cellar, there is some cautious optimism in Hanover that the Big Green can improve on their 5-23 record from last year. In their last game, an 80-63 win vs. Colgate, Dartmouth had six players in double figures. The last time they had even as many as five was in November 2007.
Player of the Week
This week’s award goes to the fuel-efficient Ian Hummer of Princeton. In the last 5 games, the 6’7 sophomore from Virginia has averaged 16 points per game on 63% shooting from the field. Over the same span he has also grabbed a team-leading 38 rebounds (7.6 RPG). So congratulations, Ian! You have most certainly earned your stripes.
Sparse schedules over the next two weeks as the teams from the Ivy League begin their hoops hiatus for finals. Wondering how many other Conference Check-Ins will contain that phrase? Brown has a three game road-trip ending with the traditional tussle with cross-town rival Providence. Columbia appears capable of racking up three wins with home games vs. Stony Brook, Wagner, and Bryant. Another loss appears on the horizon for Cornell, as they head to The Barn to face an angry bunch of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who come off a home loss to Virginia. Fortunately, the Big Red have 14 days to lick their Gopher wounds (where is Bill Murray when you need him?) before embarking on a more forgiving part of their schedule. Dartmouth has ten days off before Army marches in. Tommy Amaker brings his league-leading Harvard squad into Crisler Arena to face Michigan. It’s anyone’s guess as to what his reception will be as he returns to the scene of his not-so-successful stint with the Wolverines. Penn/Army highlights a twin bill at the Meadowlands on Saturday for a must-see! The second game is some meaningless contest between Duke and Butler. (and the Jeopardy! answer is… What would you find in Windsor Castle?). Princeton is the one team that plays on a relatively consistent basis. A home game vs. St. Joe’s precedes a very winnable four-game road trip. Three games in four days await Yale, beginning with a trip to scenic Burlington and a date with the Catamounts of Vermont. (a school for the few, the proud, the select).