Friday, February 3, 2012

Harvard Crimson Previews Ivy League Weekend

(Photo Cornell Athletics)

Last week was “shopping week” for Harvard undergrads, who got to try out their classes and see what they thought before committing to taking them. In a way, last weekend was likewise a shopping week for Ivy basketball fans, who got a little taste of each of the teams in a head-to-head format and were able to make some early judgments.

But unlike work in classes you don’t end up taking, these games actually mattered. And though we didn’t learn anything we didn’t really already know—Harvard is really good, Dartmouth is really bad, and everyone else falls somewhere in between—we did discover some worthwhile information about the Ivy hoops scene.

After struggling in games at Fordham, Monmouth, and Vermont earlier this year, the Crimson was surprisingly dominant in what should have been a much tougher road environment in New Haven last Friday. Harvard’s offense executed on all cylinders, finding the open man time and time again, while its defense held Yale to fewer points than the Crimson football team scored in The Game.

Harvard currently ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, though that’s a mostly useless stat because it doesn’t take into account pace or adjust for opponent.

Still, the Crimson has nonetheless proven to be an outstanding defensive team, and—thanks to a quartet of freshmen that keeps getting better every week—a much deeper, more balanced offensive one than last season’s. Whether it’s Steve Moundou-Missi’s energy, Corbin Miller’s shooting stroke, Jonah Travis’ toughness, or Wes Saunders’ athleticism, these rookies continue to impress.

We’ll discuss the rest of the league below, because after a dominant 6-0 record last week, I’m ready to jump right into the picks.

CORNELL (7-11, 2-2 Ivy) at HARVARD (18-2, 4-0)

Two years ago, an outstanding Big Red team came into Lavietes Pavilion and, behind 27 points from Ryan Wittman, demolished the Crimson in what had at that time been deemed “the biggest game in Harvard basketball history.”

There have been two more “biggest games in Harvard basketball history” since, and things now are very different from that evening two years ago.

Just this week, Jeremy Lin ’10—Wittman’s former competitor for Ivy Player of the Year—became a Madison Square Garden fan favorite following 26 successful NBA minutes. Similarly, Wittman led his Washington Wizards to a 102-99 win over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Wait, what?

Oh that’s right, that was his dad, Randy!

Ryan Wittman, for his part, became a Timberwolves fan favorite after his 26 successful hours working in Morgan Stanley’s Minneapolis branch. Here’s one to add to Ryan Wittman retired so quickly, I didn’t even have time to finish writing this joke.

I only kid because it was disappointing to see a great talent like that give up so soon.

But in any case, the Crimson is now the Ivy League’s main dog at long last, and tonight it has another chance to prove it—just like Cornell did in the same arena two years ago.

Pick: Harvard 74, Cornell 60

PRINCETON (10-9, 1-2 Ivy) at BROWN (7-14, 1-3)

Brown shocked the Ivy basketball world by upsetting Princeton in each of the past two seasons, but if it wins tonight, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The Bears played the Crimson tough last week, fighting back to stay in the game on a number of occasions. Sean McGonagill and Stephen Albrecht form a talented guard duo, though they can get a bit trigger-happy at times, firing up threes like they’re the twin sons of Ali Farokhmanesh.

The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to struggle, and have already lost as many Ivy games as they did all last season.

Pick: Brown 67, Princeton 62

COLUMBIA (12-8, 1-3) AT DARTMOUTH (4-16, 0-4)

Put it this way: You could take a team of the five least athletic Lions of all time—let’s say Matt Millen, Snagglepuss, the Cowardly Lion, Joey Harrington, and Lionel Mandrake from Dr. Strangelove—and it would still beat Dartmouth.

Pick: Columbia 66, Dartmouth 63

PENN (11-9, 3-0) AT YALE (13-5, 3-1)

This is the best game of the weekend by far, with enormous implications for the only two other squads with legitimate postseason aspirations this year (you know, assuming Yale doesn’t decide to go on spring break again instead).

The two Player of the Year frontrunners and Ivy scoring leaders, Yale’s Greg Mangano and Penn’s Zack Rosen, will be going head-to-head. And while the Quakers are supposed to be a peaceful people, emerging from Yale with a win is going to require a lot of fight.

Penn, which starts four guards and a 6’8” freshman forward, simply doesn’t match up well inside with the Bulldogs. The 6’10” Mangano and 6’9” Jeremiah Kreisberg should dominate inside, and though Rosen will try, that’s something he won’t be able to overcome.

Pick: Yale 72, Penn 67


The best teams are often the ones that are most disliked, and that’s something the Crimson is quickly starting to learn this year.

In a ridiculous column written in the Columbia Spectator this week, one writer urged readers to “hate” Tommy Amaker, comparing him—one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve encountered—to sports figures such as O.J. Simpson.

Clearly upset about being denied an interview with Amaker, the writer resorts to claiming that the coach has had a journey to “scandaltown.” His source, of course, is the 2008 New York Times article that reported Amaker guilty of NCAA recruiting violations; the writer, fittingly, decides not to mention that the coach was later cleared of any serious wrongdoing by the NCAA and found merely to have committed an “unintentional secondary violation.”

The writer then encourages Columbia’s athletic department to promote the idea of a Columbia-Harvard rivalry—because as every sports fan knows, all true rivalries start with people working for the team telling their fans to make it a rivalry.

Here’s the problem, Columbia: rivalries have to go both ways, but you just don’t matter enough to have a rivalry with.

Just look at your sports culture: Your team color is baby blue. Your students need to ride the subway across the city just to go to your football games. Speaking of football, your band received national media attention for making fun of its own team, which finished a pathetic 1-9. That’s almost as bad as you did in men’s hockey and men’s lacrosse. Oh wait, that’s not true, because you don’t even have teams in those sports.

There are like seven fans on your entire campus, the majority of whom apparently spend their time debating which fictional villain the opponent’s coach is most similar to.

So sorry, Columbia, find someone else to hate. Since you love superheroes so much, perhaps try Underdog. Because that’s what you always will be.

Pick: Harvard 76, Columbia 59


Big things are supposed to be good at basketball; the Big Red and Big Green are not. In fact, Cornell’s not very big at all; it’s two leading rebounders are the 6’7” Shonn Miller and 6’0” Chris Wrobleswki.

The squad badly lacks frontcourt depth, and that should allow Gabas Maldunas and company to give the Big Red some trouble in the historic “voluminous pigments” rivalry.

I could definitely see Dartmouth making a run at an upset here—they’re due for one sometime soon, and this is the type of game where Cornell loves to play down to its opponents. But I think it’s a bit too early for the Big Green’s annual one conference win of the year.

Pick: Cornell 64, Dartmouth 60


After last week’s embarrassment, it’s clear that Yale is much further from competing for a championship than we thought. That’s largely because they have no point guard after losing Porter Braswell to graduation. I’m not sure how they’ve been so successful without one, but the Bulldog offense was a mess Friday night.

That being said, they’re still better than Princeton. And though Doug Davis returns to the arena where he hit “The Shot,” there shouldn’t be any opportunities for another miracle this time around.

Pick: Yale 74, Princeton 66


Zack Rosen clearly plans to will Penn to his first Ivy title or die trying. The senior point guard has already taken 266 shots this season—just 14 less than he took last year, but in almost 400 fewer minutes.

How long Rosen will be able to find success in the Greg Jennings “team on my back” role remains to be seen, but it should be more than enough to beat the Bears.

Pick: Penn 78, Brown 71


Anonymous said...

This reporter makes a small but highly significant mistake in recounting Harvard's recruiting missteps. Amaker was not in fact cleared of any serious wrongdoing by the NCAA; he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Ivy League office.

The NCAA then later delivered a meaningful rebuke when it announced that it would step in to review the situation as well, in effect saying that the League's analysis had been improperly performed. After this second review, the NCAA determined that Harvard had in fact committed secondary violations but nowhere used the word "unintentional."

When Harvard announced that, in the face of the NCAA's finding, it would accept recruiting limitations, the school used the word "unintentional" in its own defense. The NCAA itself never used the words "unintentional secondary violation."

Indeed, given that the NCAA specifically stepped in to reopen an inquiry already completed by the League office, it's fair to say that the NCAA was particularly concerned that something "intentional" had been committed.

I like how the Harvard Crimson writer has picked up CBB's mantle, comparing the post-graduation performances of Jeremy Lin and Randy Wittman. Those two will be forever linked in the minds of many.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

This is correct. Harvard was not ultimately cleared. To the contrary, the NCAA investigated, and Harvard accepted essentially a plea bargain deal, to accept a secondary violation rather than face an intensive investigation and a primary violation.

The definition of "secondary violation" is either an "isolated" or unitentional breach of NCAA rules.

Harvard did in fact violate NCAA Rules in recruiting Max Kenyi and Keith Wright. (By establishing contact with both prospects during a closed period)

We can debate all day if the violation was significant and if the punishment fit the "crime" as they say. But the facts are the facts. Harvard did violate rules and was penalized for the rule violation. (the penalty was a reduction in campus visits permitted for prospects)

And Keith Wright is the current reigning Player of the Year and has helped shape the current program.

Anonymous said...

There is no comparison between Lin and Wittman: Lin is in the NBA (and having a pretty nice run for the Knicks); Wittman is sitting behind a desk and shuffling papers at Morgan Stanley.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Right. Lin is with his 3rd NBA team in 12 months with the first two teams cutting him. He's definitely an NBA journeyman trying to find a place in the league.

Anonymous said...

Too bad kin never won an ivy title ... Or 3

Anonymous said...

It was insulting for Tommy Amaker to use the word "unintentional" in describing Harvard's violation and his acceptance of NCAA recruiting penalties. Basketball coaches don't drive hundreds of miles out of their way to play basketball with prized recruits "unintentionally."

Amaker could have a better argument that a coach might bump into a prized recruit's parents in a supermarket aisle unintentionally, but I don't know how often Amaker does his grocery shopping in New Jersey. I understand the tomatoes are terrific down there.

I'm surprised that Wittman would give up so early, especially with his European travelling companion Foote still giving it the old college try.

I'm actually impressed that Lin has caught on with his third NBA team. We all thought that his first contract with Golden State was a marketing gimmick, but he's found three NBA general managers who think that he is an NBA player. Journeyman or not, he's in uniform at tip-off. It makes me sad that Wittman is sitting in a cubicle in Minneapolis.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Lin first signed with Golden State, his hometown team. The cities of San Francisco and New York have the two largest Chinese populations in the country.

His 2nd contract was with Houston, the Yao Ming franchise. More Chinese own Rockets jerseys than any other NBA jersey.

Lin's 3rd contract was with New York. See point 1 above.

Is this all by coincidence?

If he signs with Milwaukee or Oklahoma City or some random midwest team then the debate becomes more interesting. But right now, the 4 best teams for Lin in terms of selling tickets and marketing are Golden State, Houston, New York and Boston.

Wouldn't shock me if the Celtics are team #4 on his parade around the NBA.

As for Wittman, his decision to leave basketball was his choice and he was just one of four players in the Cornell class of 2010 to get paid to play the game. He could certainly return if he chooses.

Anonymous said...

"He's definitely an NBA journeyman trying to find a place in the league."

Making the NBA is no small feat -- just ask Wittman, who gave up, and Foote, who's toiling in the D-League. Not sure why this blog feels a recurring need to undercut the kid; he's the only Ivy League player in the NBA. And he's playing, journeyman or not.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Lin had a wonderful college career. Nobody is attacking his performance in the Ivy League.

The pro level is a different story.

We "undercut" Lin in the pros because he is a marketing/publicity stunt. A circus act to sell tickets.

He's a good minor league/overseas player. But he is not an NBA player.

But don't take it from us. Even Paul Cormier, the former Warriors scout stated as much that he was signed to sell some tickets.

If Lin were in the D-League, he'd be an All Star. No doubt about it. But not seeing him as an NBA player. Primarily because of his inability to shoot.

Wait 2-4 years down the line, then judge on Lin vs. Foote.

Right now, Lin has yet to play a full 80 game season in the NBA without getting cut or sent down to the D-League.

Anonymous said...

I think the message board posters and CBB simply have different definitions of "NBA player." The posters seem to define one as anybody who is drawing an NBA paycheck. CBB wants him to be an NBA *pla-yah.*

Anonymous said...

If Lin is just a "circus stunt to sell tickets," then answer this: why is he on the Knicks? The Knicks sellout every night, they have no need for a player who can sell tickets. You sound ignorant.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

The Knicks do not sell out every night. In fact, they still run commercials on MSG to sell tickets.

Anonymous said...

I think you might want to reconsider your view of Jeremy Lin as an NBA point guard. Sample size is small (2 games), but he is learning how to run the "attacking" Knick offense. Intelligent players can improve with hard work. I think that is the potential lesson in this case. Time will tell if Lin becomes a solid NBA player, or just a flash in the pan. Anyway, it is exciting to watch this magical moment.

Anonymous said...

hmm. How's this discussion changed after the last two Knick games?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

You said it, "two games." But, don't yell at us. Yell at Golden State that cut him, Houston that cut him, and the Knicks that sent him down to the D-League two weeks ago.

But yeah, two games and he is playing well this week.

Anonymous said...

I'm not yelling at either Golden State or Houston. It's easy to look at Lin and conclude that he's not an NBA starter or even role player.

But lucky for him, the Knicks were desperate. Bibby and Shumpert weren't getting the job done; Davis got injured. Last night was the true moment of maximum desperation with Stoudemire out of town and 'Melo injured five minutes in.

As others have said, given the small sample size, no conclusions can be drawn. But if -- it's still a gigantic *IF* -- Lin catches on in the NBA, the story will read just like Trent Green or Drew Bledsoe getting injured.

It was desperation which made the Rams start Warner and the Patriots start Brady. The talent was there all along; it just needed an opportunity.

By the way, nobody's suggesting that Lin is the basketball equivalent of Warner or Brady although one could argue that, from a sports perspective, playing football at Northern Iowa is on par with coming out of Harvard's basketball program.