CIO… the Ivy LeagueJanuary 18th, 2013
Conference Rivalries – The Ivy League closed strong in its battles against neighboring leagues, closing out the Patriot League with Cornell’s win at American and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with Brown’s home victory against Niagara. Throw in the Mid-American Conference, which the Ivies defeated four games to one, and the league managed to win the season series against Pomeroy’s 14th, 15th and 17th-ranked conferences. The Ancient Eight didn’t fare as well against some leagues ranked far behind it, though. Ivies combined to go 3-8 against Pomeroy’s No. 24 Northeast Conference and 7-10 against the No. 23 America East Conference.
Top Non-Conference Players By Position – With just three Division I games remaining for the Ivy League this season, it’s time to take a look back and honor the players who have impressed the most during the first half of the 2012-2013 campaign.
- Guard – Siyani Chambers, Harvard – The Crimson had 40 full minutes to replace at the point guard position, and Chambers alone has replaced 94 percent of those with All-Ivy caliber output. His true shooting percentage is 63rd nationally with an assist rate that places 103rd. He’s adept at driving to the hoop, but has hit half of his 54 attempts from three. The only knock on the freshman is his propensity to get sped up by swarming defenses, leading to turnovers and poor shots.
- Guard – Brian Barbour, Columbia – When there’s nothing surprising about a great player’s stat line, that’s a good thing, and through the first 14 games of the year, Barbour has been exactly the player everyone expected. The senior point guard has only turned the ball over on 14 percent of his possessions, while boasting the 71st best assist rate in the country. Barbour still can’t shoot the ball well, but he’s made up for it by continuing to get to the line a lot and converting at an 89 percent clip when there.
- Swingman – Wesley Saunders, Harvard – He has developed just enough of a jump shot to keep opposing defenses honest, which has allowed him to gash opponents off the dribble and bully his way to the free throw line. Saunders’ offensive rating ranks 62nd nationally among players with at least 24 percent usage rates, but the 6’5″ sophomore is also the Crimson’s best perimeter stopper. He is a true two-way player that is one of the favorites for Ivy Player of the Year.
- Forward – Ian Hummer, Princeton – Speaking of favorites for Ivy Player of the Year, Hummer has to be the first player mentioned in the debate. He does everything for the Tigers, as noted by his usage rate which is 11th highest in the country. He has the team’s highest two-point shooting percentage, assist rate, defensive rebounding rate, fouls drawn rate and block rate. He is Princeton, and whether the Tigers win or lose the Ivy title will be solely based on how Hummer performs down the stretch.
- Forward – Fran Dougherty, Pennsylvania – Prior to coming down with mononucleosis, Dougherty was in the discussion with Saunders and Hummer for Ivy Player of the Year. He was the star on a seemingly rudderless Quakers team. Poor free throw shooting had always held him back, but he boosted his percentage to 71 percent this season, finally allowing him to penalize opponents for sending him to the line. It’s unclear how much more time Dougherty will miss, but this Pennsylvania team has looked absolutely lost without him.
- Harvard (9-5, 1-0 Ivy) – Even among those that predicted the Crimson would find itself in this spot heading into Ivy play, it’s hard to imagine anyone had Harvard doing it this way. The Crimson’s SOS-adjusted, points per offensive possession over the past five games have been 1.15, 1.14, 1.14, 1.14, 1.19. Throw in Harvard’s three 1.20-plus performances earlier this season against Vermont, Boston College and Manhattan and the Crimson has had more offensive outputs of 1.14 points per possession or higher (eight) than the entire rest of the league combined (seven). All this after losing four of the most efficient players in Harvard history from last year’s roster. The Crimson’s expected strength of defense has been a nightmare at times. Harvard has improved its help defense and has been forcing more missed shots, but its rebounding has been incredibly high variance, something that could ultimately derail the Crimson’s title hopes.
- Princeton (7-7, 1-0) – Like clockwork, Ivy play is about to begin, and the Tigers go on a tear. Princeton’s average Pythagorean win percentage by game over the first nine contests of the season was .4992. Over the past five games, it has been .8478 – easily the best in the league during that span. While it’s true that the Tigers have been wasting fewer possessions by taking better care of the basketball while under pressure, the simple answer is that Princeton is selecting better shots and those are falling at higher rates. Prior to the Rider game, the Tigers were shooting over 39 percent of their shots from long range and making under 33 percent of them. Those same rates today sit at 36 percent for three-pointers as a share of all shots attempted and over 36 percent for threes made. The concerted effort not to settle for the three-pointer has increased the quality of the long range shots chosen and has pumped life into a once-stagnant offense.
- Columbia (8-6) – If the season ended today, the Lions would finish with the third highest variance defensive performances by game of any Ivy during the Pomeroy era. The two teams in front of Columbia would be 2003-04 Harvard and 2006-07 Princeton. Those squads finished seventh and eighth in their respective editions of the Ivy League while nabbing a combined five wins. While the great 2009-10 Cornell squad places fifth on that defensive variance list, that version of the Big Red had one of the most prolific offenses in league history to cover for it on nights with its worst defensive showings. The Lions are good enough to beat Villanova on the road and play even with Bucknell for 35 minutes. The losses to Long Island and Marist, however, are indicative of a team with valleys that are too low to seriously contend for the title.
- Yale (6-11) – While Harvard and Princeton have each heated up, so have the Bulldogs. Over their first 13 games of the year, Yale played just two games like an above-average team nationally – wins over Buffalo and Bryant – but all of the Bulldogs last four games have been above that mark. Early season struggles aren’t surprising for a team that both lost a ton of possessions from the previous year and can’t settle on a rotation going forward (Coach James Jones has played 12 different players for at least 20 percent of team minutes). Senior Austin Morgan and freshman Justin Sears have done a great job handling the primary scoring duties efficiently, allowing secondary options Jeremiah Kreisberg, Armani Cotton and Sam Martin to gain or regain the confidence necessary to round out an offensively dangerous rotation.
- Brown (6-8) – The thrilling wins over Providence and Niagara have generated a level of buzz around the Bears that hasn’t been seen since the squad qualified for the CBI Tournament in 2008. Top 150 victories are not easy to come by for lower division Ivy squads, so Brown has every right to be excited. All is not rosy in Providence, though. The Bears’ average defensive rating over the past five games sits right at 90 – lower than any single game it played before Christmas. That potential anomaly has covered for an offense that has posted an offensive rating in the 70s or 80s in four of its past five games. The Bears might not be that bad offensively, but they’re definitely not that good defensively, suggesting that the recent successes might be more of a momentary blip than a sign of significant improvement.
- Cornell (8-9) – If the Big Red wants to be a player in the Ivy race, sophomore Shonn Miller has to get more assertive on the offensive end. Last season, the 6’7 forward took the second-highest percentage of his team’s shots, but this year only two Cornell regulars are taking shots less frequently than Miller. The lowered usage rates have helped his efficiency ratings, but given the team’s offensive struggles, the players using those extra possessions in his place are doing quite poorly with them. The bigger issue is that Miller is the most adept player on the Big Red at forcing his way to the free throw line on drives from the perimeter, a consistent method of generating points that Cornell has desperately needed.
- Pennsylvania (3-13, 0-1) – It’s tough to judge the Quakers based on their recent performance, as star forward Fran Dougherty continues to miss games while recovering from mono. That being said, Pennsylvania isn’t really one player away from turning the corner, either. The game against the Tigers last weekend was a microcosm of the Quakers’ season. The adjusted defensive rating of 100 implied a decent effort on that end, but it could have been so much better if Pennsylvania defenders fought through screens more aggressively, rather than going under the picks and letting Princeton guard T.J. Bray drain six open threes from behind them. On the offensive end, the Quakers once again turned the ball over on every fourth possession and their starters went a combined 6-for-21 from the field. Calling Pennsylvania poorly coached might be overly aggressive, but this team has yet to figure out how to get the most of what seems to be a pretty decent collection of potential talents.
- Dartmouth (4-11, 0-1) – Coming off its most impressive performance of the season in a 75-58 Army, the Big Green looked ready to top it immediately, leading Harvard 63-58 with under nine minutes to play. Dartmouth then proceeded to go 0-for-8 from the field with three turnovers the rest of the way. The problem is that its closing performance was far more indicative of the real Big Green than the squad that shot over 50 percent from three and grabbed nearly 50 percent of rebounds on the offensive glass to claim that five-point lead in the first place. With better defense, Dartmouth’s 65 points might have been enough to win a 62 possession game, but, if anything, the Big Green got a little lucky, as Harvard made just 58 percent of its 24 attempts from the line. Most of Dartmouth’s rotation lacks the ability to stay in front of opposing players, forcing the Big Green to foul a ton and causing it to rank among the 20 worst teams in the nation in handing opponents trips to the free throw line.
Brown 75, Niagara 74 (OT) – The rubber match of a seven-game season series with the MAAC conference wasn’t going well for the Ivy representative to start as the Purple Eagles hopped out to a 33-15 lead. A 25-6 run, during which the Bears went 5-of-5 from three, staked Brown to its first lead of the game with 14 minutes to play, but it appeared that the Bears had run out of steam. Niagara slowly pulled away from Brown, holding the Bears to one field goal over a seven minute span to take a six-point lead with 90 seconds left. Guard Matt Sullivan responded with an old-fashioned three-point play and then a trifecta with 11 seconds to go to force overtime. After the Purple Eagles scored the first three points of the extra session, Brown point guard Sean McGonagill scored seven points during an 11-2 run that iced the win for Brown.
- January 19 – Harvard at Memphis, 12:30 PM, Fox Sports Net – The first game of an Ivy television triple-header on Saturday will be the final non-conference contest for the Crimson and its seventh road meeting with a Top 150 team. While Harvard’s record is a mere 2-4 in such games, the four includes losses to St. Mary’s and Massachusetts in the final second and an eight-point loss to Connecticut. The Tigers boast the stingiest defense that the Crimson has seen this season, something that might have an effect on freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, whose three games with an offensive rating under 100 have come against the three elite defenses the Crimson has faced. Harvard has already secured its fifth-straight winning non-conference season against its most difficult schedule yet, but a win at Memphis would continue the momentum for a team and an Ivy League which have both been on fire lately.
- January 19 – Columbia at Cornell, 3:00 PM, NBC Sports Net – This is the power of the 14-Game Tournament. The Lions and Big Red will square off twice in as many Saturdays, and if either gets swept, their Ivy title hopes pretty much vanish. For Cornell, that adds quite a bit of pressure, as a loss at home, where the Big Red should be only about a three-point underdog, would essentially put Cornell in a must-win situation at Columbia’s Levien Gym the following weekend – a game in which the Lions could expect to be just shy of a double-digit favorite. Turnovers will likely dictate the outcome of this game, as Cornell’s high-pressure defense forces opponents to cough the ball up on 22 percent of their possessions, while the Lions haven’t had a single game this year with a turnover rate that high.
- January 19 – Saint Joseph’s at Pennsylvania, 5:00 PM, ESPNU – Last year, the Quakers used an 84-80 win over the Hawks to jump start an 11-3 Ivy campaign which saw them push heavily favored Harvard to the limit before falling short by a single game. While Saint Joseph’s is almost exactly the same caliber team, Pennsylvania has taken a massive step back, but the Quakers have hardly been an embarrassment in their meetings with high-quality opposition. Pennsylvania’s defensive ratings against its three toughest opponents thus far have each been the fourth-best posted against those teams this season. More stingy defense at The Palestra on Saturday could at least keep the Quakers in the game through 30 minutes, something that both Harvard and Yale weren’t able to manage against Saint Joseph’s earlier this season.
- January 26 – Dartmouth at Harvard, 2:00 PM, NBC Sports Net – The 75-65 final shouldn’t obscure the truth – the Crimson once again surprisingly struggled with a pretty terrible Big Green squad. Last year, it was a 17-3 second half run that finally sealed the Crimson’s victory, while this year it was a 17-2 push to end the game that allowed Harvard to leave Leede Arena with a win. And that’s not even where the Crimson struggles most with Dartmouth. In 2011 and 2012, Harvard trailed the Big Green at home by 12 and six points, respectively, with just 15 minutes left in the game before closing on 31-10 and 33-11 runs. For all of the potentially lucky things Dartmouth did in last weekend’s game (three-point shooting, drawing six offensive fouls, etc.), the Big Green dominated the glass – something that is more likely to be replicable game-to-game. If Dartmouth can repeat its performance in that area, don’t be surprised if Harvard is staring at another home deficit with 15 minutes to play.