RTC Conference Primers: #16 – Ivy League
- Travelin’ Elis: Optimism in New Haven? The Yankees are history, there are no Knicks, and the Giants and Jets have provided only disappointment so far. So it has to be about the upcoming Yale basketball season. And the fans have every reason to be hopeful thanks to their two stars who spent a good portion of the summer overseas. Jeremiah Kreisberg played for the Israeli U-20 team in the European Championships, and all he did was lead the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in about 30 minutes of action. The experience the 6’9” sophomore from California gained from international competition makes him the perfect complement to Greg Mangano. The returning RTC Ivy League POY played his way onto the US World University Games roster and in doing so became the first Ivy player to compete on the US team since Bill Bradley in 1965. (Can you say “Senator Mangano?”) While the team did not distinguish itself (a quarterfinal loss to Lithuania earned them a fifth place finish) Mangano got to show his skills playing alongside some of the heavyweights of the Big East. Also on the team were Tim Abromaitis, Ashton Gibbs and Scoop Jardine. Mangano averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in almost 11 minutes of action, highlighted by an 8/8 performance against Mexico.
- Early Exams: Granted, in a league where there is traditionally only one NCAA Tournament bid — Harvard’s merits last year not withstanding — wins and losses in non-conference games mean little. Yet, they do provide some early insight as to where the teams stand and an upset of a national power is cause for celebration. Overwhelming preseason favorite Harvard, along with the top two contenders, Yale and Penn, have early schedules that will prove to be either minefields or springboards. The Crimson play in the Battle for Atlantis over Thanksgiving and open with Utah. If all goes according to plan, they will face heavyweight Connecticut in the final. Should that happen, it will be a prelude to their traditional matchup with the Huskies in early December. Yale has an early date at Seton Hall but their acid test comes during a December road trip to Wake Forest and Florida. But the granddaddy of pre-conference schedules belongs to Penn. They will face Pitt and James Madison during the Hoop Group Philly Classic. That’s the appetizer for a main course that includes Big 5 contests against Temple and Villanova. And the dessert? End-of-year road trips to UCLA and Duke. It’s not a stretch to assume all of the above are tournament teams with Top 25 potential.
Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parenthesis)
- Harvard (14-0)
- Yale (10-4)
- Penn (8-6)
- Princeton (7-7)
- Cornell (7-7)
- Brown (5-9)
- Columbia (4-10)
- Dartmouth (1-13)
Harvard (NCAA seed: #11) – With no conference tournament, it is almost a certainty that Harvard will be the March Madness Ivy representative. We also think that a Top 25 ranking is not out of the realm of possibility, though admittedly a long shot. But remember, Cornell made the poll two years ago. If the committee weighs heavily Cornell’s tourney success and last year’s Princeton near-miss against Kentucky, look for Harvard to receive something in the range of a #10-#12 seed. Last year, Harvard earned an NIT bid, a matchup with Oklahoma State, and was “rewarded” with a trip to Stillwater — a place where even Kansas has struggled to win. Could they stub their toe on the way? Perhaps, but the fact is they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league with their top six players returning along with a star-studded recruiting class. Tommy Amaker’s most difficult task may be finding playing time for all.
- Yale – The Elis should take a major step forward, finishing ahead of both Penn and Princeton. Power up front (Jeremiah Kreisberg and Mangano) and a steady and experienced backcourt (Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite) vault Yale into second place.
- Penn – The Quakers could have the most electric backcourt in the league with former RTC POY Zack Rosen and the quick-handed Miles Cartwright. They will keep Penn in most games, but it is hard to imagine them being able to battle up front with the two teams ahead of them.
Don’t Look Past…
- Princeton – Last year’s champ drops with graduation losses of Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox. Doug Davis – he of the playoff winning shot — and Ian Hummer are a solid returning nucleus. Any improvement from last year’s bit players could have the Tigers in a dog (cat?) fight with Yale and Penn.
- Cornell – Fifth based on reverse alphabetical tiebreaker. This ranking could be a stretch but we are giving head coach Bill Courtney the benefit of the doubt. The Big Red finished strong and has Chris Wroblewski (back for what seems like his 9th year), and return six players who averaged double figures in minutes.
- Brown – It appears as though the bottom of the league has really improved and the Bears are one of the teams who could make the battle for the first division interesting. A coach on the rise (Jesse Agel), last season’s top freshman (Sean McGonagill) and a nice scoring forward (Tucker Halpern) all add to the appeal. A potential NIT Season Tip-Off test against Syracuse will be worth watching if it comes to pass.
- Columbia – With an outstanding backcourt (returnees Noruwa Agho and Brian Barbour), the Lions are another team who could turn the standings upside down. Recruiter extraordinaire Kyle Smith hopes a tall and talented freshman class matures quickly.
- Dartmouth – The Big Green returns a lot of depth and has an interesting incoming class that includes Kirill Savolainen from Finland. Paul Cormier’s team struggled mightily to the tune of a single conference win last year, and it’s tough to anticipate this season going much differently. Escaping the cellar seems out of the question.
All Conference Picks
- G. Zack Rosen, Penn – It’s hard to believe this is the last go-round for the all-everything Quaker. In somewhat of a down year, he averaged 14.3 points and 5.4 assists last season. At a school with a tradition-rich basketball history, he enters this season #4 all time in assists.
- G. Brandyn Curry, Harvard – At times overshadowed by his running mate, Christian Webster, the spicy Curry is the one who keeps the Crimson in clover. He played the most minutes on the team (34 per game) and had a gaudy assist-to-turnover rate (almost 3/1 last season). Curry’s as true a point guard as there is in the league.
- F. Ian Hummer, Princeton – Hummer finished last season on a run with seven straight double figure scoring outings. The rugged Hummer averaged 13.8 points per game to go with 6.8 rebounds. He’ll be asked to do more this year with graduation of Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides. Hummer end up as league scoring champ.
- F. Keith Wright, Harvard – Wright is one of 50 finalists for the prestigious Wooden Award and the only Ivy player on the list. Averaging 14.8 points per game on 58% shooting and 8.3 rebounds for a program on a huge upswing will do that for you. Wright is a definite POY candidate.
- C. Greg Mangano, Yale – We already detailed his offseason, but he belongs here too. Mangano is the only returning Ivy leaguer who averaged a double-double last season, scoring 16.3 points and pulling down 10 boards per game. Once the NBA irons out its wrinkles, look for Mangano to follow former Eli Chris Dudley into the league where they play for pay.
Sixth Man – We took this literally and named an actual sixth man as opposed to simply the sixth-best player. And in doing so, it became impossible to overlook the contributions of Laurent Rivard of Harvard. He started no games, but played about 25 minutes off the bench last season. He shot about 40% from long range and 88% from the line in building an 11.0 PPG average. The 6’5” sophomore from Canada should again occupy that important role for the title-bound Crimson.
Impact Newcomers – Given the lack of athletic scholarships and hence the lack of McDonald’s All-Americans, choosing an impact newcomer in the Ivy League is a crapshoot. Last year, we were way off in choosing Doug Tarwater of Cornell under the assumption he would see a lot of playing time on a graduation-decimated team. This year, we are going with Christian Gore from Brown for three reasons. First, he was a McDonald’s All American nominee. Secondly, he comes from that West Texas town of El Paso, where he was named athlete of the city. Third, Coach Agel proved he was not averse to playing freshmen, given the emergence of Sean McGonagill. And finally, based on his name, it seemed the environmentally correct thing to do.
Reader’s Take #2
Though the middle of the league is unsettled and up for grabs, the top and the bottom are clearly delineated. So much so that this question asks:
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
We already discussed the chances of Greg Mangano moving to the next level, but after him, many of the more promising players in the league are underclassmen. Look for Keith Wright to get a shot to impress at the combines and for Zack Rosen to join some of his prominent Quaker predecessors and play overseas.
As far as coaches go, Tommy Amaker continues to receive overtures to return to schools that give athletic scholarships. So far, he has resisted, perhaps because of the success he’s had at Harvard and the fact that the nucleus of his team still has two years to go. However, should this season include a couple of brand name victories (Utah, Connecticut), a league title, and maybe even a tournament win or two, there would be little left to achieve in Cambridge. A return to a watered-down Big East, for example, might look tempting, but we may be getting ahead of ourselves here.
A (Coaching) Tree Grows in Princeton
For those of us who love the game and are of age, the images are indelible. Gabe Lewullis driving past Charles O’Bannon for a backdoor layup; Toby Bailey’s ensuing airball from the baseline, and Pete Carril attempting to rip whatever hair he had left from his head in sheer exultation. A finish made for Gus Johnson, who naturally happened to be at the mic. Indeed, the 1996 Princeton Tiger upset of defending champ UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament remains the hope and mantra of every Cinderella that ever takes the court and a reference point for every announcer hoping to make that career-changing call. At the time, no one was thinking about the people involved in the game. It was The Upset, names were irrelevant. But, on further review, let’s examine how those on the Princeton sideline on that March day left their mark on basketball and on the Ancient Eight of the Ivy League.
Forget for a moment that the head coach, Pete Carril, forever changed the way Princeton would play basketball. By his side was Bill Carmody, who has changed the way Northwestern even thinks about the game, let alone play it. At Carmody’s elbow for six years, none other than the First Brother-In-Law and former Tiger player under Carril, Craig Robinson, now the head man at Oregon State. Another assistant, John Thompson III, has followed in his father’s footsteps by restoring Georgetown Hoya Paranoia throughout the Big East. The third assistant? Joe Scott, he himself a head coach now at Denver, formerly of Princeton and Air Force. Scott’s protege, Chris Mooney, was a four-year starter at Princeton, and is now the successful head coach of the Richmond Spiders. All Carril disciples.
But what of those on the court? Only seven played. The high scorer was a junior named Sydney Johnson, who scored 11 in the 43-41 victory. Ivy followers know that 15 years later, it was Johnson, who as head coach, led the Tigers back to the Tournament. Those Tigers, as you remember, almost pulled off an upset of similar proportions against Kentucky, but lost ironically on a last second layup. But Sydney has moved on to Fairfield. So it is only fitting that his replacement was the man forever pictured joyously leaping at game’s end, Johnson’s teammate that day, Mitch Henderson. With pride in his alma mater, Johnson will look to do his former coach proud.
What hath football wrought? Has anyone else gotten dizzy from all the conference jumping that has gone on in search of the last penny of TV revenue? All pigskin generated. Yet for most of the schools involved, even for the most traditional hoop powers, the impact on basketball in the long run will be negligible. After all, what is the difference if Syracuse plays NC State twice a year instead of St. John’s? Or if TCU travels to Memphis, or Rutgers, or Oklahoma? Things are progressing towards an inevitable tournament expansion that could let everyone in and dilute the regular season into a string of exhibitions. Which brings us to the Ivy League. The thought here is that the more conference realignment, the better. Let them all jump. The Pac-100 and the Big 86 sound good to me. Because soon the bottom-feeders of those mega-conferences will be complaining that as the 257th-best team, they deserve an at-large bid. Then all will be invited and March Madness will be extended so eventually we all become April Fools. But there will be dancing in the streets in places like Hanover and Morningside Heights and Providence as their schools receive invitations to the Big Big Dance. And then they too can complain about being seeded 304th.