A Look Back
While most of the country dribbles through the dog days of February with talk of seedings and bubbles (alive, alive-o), the Ivy League plays in search of their conference champion and its NCAA tournament representative. After their first meeting, it appeared the rest of the schedule would be a formality for Harvard and Princeton, as they both moved inexorably toward a March 5 date with destiny. But then….
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To A Title: After beating Harvard at home at the beginning of February, and extending their winning streak to five, Princeton could be forgiven if they were looking a month ahead to the rematch; a game where a win would all but guarantee an Ivy championship. And indeed, despite a couple of close calls along the way, the Tigers did win another five straight, allowing them to maintain their slim lead on the Crimson who, to their credit, kept pace. A trip to Providence did not seem to represent a particularly difficult hurdle. But then they let Brown do it to them. It was a game they never really threatened to win, leading only once briefly mid-way through the second half, before a 13-2 Bear run put the ribbon around a 75-65 win. It was the most points the defensive-minded Tigers had allowed since their early season Duke debacle. They were no better offensively as those Tigers not named Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox shot a collective 8-32. The loss dropped them out of the league lead and needing an unlikely Crimson crumble to regain it. This past Saturday, they got what they needed.
Not exactly The Game, but anything pitting the Bulldogs against Harvard gets the juices flowing in New Haven and Cambridge. And it should have come as no surprise to see the Crimson stub their toe. After the Princeton loss, they needed two overtimes to beat Penn, had to dig out of two large halftime holes in both games against Brown, and eked out a three point win vs. Yale at home. The rematch at Lee Amphitheater saw Harvard cling to a slight lead most of the way. But the Elis hung tough and went ahead with 41 seconds remaining. Harvard had a couple of shots to win, including a Brandyn Curry missed layup at the buzzer, but fell 70-69 and out of first place. Harvard must now defeat Princeton next weekend and then hope for the Quakers to play spoiler. A playoff is a distinct possibility where fate could be decided by a flip of the coin to determine home court.
The Future is Now: Most basketball fans by now have heard of Kyrie Irivng of Duke and the ACC and Brandon Knight of Kentucky and the SEC. Both great freshman guards. But it is unlikely any league can boast of three backcourt newcomers that have made an immediate impact like Miles Cartwright, Sean McGonagall and Laurent Rivard have done in the Ivy League. Cartwright is perhaps the most electric with the most upside once he gets a bit stronger. He announced his presence in the season opener for Penn when he came off the bench to score 18 first half points against Davidson. He has started the last 17 games and seems unlikely to relinquish that spot. Rivard has had the most impact; thrown into the pressure cooker as Harvard’s sixth man as they search for their first ever Ivy crown. But the most versatile and most consistent has been McGonagill at Brown. He has started every game for the Bears and is third in scoring and rebounding while leading the team in assists. Amazingly, their stats are almost identical:
Player Minutes FG% FT% PPG
McGonagill 33 45% 83% 11.7
Rivard 25 43% 89% 11.2
Cartwright 34 43% 82% 11.6
Throw in Rivard’s two made threes per game, Cartwright’s defense (1.3 steals per game), and McGonagill’s four rebounds and five assists per game and you have three worthy candidates for Ivy Freshman of the Year.
Player of the Week: By his own standards, it is likely Zack Rosen of Penn would be the first to admit that it has been a disappointing year for him and for the team. After all he was the defending RTC Ivy Player of the Year and some of the more zealous Quaker faithful and alumni were quietly confident that this team could contend for an Ivy title. Well that is not going to happen and Rosen is unlikely to earn back-to-back trophies for his mantle. After a couple of down games, Rosen has responded and led Penn to three straight wins before losing to Cornell. Over the past two weekends, he has played 146 of a possible 160 minutes. He shot 48% from the field, 54% from long range, and 89% from the line. He grabbed 15 boards, averaged six assists and 16.5 points per game. And while he only scored eight against Yale, his last-second basket was the game-winner. So this week, we honor the 6’1 junior from the Garden State with a fitting bouquet of..you guessed it, roses. The Zack Attack lives!
1. Princeton (22-5, 10-1)—The Tigers breathe a sigh of relief as they come from behind to take the lead versus Columbia, scoreboard watch, and see Harvard go down in defeat. Princeton can celebrate if they beat the Crimson on Saturday and then not have to worry about a date with Penn that follows. The most veteran team still is experiencing shooting woes, however.
2. Harvard (21-5, 10-2)–Probably the most talented team has played in spurts over the last two weeks and that attitude finally came back to bite them. A win on Saturday most likely guarantees a playoff. An interesting scenario finds the Crimson at 43 in RPI rankings-ahead of tournament likely Missouri State (Missouri Valley champs), Florida State ( #3 in the ACC), Butler (atop the Horizon with Cleveland State), and Marquette (9-7 in the Big East). Could the unthinkable happen and the Ivies get two bids in the new and expanded NCAA Tournament?
3. Penn (12-13, 6-5)–Below .500 overall and trailing Yale by a half game in standings, but the Quakers rank above the Elis thanks to a head-to-head series sweep. A disappointing pair of losses to Cornell and two other overtime disappointments sealed their fate. One has to wonder if Fran Dunphy (or Steve Donahue) on the bench might have made a difference in those games and kept the Quakers in the mix.
4. Yale (7-5, 14-12)—Yale made Princeton fans ecstatic when they found a way to beat Harvard. Having lost five close games during the season, they will definitely be a contender next season as they lose no one of consequence. Player of the Year candidate Greg Mangano (averaging a double/double) should receive some national recognition.
5. Columbia (5-7, 14-12)–A promising start for first year coach Kyle Smith came grinding to a halt as the Lions have lost six of their last eight. Columbia has the opportunity to finish .500 if they get two home wins to conclude the season. Another team that returns its nucleus and must be in the 2011-2012 conversation.
6. Brown (4-8, 11-15)—The Bears have beaten Princeton, sustained a two-point loss at Penn, and have had Harvard on the ropes twice. I have a feeling coach Jesse Agel is a star in the making, as is his freshman point guard Sean McGonagall (see above). They will lose Peter Sullivan but return everyone else who contributes.
7. Cornell (4-8, 8-18)–Four games ago, coach Bill Courtney started looking ahead and has played 14 players in three of their last four games and averaged 13 players in their last seven games. It has worked, as the Big Red is 4-3 over that span. Have to believe this prime recruiter will have Ithaca rocking soon.
8. Dartmouth (1-11, 5-21)–After beating Cornell, it looks as if Dartmouth will end the season on an 11 game losing streak. With the teams above them keeping most of their good players, it is difficult to imagine the Green escaping the cellar. Most promising is freshman guard Tommy Melville who has averaged in double figure over the last four games.
A Look Ahead
One weekend left to the Ivy season, so circle the date—Saturday, March 5. That is when Princeton travels to Cambridge to visit Harvard. A Princeton win sends the Tigers dancing; a Harvard win and all eyes then turn to the Palestra three days later as Penn tries to ruin the season of their archrivals. A playoff for league honors is not out of the question. Either way, as per usual, the one left standing will become the first official entrant into the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Whatever happens, our next column will take a close look at the Ivy champ, how they eventually earned the crown, and dissect their matchup with their first round opponent, and if they realistically have a chance to duplicate Cornell’s run. We will also bestow our annual Bradley Awards in the form of the All-Ivy team, Coach of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and of course, Player of the Year
And as an added bonus, as defending RTC NCAA Bracket Pool contest winner, and proud owner of the coveted red leather Hickory High letter jacket, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to offer you my analysis of this year’s tournament–including who may surprise and of course the team that will ultimately enjoy a shining moment. See you then!