Ever since Cornell reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, the Ivy League has once again rebranded itself as a conference of dangerous opponents instead of the stereotypical smart guys who play basketball in between science fairs.
Harvard made that clear again in late November. In an eight-team field that included defending national champion Connecticut and No. 22 Florida State, the Crimson emerged as the champions of the Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas, knocking off Utah, Florida State and Central Florida in the process.
The problem for the conference is that apart from the Crimson, the contenders for the conference title got off to slow starts in non-league play.
Yale can’t hang its head over an 11-point loss to the Big East’s Seton Hall, but would dearly love to have that six-point loss at Quinnipiac back. Penn lost back-to-back-to-back games to Wagner, Pittsburgh and James Madison. And Princeton’s new coaching staff got off to a 2-5 start with losses to Wagner, Elon, Bucknell and Morehead State.
And the injury news is worse. Columbia lost Noruwa Agho for the season with a knee injury in the second game of the season, so barring him getting a rare Ivy League medical redshirt his college career is over. Cornell may have lost Errick Peck for the season with knee surgery, and is battling injuries to several other players as well.
It’s not a big deal if you’re Harvard, which entered December getting a lot of votes in the Top 25 poll, if not an actual ranking. But the slow start from the rest of the league could have an impact on the postseason.
Three teams made it to a postseason tournament a year ago, and a fourth would have joined them had Yale not lost too many of its players to Spring Break before the fields were announced. For that to happen again, the other seven of the Ancient Eight will need to pick up the pace in a hurry.
• The biggest loss of the early season didn’t come on the scoreboard in the Ivy League. Rather, it came in the form of a knee injury that will sideline Columbia guard Noruwa Agho for the season. Agho was the centerpiece of Kyle Smith’s offense a year ago and the early part of this season, and other players are going to have to fill the breach to replace his considerable offensive production.
• Yale center Greg Mangano started the 2011-12 season like he left off the previous campaign … as an All-Ivy lock and a potential NBA player. He was averaging close to a double-double through November.
• Penn guard Zack Rosen got off to a red-hot start, averaging more than 20 points a game through November. He’s also moving up the charts in the Penn record books, which is a mixed blessing for his coach. He was 50 assists away from the career record at Penn through seven games of the 2011-12 season … a mark held by coach Jerome Allen with 505 career helpers.
• One thing about Princeton is that it’s going to be tough for Ivy League teams to dominate the Tigers in the paint. The Tigers have nine players on the roster who are 6-8 or taller, the most in the conference.
• Dartmouth guard David Rufful gave the Big Green a rare bit of good news when he was named to the Great Alaska Shootout’s All-Tournament team in November. The senior averaged 17.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in the three games, and made 10 of his 15 attempts from three-point range in the three-day event, which saw his team beat Alaska Anchorage and lose to San Francisco and Central Michigan.
• While the Harvard men’s basketball team was in California knocking off Loyola Marymount, its gym was being put to good use by a charity event that also gave the local fans a chance to welcome back its most prominent basketball-playing alum.
Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo hosted an event at Lavietes Gym to benefit to benefit local charities SPIN (Serving People In Need), Sojourner House, and Crossroads Family Shelter. Among the returnees was former Harvard guard Jeremy Lin. Lin nailed a host of deep threes to help his team, which included Rondo, JaJuan Johnson, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and Kendrick Perkins, to victory.
• Of all the injured Cornell players, and there are many, the most worrisome news may concern forward Errick Peck. Peck entered December on the sidelines, and hasn’t been able to play since undergoing what was expected to be a minor knee surgery over the summer. But there are reportedly lingering issues there, and the cartilage is not regenerating as quickly as the surgeons expected. At this point, he could be out for the season.
• Brown got bad news from the NCAA concerning recruit Rafael Maia, who graduated from a Brazilian high school in 2009 and played last year at Maine Central Institute. Because he graduated from a Southern Hemisphere high school and did not enroll at a Division I institution within one year of that date, he has to sit out the 2011-12 season and will lose a year of eligibility.
• Columbia played shorthanded early in the season, thanks to an injury to starting forward John Daniels that caused him to miss the first two games. However, Daniels was back in the starting lineup by the end of November.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Matchup To Watch: It seems crazy to think of it, but the Dec. 8 game between Harvard and Connecticut is probably a matchup between the top two teams in New England. At least the coaches have seen a lot of each other—both were participants in the Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas, with the Crimson winning the tournament and the Huskies coming in third.
Recruiting Watch: It should be no surprise that Tommy Amaker already has four highly-touted verbal commitments for the upcoming recruiting class. Getting top talent has been a strong suit for him in every stop on his coaching trail.
Games To Watch:
Pennsylvania at Villanova
A win here, and the slow start for the Quakers becomes a distant memory.
Lehigh at Cornell
It’s the last game for the Big Red before its two week break for exams.
Yale at Sacred Heart
Bulldogs will be looking for a road win, but the Pioneers knocked off the Ivy’s Brown in November.
Brown at Providence
The Rhode Island rivalry gave is always fun to watch.
Princeton at Rutgers
Tigers always seem to perform well at the State University of New Jersey.
Harvard at Connecticut
The Crimson somehow wasn’t ranked despite winning the Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas. It’ll definitely get in the Top 25 if it can knock off the defending national champions.
Around The League
Stephen Albrect was expected to have a big impact after sitting out the 2010-11 season as a transfer from Toledo, and so far he hasn’t disappointed.
Albrecht scored a career-high 23 points against Sacred Heart on Nov. 27. He also made six three-pointers in that game, tied for the 10th-most in program history.
• Jean Harris returned to the Bears after taking a year and a half off from college basketball. The senior didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things: He had 11 points in the season opener against Johnson & Wales.
• Tucker Halpern began the 2011-12 season on the sidelines with a case of mononucleosis. He missed the team’s November games and is out indefinitely.
If Columbia is going to make an impact in the Ivy League, it will need an all-conference type of season from point guard Brian Barbour. Though the Lions struggled early, the early returns were promising as far as Barbour’s play was concerned.
Barbour led the team in scoring in four of its first five games. Perhaps more impressively, he did so while taking care of the ball. For example, he committed just one turnover in 38 minutes against a Manhattan team that entered the game averaging more than 20 forced turnovers per game.
• Freshman Alex Rosenberg made his first career start in Columbia’s Nov. 26 victory over Manhattan. The forward continued to look comfortable as a collegiate, with 11 points and five rebounds in his 32 minutes.
• Columbia controlled the offensive glass in four of its first five games. If that doesn’t sound like much consider that one of those opponents was Connecticut, and the Lions outrebounded the Huskies 20-10 on the offensive end.
• Shonn Miller made himself the early favorite for Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors, sharing Rookie of the Week honors for the first two weeks of the season.
That’s not bad, considering Miller began the season without much practice time. He spent the first part of the preseason recovering from a stress fracture, and was originally expected to be sidelined until the end of November.
• Forward Anthony Gatlin remains on the sidelines, and will likely be in street clothes until Cornell’s winter break.
• Freshman forward David LaMore turned his ankle in the preseason, and was still working his way back to full strength by the start of December.
The Big Green newcomers gave the fans some reason for optimism early, sharing the Ivy League’s first two Rookie of the Week honors.
Jvonte Brooks got the award for the season’s first week, after scoring eight points in 29 minutes off the bench against Rutgers. Teammate Gabas Maldunas shared it the following week after following up his double-double against Bryant with nine points and seven rebounds against Vermont.
• Dartmouth failed in its first two attempts at back-to-back victories, losing to San Francisco after knocking off Bryant and then falling to Central Michigan after beating Alaska Anchorage. It hasn’t won two games in a row since it swept Penn and Princeton on the same weekend in Feb. 2009.
• Will McConnell probably thought he would be spending Thanksgiving with a family member when he saw the trip to the Great Alaska Shootout on the schedule. After all, his twin brother Reed plays for UC Irvine, which also participated in the event. However, Reed McConnell is redshirting and did not make the trip.
One of the most impressive parts of the Crimson’s three-game sweep in the Bahamas was its lack of intimidation. Facing a Florida State team with a lot of size inside, Harvard dominated the glass and won the rebounding battle 40-30. It wasn’t just the veterans coming through either: Freshman Steve Moundou-Missi got five boards to go with his seven points off the bench.
• Keith Wright came home from the Bahamas with some hardware, winning the MVP trophy from the Battle 4 Atlantis. He averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per night over the three-game stretch.
—The victories in Atlantis fell just short of enough to get Harvard into the Top 25 for the first time in school history. The Crimson entered December with the second-most votes for teams not in the rankings in both the AP and Coaches’ polls.
Henry Brooks was expected to take some time to adjust to the Quaker basketball program following a knee injury he suffered as a high school senior. But the freshman looks ready to be a factor for the Quakers in Ivy League play.
Brooks played in six of the team’s first seven games, averaging close to 10 minutes per night. He scored a season-high 10 points in the loss to James Madison, and had four rebounds when the Quakers fell to Pitt.
• Freshman forward Greg Louis underwent hip surgery this Fall, and will be out for several months.
• The Quakers’ reliance on Zack Rosen was apparent in a 60-58 loss to James Madison in late November. Down by two with 10 seconds left, the Quakers tried to get the ball to their scoring leader, but the Dukes dedicated their defense to keeping it out of his hands. Instead, Penn settled for a shot by Mike Howlett that was blocked at the buzzer.
Mitch Henderson hasn’t been afraid to switch things up this season, particularly given the Tigers slow start.
Seven different players started the first seven games. The bench rotation has changed as well, with Henderson searching for the combination that works best. He says that the depth and talent is there, but hasn’t found the right fit yet.
• Mack Darrow got his first career start in Princeton’s Nov. 27 victory over West Alabama. He just missed a double-double, with 10 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
• The fact that Princeton has gotten off to a slow start shouldn’t be too concerning, based on recent history. Last year’s team started off 2-3 but went on to win the Ivy League title. The 2009-10 squad went 2-4 through six games, and wound up earning a spot in the College Basketball Invitational.
• Perhaps because of its advantage in the middle, Yale has been one of the best defensive teams in the Ivy League early in the season. Through five games, the Bulldogs were allowing opponents to shoot just 35.8% from the field, and 23.5% from three-point range.
• Michael Grace was absent from the Army game because of a death in the family, but that was about the only down part of the early season for the reserve guard. Grace had seven or more points in three of the first four games, and seven assists in the win over Lyndon State.
• Freshman forward Matt Townsend has yet to make his Yale debut because of an injury.