2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ivy LeagueOctober 30th, 2012
- Pencil, Not Ink: In the Ivy Summer School piece, one of the top storylines was devoted to the important roster changes that had occurred since the final whistle blew in March. Looking back, that blurb was merely foreshadowing. In early September, the Harvard cheating scandal broke, and shortly after, four names dropped off the Crimson’s published roster, including All-Ivy seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. Around the same time, forward Dockery Walker disappeared from the Brown roster, as he will miss the season with a knee injury – a huge blow considering All-Ivy caliber forward Andrew McCarthy already left the team prior to what would have been his senior season. Princeton’s already threadbare backcourt took a hit when Jimmy Sherburne decided to take the season off to recover from a shoulder injury. Dartmouth, a team that needs as much talent as it can find, dropped its third-leading scorer R.J. Griffin from its roster before what would have been his senior season. Finally, Meiko Lyles fell off the Columbia roster earlier this month then returned to it a few days later, an important development after Noruwa Agho decided not to use his fifth year of eligibility to return to the squad for the upcoming season. Final rosters have been posted for a while now, but thus far, the term “final” has merely been a suggestion.
- GOV 1310: Introduction To Chaos: The novelty of seeing Ivy basketball plastered all over popular publications and seeing air time on SportsCenter has long since passed, as the 2010 Cornell squad, Tommy Amaker-led Harvard teams and Linsanity have afforded the league publicity far beyond what a normal one-bid conference could expect. For the first time since the initial media explosion, though, the breaking story would hardly paint Harvard or the Ivy League in a positive light. Roughly 125 students were being investigated for cheating on a take-home exam in Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. Among the accused were a few Harvard basketball players, including two of the league’s best – Curry and Casey. While the story elicited editorial commentary of both a supportive and condemning nature, from a basketball perspective, the subsequent withdrawals of both student-athletes turned the Ivy race upside down. Curry was the lone returning point guard on the team, and Casey’s presence in the frontcourt was supposed to ease the pain of losing former Ivy Player of the Year Keith Wright. Now, with 10 freshmen and sophomores and just five juniors and seniors combined, the Crimson has become one of the league’s least experienced squads.
- Live Streaming, But On Cable: For the first time since the Ivy deal with YES expired after the 2007-08 season, the league has a national media partner for men’s basketball. In renewing its Ivy football rights this past spring, NBC Sports Network also agreed to pick up as many as 10 basketball games per year, putting the league in almost 80 million homes nationally. In its inaugural season, the channel formerly known as Versus nabbed the maximum number of allotted games with three non-conference contests and seven Ivy showdowns. Including the Harvard-Yale game on February 23, which NBC sublicensed to CBS Sports Network, the package will provide the league with one game on national television every week but one from December 28 to the end of the season. Ivy squads are also scheduled to appear on the ESPN family of networks 11 times (five of those on ESPN3), the Pac-12 network twice and the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports Net once each.
1. Princeton (12-2)
2. Harvard (9-5)
3. Cornell (8-6)
4. Columbia (8-6)
5. Pennsylvania (6-8)
6. Yale (6-8)
7. Brown (4-10)
8. Dartmouth (3-11)
Preseason All-Conference Selections
- Brian Barbour, G, Columbia – Barbour won’t go down as one of the league’s best shooters, but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most efficient scorers. The crafty guard finds the paint with ease and draws fouls in bunches. His shooting woes don’t extend to the free throw line, however, as Barbour made 90 percent of his attempts last season, fourth-best in the nation.
- Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard – Much like Barbour, Saunders will never be mentioned among the elite perimeter snipers to have played in this league. In fact, it’s rare that you see the 6’5″ sophomore take a long jumper at all. Yet even with sagging defenses, few opponents can keep Saunders from getting into the paint and either making things happen for teammates or forcing his way to the line.
- Ian Hummer, F, Princeton – The prohibitive favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year is likely to be just as important to his squad as Zack Rosen was to Penn last season. When Hummer was on the floor last year, he used 31 percent of the team’s possessions (17th-most nationally). With perimeter sharpshooter Douglas Davis now graduated, Hummer might even have to take on more of the offensive load, which should lead to a gaudy scoring average and tons of national recognition.
- Mark Cisco, C, Columbia – Cisco boasts some of most polished post moves the Ivy League has ever seen, but he can sometimes struggle to get the ball enough to show them off. He is one of the league’s best rebounders, and at 6’9”, has enough size to be a presence against most Ivy opponents. Like most big men, foul trouble has been an issue, something that contributed to him logging just 25 minutes per game last year and that he will need to control going forward.
- Miles Cartwright, G, Pennsylvania – After two years of watching Rosen play the lead guard role, it’s finally Cartwright’s turn to be the primary offensive weapon for the Quakers. The junior guard broke out during league play last season, knocking down almost 50 percent of his threes in joining Rosen as the only other player to average double-digits in scoring.
6th Man: Austin Morgan, G, Yale – This one is a bit of a wildcard, but Morgan once again toiled beneath the hype of the Greg Mangano show, knocking down 39 percent of his three-point attempts and posting an offensive rating of 111.0 – consistent with his output as a freshman and sophomore. There may be a handful of Ivy players with more upside, but none with Morgan’s proven output.
Impact Newcomer: Siyani Chambers, PG, Harvard – Projecting rookies is always difficult since production requires both talent and opportunity. It’s a little easier for Chambers, though. Harvard has no other options at the point, so the 6’0” freshman from Minnesota will likely be installed as the starter from day one. How effective he will be remains to be seen, but the talent is there, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
Princeton (NCAA Seed: #14): It’s not that the Tigers have the fewest questions of any Ivy team, but rather that they have the most answers that makes them the near-prohibitive favorite. Princeton enters the year incredibly thin at guard, with just T.J. Bray as a proven commodity. The Tigers have a few options to help including junior Chris Clement and sophomore Clay Wilson, but there’s not a lot of depth behind them if they can’t produce. As long as the guard play is passable, though, that should be plenty to push Princeton to an Ivy title, as its frontcourt has tremendous size and the league’s best player in Ian Hummer.
- Harvard (CIT/CBI): Once the likely favorite in the Ivy race, the Crimson’s massive roster upheaval has dropped it down to the pack of contenders. Only eight league teams since 1997 have had to replace a higher percentage of its total possessions than Harvard during the coming campaign. The Crimson might be uniquely situated to fill the gaps, as it has dominated the Ivy recruiting landscape since Tommy Amaker arrived in Cambridge. Freshmen forwards Patrick Steeves, Agunwa Okolie, Evan Cummins and guard Chambers all chipped in with solid contributions during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage at Crimson Madness, while four sophomores reached double figures as well. If Harvard has a shot at the three-peat (it shared the title in 2011), Amaker’s last two recruiting classes will have to lead the way.
- Cornell (CIT/CBI): Heading into year three of the Bill Courtney era, Cornell finally looks poised to return to the league’s upper division. Anchored by a serviceable collection of frontcourt players and dynamic combo forwards Shonn Miller and Errick Peck, the Big Red might be as good at the 3-4-5 positions as any team in the league not named Princeton. Losing guards Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry to graduation leaves Cornell in quite the same spot as the Tigers just with more potential options for backcourt minutes. Johnathan Gray and Galal Cancer logged about 20 minutes per game last year, but Gray’s shooting struggles and Cancer’s turnover issues keep either from being bankable. The Big Red has seven other guards on the roster, but quantity isn’t necessarily quality, something Cornell will need to find if it plans on hanging around in the Ivy race this season.
- Columbia (CIT/CBI): For a program mired in mediocrity for years, the Lions seemed poised for a relative breakout. Columbia finished in the Top 200 for the first time in the 10-year history of the Pomeroy Rankings and returned 80 percent of its possessions along with a healthy Agho. But with Agho declining to utilize his injury redshirt to return to the Lions squad, Columbia seemingly went from being the trendy darkhorse pick to a marginal contender at best. The Lions still likely have three All-Ivy players in Barbour, Lyles and Cisco and a supporting cast that has some offensive firepower. Questions linger on the defensive end of the floor though. The Lions were the league’s best at corralling opponents’ misses, but the problem during Ivy play was that the opposition didn’t miss all that much. The result was an ugly 4-10 league record from a team that looked like a lock for a CIT or CBI berth after a strong non-conference run.
Reader’s Take II
It’s not just the league’s freshmen who will be making their debuts this season, two sophomore forwards will be logging their first collegiate minutes as well. Brown’s Rafael Maia lost a year of eligibility due to international high school transfer rules and will finally get his shot – just in time too, as Brown is incredibly thin in the frontcourt. Penn forward Greg Louis missed his entire freshman season with hip surgery, but will now be needed to step into the rotation from day one after Rob Belcore and Mike Howlett graduated this offseason.
This year’s Ivy incoming class includes three of the top 10 recruits of the past decade – all of whom are playing for Harvard (Chambers, plus forwards Michael Hall and Evan Cummins). As with most near seven-footers, Hall will likely be a longer-term project, but expect Chambers, Cummins and fellow rookies Okolie and Steeves to see time for the Crimson this season. Penn welcomes highly-touted guards Tony Hicks, Jamal Lewis and Julian Harrell just in time to replace significant backcourt minutes. Dartmouth brings in volume-scoring guard Alex Mitola and another stable of potentially useful players as it desperately tries to accumulate Division I talent. Yale won the services of Justin Sears, beating out Ivy rival Princeton, and will likely ask the 6’8″ forward to contribute immediately. Speaking of 6’8″ freshman forwards, Brown has one of its own in Cedric Kuakumensah, who like Sears should see the rotation from day one.
Spotlight on… Yale Coach James Jones
During the 2009-10 campaign, James Jones saw his impressive streak of nine-straight seasons with at least a .500 record in league play come to an end, as a 79-59 loss in the season finale to Cornell dropped Yale to 6-8 in the Ivies. That was good enough for fourth place, though, and that kept Jones’ other impressive run of consecutive upper division (top four) finishes alive. Jones took the reins at Yale prior to the 1999-2000 campaign, and after a 5-9, fifth-place finish that season, Jones has never had a squad finish worse than fourth – a remarkable 12-straight years. He has been especially adept at finishing fourth (seven times), but even getting to that mark will be a chore this year. Jones has been able to guide bad teams to upper division finishes before, the worst being a Pomeroy 263rd-ranked team in 2005-06, but he managed to do so during some of the worst Ivy seasons in the modern era. With four teams clearly a step ahead of the Bulldogs this year and another (Pennsylvania) that should be better as well, if Jones can keep his streak of upper division finishes alive, it will truly be one of his best coaching jobs yet.
Much like the 2010-11 campaign, this season’s Ivy League is merely the prologue in a two-year story. The league will assuredly take a step back, potentially losing its conference ranking in the teens for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The rebuilding process won’t last long though. With Casey and Curry returning to a more experienced Crimson squad and the addition of Top 50 recruit Zena Edosomwan, Harvard should be right back to its 2011-12 level next season. Cornell and Penn continue to outmaneuver quality mid-majors for recruits and should be legitimate contenders by 2013-14. Dartmouth’s 13 freshmen and sophomores should help the Big Green take a big leap over the next two years, so long as enough of them stay in the program. The rise of those four programs and potential steps forward from Brown and Yale as well should more than offset the fall of senior-laden teams like Columbia and Princeton.
The expected upswing in momentum should be bolstered by the league’s television deal with the added exposure being a potential boon in recruiting. If the Ivies can draw big enough ratings to keep the relationship going with NBC Sports Net long term, then 2011-12 likely won’t remain the league’s strongest top-to-bottom showing of the modern era for long.