Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Three Cornell Titles in a Row... Now What?

What is the status of Penn and Princeton's rivalry and their place in the Ivy League race?

The Princeton Athletics Department's Tiger Blog implies that last night's meaningful Princeton overtime win over Penn could be the rebirth of Penn's and Princeton's domination of the Ivy League. Tiger Blog writes:

...For decades, the two (and sometimes three) Princeton-Penn games decided the Ivy League men's basketball championship and NCAA tournament bid. Period.
From 1963-2007, either Princeton or Penn represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament every year except for three: Columbia in 1968 (after defeating Princeton in a playoff game), Brown in 1986 and Cornell in 1988.

Then, in each of the last three years, the title belonged to Cornell. Even more amazingly, in the three years that Cornell won, either Princeton or Penn finished sixth or lower each time...

Back in 1988, after Brown and Cornell had both won league titles, it seemed like the Princeton-Penn domination of Ivy basketball might have ended.

Then what happened? Princeton won in 1989 and then nearly knocked off Georgetown. Two years later, the Tigers were in the national Top 25. Penn then put together a 42-0 league mark from 1993-95. Princeton then beat UCLA and got to the national Top 10 two years later. Penn then had some more dominant teams, while Princeton won two more titles. Back and forth they went, until Cornell took over.

It's possible that looking back in 20 years, the Ivy League titles in men's basketball will be spread out among four or five teams.

Or, just maybe, Princeton and Penn are where they were back in 1989, when both teams reloaded to dominate for nearly 20 more years.

Surely they both have the right coach in charge, with the great sidebar of the lifetime rivalry that Sydney Johnson and Jerome Allen are taking to another level.

If it all plays out that way, then last night's game will be remembered for a lot more than just a timeout that didn't exist.

It'll be remembered as the night the Princeton-Penn rivalry was truly reborn.
Tiger Blog's analysis from a Princeton perspective, however, leaves out a few key points that appear to indicate that this season is just a mere temporary upward blip for both teams before they regress as early as next season. First, both Penn and Princeton will graduate their best players this season, in particular Jack Eggleston (Penn), Kareem Maddox (Princeton) and Dan Marvaides (Princeton). In fact, one could argue these three players represent the programs' best three players along with Penn junior, Zach Rosen. These graduations certainly will hurt these southern Ivy travel partners as neither team has a quick fix waiting in the wings.

Second, Penn and Princeton had room to move up in the standings this year only because Cornell is experiencing a down cycle after graduating 8 seniors, the winningest graduating class in Ivy League history. But the Big Red have a loaded recruiting class on the way and a group of young players led by Errick Peck that are rapidly improving and gaining their first season of real experience. Now, in the past, Cornell's commitment to basketball was about as strong as Penn's current commitment to playing competitive Division I hockey. But times have changed. Cornell's commitment to winning in basketball, which began in the early 2000s, almost guarantees the Big Red will be back faster than you can say, "Pawel Rafal Buczak."

Third, and arguably most important, Tiger Blog is eerily dead silent on word word: Harvard. The Crimson, as well as Brown and Cornell, have out-recruited and continue to out-recruit both Penn and Princeton. Harvard graduates no seniors this season, adds its best recruiting class in program history and will be the prohibitive favorite for the 2012 title.

Fourth, regardless of who wins the Ivy League this season or next season, Harvard, Princeton and Penn will experience what Cornell experienced last season. Numerous BCS level conferences will come chasing after coaches Jerome Allen, Sydney Johnson and Tommy Amaker. And while these coaches publicly say they are content and happy in the Ivy League, there is no denying that if they are true competitors, which they are, they will want to compete at the very highest levels and earn the top dollars.

In short, a message to the Penn and Princeton faithful. The "P" rivalry will always be special, but its past meaning is gone.

And this is a good development for the Ivy League. Now more than just two teams are trying to actually compete in basketball. Unfortunately for the "Ps"--- there will be fewer banners for them to hang, and maybe a first banner for Harvard.


Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct that Harvard will be a fixture near the top for as long as the admissions department keeps the door wide open for Amaker, which appears to be for the foreseeable future.

The other major part of your prediction, that Cornell now is a perennial contender for a title, is much more uncertain. We could very well finish in last place this year. A stepped up "commitment" to men's basketball is great, but a lot of other things still need to happen to become a permanent member of the upper division.

Cornell flourished for three years. Princeton and Penn have been doing it for six decades. The big question was whether Johnson and Allen had the skills to bring the P's back from the depths of the Joe Scott/Glen Miller disasters. The answer now is clearly "yes."

I'd love to agree with you that PPHC now form some sort of power quartet but if your primary argument in favor of our membership is an increased commitment to basketball, that's a reach.

Amaker is out of Cambridge to a higher profile job the minute he wins his first Ivy championship, which right now seems no later than next year. If that happens, the most likely outcome is a return to the P duopoly.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Penn is a .500 basketball club. Jerome Allen is winning with Glen Miller's kids. Hard to say he's done anything much yet.

Sydney Johnson and Tommy Amaker have absolutely built their clubs.

Anonymous said...

I know it's been an exciting few days between Harvard, Penn, and Princeton, and I think Princeton is poised to win with Harvard and Penn standing outside chances. But amidst all the close games being played between them, it is as if everyone has forgotten the close games they've played with other opponents, like Yale playing both the P's close and Brown taking Penn to OT, in the P's own houses.

I don't think any group of teams this year has distanced themselves way ahead of the rest. There is no Cornell from last year administering beatdown after beatdown. Ranked BCS schools are filthily ripping Ivies to shreds and scattering them around the court; there have been no Cornell-Kansas moments.

And as for the future, Columbia and Brown are incredibly young teams that are seriously beefing up their underclassmen. Brown has very important seniors, but zero juniors. Their current sophs had 5 ROWs between them as freshmen, and we all know how talented Sean McGonagill and Dockery Walker are. These younguns have been carrying the team as P Sullivan has been injured. Similary, Barbour,Cisco, Daniels, Frankoski ... all underclassmen. And lots of Ivies, including Yale and Cornell, have really great recruits coming in.

I think it's a little too premature to predict that the past few days might signify that a 20-year reign of the P's might be right around the corner.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Additionally, if Penn does not win the Ivy League, they are not going to the postseason.

Ivy will send one team to the NCAAs (Harvard or Princeton) and 1 team to the NIT (Harvard or Princeton).

Only way 3 teams go to the postseason is if Penn somehow wins the Ivy and Harvard and Princeton BOTH land in the NIT.

Ivy does not have a team with a or College Basketball Invitational profile.

mrjames said...

It's incredibly difficult to definitely say that there won't be a third postseason team from the Ivies this season, given the structure of some of these tournaments. You could say - it's highly unlikely there will be a third deserving postseason team that would have been selected as a road-team (i.e. definitively on merit, not willingness to pay to host).

At the start of February last year, Princeton was hanging around in the 150-170 range in most ranking systems with only a couple decent non-conference victories. The strong move it made over the final month plus its ability to be flexible by fronting the means to host got it in from a level where there are a few Ivy teams currently.

Also, the league is stronger this season, making rating jumps much easier.

If either of Penn or Yale (or potentially Columbia) can get to 9-5 in league play, they'd be in the RPI range where they could get an invite and certainly would have the opportunity to pay-to-play.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Bookmark this post. It ain't happening.

Mark it down, Ivy will send one to NCAA and one to NIT.

mrjames said...

I'm not saying that it will. Just saying that the odds of it happening are non-zero.

If the rest of this season were played out 100 times, you'd be wrong one or more times.

Anonymous said...

mrjames, the odds of anything happening are non-zero.

Anonymous said...

so you're telling me there's a chance!