by Chris, the Impaler - 11/18/2005
Put down the bloody Mary, give Muffy a pat on her tweed-clad ass, and break out the cashmere cardigan because it's time for college hoops, preppy style; and just because it is getting cold in the northeast it doesn't mean you have to wear argyle socks with your penny loafers when betting the ivy covered hizz'ouse at your favorite offshore sports investment parlor.
No other sport brings out the degenerate in me like NCAA hoops. This season, however, we are proudly limiting our weekly action to Friday nights in the IV League-named after the original "four" teams that comprised the IV (pronounced as 'ivy") League.
And while money wagered on the outcome of Penn-Dartmouth rematch won't launch a thousand online books, we're going to spend every Friday during college hoops season looking at Ivy League teams as well as crucial Ivy League match-ups like PENN-Harvard that won't pre-empt the Tar Heel/Blue Devil tilt on the mean streets of the People's Republic of Cambridge. We believe that money invested (endowed if you will) in Ivy League Hoops is just as good as money earned investing in Florida - without the public to step on the opening lines.
PENN and Cornell were the only teams that finished with a winning record last year - they finished first and second respectively in the conference. Which begs the question, are Ivy League Hoops that tough or are most of the teams lousy? If any team in the Ivy is poised to make a competitive run at PENN's stranglehold on the League it is the Crimson of Harvard and probably not Cornell. HC Joe Sullivan's squad won't surprise Ivy League observers if they remain in contention with PENN for conference honors.
Unfortunately, with an untested backcourt and inexperience at point guard the Crimson will have to rely on the best low-post in the conference. But if that is enough to win the League it remains to be seen and for now this is the Quakers' conference until another of the Ancient Eight takes it away from them (which seems highly unlikely).
Cornell is another team looking to build on their Ivy League conference eight win record of last year. But it will be very difficult for Big Red to improve on their second place finish of last year with increased competition from the likes of Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.
Indeed Big Red are off to a good start at 1-1, narrowly missing a huge upset of Top 20 nationally ranked Syracuse in New York last week as they led for much of the game. But if Big Red hopes to improve this year they'll have to get by some tough tests against PENN, Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.
This year I see a bounce-back from the Tigers of Princeton from a disappointing season last year. I expect the Tigers will rise to the challenge against equal or lesser League foes, but ultimately lose out to the cream of the Ivy against both PENN and Harvard. An upset from one of the lesser conference teams won't be a huge surprise either.
Fortunes have not been great in the past year for the Brown Bears. I expect them to have another poor year as the Bears develop a young squad that has not provided enough support for the seniors. If this continues as I think it will, I expect to see the Bears perhaps fight for last place with Columbia and Yale. Of the three cellar-dwellers, I think that Columbia has the greatest improvement potential and if they can get a few breaks they have a chance to actually not end the season last in the Ivy League.
Furthermore, there is a max of three teams ending the season with winning conference records. The Quakers appear even stronger and look to dominate the conference (Ivy League basketball's version of Southern California in college football) as they are a unanimous favorite to win the Ivy League once again this year. I see the Quakers running the conference this year going undefeated and winning the Ivy League conference. Once again the Quakers will earn their fourth automatic bid to the Big Dance in five years.
Here is how I project the Ivy League standings come March.
|TEAM||05'-06' Projected Ivy league Record|
Pennsylvania Quakers (13-1)
The Quakers look to improve on their 13-1 Ivy League record last year by going undefeated this year as they return four starters from their championship team. To do so, though, Penn will have to overcome the loss of Ivy League player of the year Tim Begley.
While it is usually not so easy to replace a key player like Begley, I look to forwards Steve Danley and Mark Zoller to step up with one of them sure to fill the void. Meanwhile returning stud guards Ibrahim Jaaber and Eric Osmundson are poised for record seasons. Jaaber played every game last year and set an Ivy League record at 85 steals in 28 games, he also posted 80 assists and 11.3 points per game!
Rounding out an experienced Quakers team in the backcourt is David Whitehurst. As a freshman Whitehurst started five out of the last six games last year and looks ready to be a threat both offensively and defensively for the Quakers.
However, the one constant in the Quakers' success year in and year out is 16 year HC Fran Dunphy known as the Dean of Ivy League coaches. His success as a head coach has been unparalleled in the Ivy. Dunphy's squads' sport nine Ivy League championships including five undefeated seasons, eight NCAA Tourney automatic bids and a school record 290 career victories.
And get this, the Quakers have won nine out of the last 13 Ivy League Championships while their eighth automatic bid to the Big Dance is second only to Kentucky, who have earned nine automatic bids from the SEC. If the Quakers don't win the Ivy this year it will be a huge surprise and no doubt disappointing for Dunphy's Quakers.
Circled Game: 2/10/06 at DARTMOUTH. Big Green's only home conference loss last year was a 24-point spanking to the chalk-eating Quakers. Since 2002 the Quakers are cash earners at 3-0-1 against the spread, 2-0-1 as a DD road chalk against Dartmouth.
Harvard Crimson (9-5)
The Crimson has the dubious distinction of being the only team in the Ivy League that has never won the conference. If HC Joe Sullivan hopes to win the elusive Ivy crown this year, they'll need the Ivy's biggest low-post game duo with Cusworth and team captain Matt Stehle to make up for weakness at guard. Last year, Stehle finished in the top 10 in assists, blocked shots and steals in the Ivy League and should do more of the same this year. Last year he averaged 13.7 points per game and was the leading scorer for Harvard. The Crimson has been selected as coming in second in the Ivy League in the pre-season media poll. Indeed in their one and only exhibition game against Div II Puerto Rico-Mayaguez showed that they have what it takes to control a game against lesser opponents.
What still remains a question for Harvard, and what will surely keep them from seriously contending for the Crown of Ivy is they are very thin at guard. Starters David Giovacchini, Kevin Rogus, and Jason Norman all graduated last year. Now, senior Michael Beal and junior Jim Goffredo are the remaining guards who have any experience on the court. This makes the loss of sophomore point guard Tyler Klunick even worse for the Crimson who are desperate for depth at guard.
Klunick injured a ligament in his ankle last spring and will take the 2005-06 season off for what HC Sullivan called "personal reasons". He was slated as the Crimson's point guard of the future, but was hurt most of his freshman year. The good news for the Crimson Men's squad is that this year they have two players named to the All-Ivy League team-up from last year when Harvard did not have one player on the list.
Junior forward Matt Stehle, an honorable mention All-Ivy choice last season, made the first team, and junior center Brian Cusworth was named to the second team. This means that next year the Crimson will be the only team to field two returning All-Ivy League players to the roster. All told, Harvard should field a competitive team this year, but will fall short of the conference crown to the dominating play of the Penn Quakers.
Circled Game: 2/11/06 vs. Pennsylvania. The last time the Crimson beat Penn and covered the spread against the Quakers was in 2002 as Harvard eked out a 78-75 win. Since then PENN who boast a 3-0 SU and ATS record at Harvard has dominated the Crimson. Last year the Quakers easily covered as a 7-point road chalk while the under has cashed in two consecutive games.
Princeton Tigers (8-6)
Generally when a team loses five starters that is not viewed as a good thing, unless losing those starters makes the team better as might be the case with this year's edition of the Princeton Tigers.
Saying last year was a disappointment for Princeton and first year HC Joe Scott is an understatement. Last year's losing record was the first time in 49 years of Ivy League conference play for Princeton. After winning the league in 03-04, they were unable to even muster a .500 conference record.
A lot can happen in one year, and I expect to see a major turnaround for a squad that finished sixth in the Ivy League last year. For this to happen though, Princeton must play defense. While the Tigers are able to put points on the board, they were killed by a blasé rebounding effort on the defensive glass and by their match-up zone defense they employ.
Despite losses of 1,000-point scorers Venable and Wallace, Princeton still has three returning starters as they return 6-foot-9 sophomore Harrison Schaen, who was a freshman on the winning 2003-04 team before taking a leave of absence from Princeton last season.
Returning senior and team captain Scott Greenman led the team, known for their prowess behind the arc, with 52 three point shots last season at 54 percent accuracy clip in conference play and will likely put up similar numbers this year. Greenman was also the team's leading scored last year averaging 8.6 points per game. As good as Greenman is behind the three-point line, his teammate Luke Owings is better. He led the Ivy with 61 percent accuracy behind the strip in conference play while the junior played 23 minutes per game and averaged just under seven points per game.
Forward Noah Savage will also need to step up his game for the Tigers who averaged 26.1 minutes a game and 6.6 points per game last year For these reasons, and HC Scott's talented recruiting class this year give Tiger fans plenty of reason for being optimistic about this season. However, despite the positive strides that Princeton is making I think they are still at least a year away from contending for the Ivy League title.
Circled Game: 2/03/05 vs. Yale. Princeton is a cash earning 4-0 against the spread in their last four match-ups against the Bulldogs. Last year Princeton covered as a DD home favorite against Yale. Look for more of the same this year.
Cornell Big Red (7-7)
Last year HC Donohue's Big Red of Cornell exceeded any and all expectations by finishing second in the Ivy League as they earned more wins than they had in eight years.
This year Big Red are poised to wreak havoc in the Ivy League, but with improved teams in Harvard and Princeton I see Cornell finishing in the Ivy League with a 7-7 record this year. Surely, Big Red is a team that can go in either direction this year and with probably Ivy League's best shot at winning the scoring title in Lenny Collins, and the return of two other starters from last year's team, Cornell will shoot for the title as they sport the Leagues tallest five-some with four players at least 6'3" in height.
What will be very hard for Big Red to overcome is the loss of a tandem of 1,000-point scorers in Cody Toppert and Eric Taylor to graduation. However, as witnessed by their near upset of Syracuse in the Coaches v Cancer classic, Cornell seems to have moved on without missing them.
Donohue will rely on senior Lenny Collins to lead the team as he earned all Ivy-League first team honors last year. He led Big Red in scoring (13.3) and assists (2.4). He also snatched 4.9 rebounds per game and set career highs in shooting percentage (45 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (41 percent) and free-throw percentage (84 percent).
Collins is one of the league's elite defenders, he enters his final season ranked seventh all-time at Cornell in steals (117). Helping the talented guard are forwards Ryan Rourke and Ugo Ihekweazu, along with 6-9 centers, Jason Hartford and Andrew Naeve. Add to this strong frontcourt the defensive skills Graham Dow and Cornell will stay competitive in games against top Ivy League opponents, but they'll have a tough time duplicating the 8-6 conference record of last year.
Circled Game: 2/25/05 vs Brown. Last year Cornell dominated Brown at home as a 5-point chalk winning 77-61 and has notched a 3-2 mark against the spread against the Bears in Ithaca. It is Big Red's final home game of the season before going on the road to Harvard and Dartmouth to close out their season.
Dartmouth Big Green (6-8)
Without question, Dartmouth was last year's feel-good story in the Ivy. Head Coach Terry Dunn turned around Big Green's program from 1-13 in conference play the year before to 7-7 last year, good enough for third in the Ivy League!
However, the Big Green will feel the effect of losing three starters from last year's squad, and Dunn is hoping that Senior Cal Arnold can fill in for graduated Center Gardner. No doubt the presence of senior guard Mike Lang should help balance a Big Green team that brings back eleven letterman and eight freshmen.
Part of Dunn's success is through his approach to bringing along players as they mature. Dunn's coaching style to stick with a corps group of players and integrate younger, less experienced college players. So the three departed starters should not play as crucial a role as it might on other teams.
Unfortunately for Big Green their conference foes have likewise improved and therefore will prove a tough test for a team that had a difficult time winning on the road last year. While Dartmouth is no longer the sports bettor's bitch, a good rule of thumb applies when betting road games after overtime on a Friday night. I don't know what it is, but I am sure some such inane stat exists.
I look for them to go 4-3 at home this year against conference foes with a majority of their losses coming on the road. Big Green's first loss will most likely come at Conte Forum at Boston College. Gamblers should note that Dartmouth was 6-1 SU at home last year against conference teams and won five of their last seven games ending their 04-05 campaign on a positive note.
Circled Game: 2/18/2006 vs. Brown. Although Brown sports a 3-1 record SU and ATS, last year was the first time Brown lost against the spread to Big Green in four years perhaps signaling a turnaround in Dartmouth's bettor's fortunes. Given last year's 6-1 home conference win trend we've circled this game as another money winner for Dartmouth.
Yale Bulldogs (5-9)
This year's edition for Yale features a young and inexperienced team that will feature only two seniors on the squad.
Regardless of a talented freshman class, Yale will bring six other players who averaged 12 minutes per game last year for HC James Jones' team. For Yale to succeed in the Ivy this year they will need to replace two big holes in the roster as seniors Edwin Draughan and Alex Gamboa, who comprised Yale's starting backcourt since the day they arrived together at Yale in the fall of 2001, have graduated. Draughan and Gamboa started a combined 200 games together and helped lead the Bulldogs to a share of the Ivy League title in 2001-02. Another problem for the Bulldogs this year is that center Dominick Martin has just one semester of eligibility and will rejoin the team Dec. 18. This puts the pressure on freshman Ross Morin and Sam Kaplan who the team will rely on to pick up for Martin's absence early in the season. However, the Bulldogs might be relying too heavily on untested and unproven underclassmen to win tough conference games for Yale which might be asking a bit much of James Jones' young team.
Circled Game: 2/25/06 at Columbia. The Bulldogs have owned the Lions over the past five seasons notching a cash-earning 4-1 record against the number winning last year's contest 81-68 as a 7-pt road chalk. The Bulldogs only loss at Columbia was in 2004 as a 2.5-pt favorite losing that contest 88-79. The Lions will be coming off a revenge game against Brown the night before so look to the Bulldogs to continue their winning trend against the number at Columbia.
Columbia Lions (4-10)
If you listen to the whispers as the ivy rustles on that cold, cruel brick in November's whipping wind, you might hear hushed tones murmuring that last year's Dartmouth is this year's Columbia.
In the third year of his tenure as Lions Head Coach, Joe Jones' crew looks to make positive strides in a division that they have long been dominated in.
What the Lions make up for in a lack of experience is youth and enthusiasm led by the indomitable Dalen Cuff who has played in 80 games in the last three years. This Columbia Lions team is still a year or two away from being a force within the Ivy League conference, however we do see the Lions winning more games than they did last year. This might be harder than it sounds as the Lions only won three conference games all of last year ending the season with a 3-11 mark in the conference with a 12-15 record overall.
If sharp shooting Cuff can get some support from his young talented freshman and sophomores I wouldn't be surprised to see Columbia almost double last year's conference win total.
Circled Game: 2/24/06 at Columbia. I don't see Brown winning too many games, however, the Bears have been lights out at Columbia with a 3-1 ATS mark. However, they narrowly beat Columbia as a 1-pt road dog last year 54-52. Look for the Lions redemption at home against the Bears this year.
Brown Bears (4-10)
Last year was a rebuilding year for the Brown Bears. In the past four consecutive seasons they finished with winning records, but placed seventh in the league with a 5-9 record.
Senior Luke Ruscoe will lead the inexperienced team. Last year, Roscoe averaged 10.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg. Brown returns Damon Huffman, Ivy League Rookie of the Year, which should help the Bears make strides back to .500 this year.
If Huffman can rise to the occasion this year things might not be as bad as they were last year for Coach Glen Miller's team. Ruscoe and Huffman will no doubt be helped by Tri-captain and returning starter, junior, P.J. Flaherty, a 6-9 forward. Flaherty is an offensive threat inside and scored six double-doubles last year.
Despite rebuilding last year, the Browns got positive experience for their young team, but if they hope to contend in this year they'll need to field five solid starters and cannot rely just on Ruscoe to win games for the Bears.
While HC Miller has high expectations for his incoming freshman class, the Bears should prove a bit more battle tested than last year, but with increased competition by all Ancient Eight teams it does not seem likely that they'll have a winning record for another year or so.
Circled Game: 02/11/06 vs. Columbia. Despite the fact they were in rebuilding mode last year, the Bears are cash earners against Columbia in Rhode Island as they have an impressive 4-0 mark against the number in their last four home contests against the Lions. In March they beat the Lions as a 4-pt home chalk 80-56.
Simply put, you don't need to look far to see that the Quakers have owned the Ivy League in recent years. They are coming off a 20-9 overall record and 13-1 in the conference. HC Dunphy has what I believe to be the best starting five in the Ivy League and that spells woe for the rest of the conference.
If the Quakers don't win the league again I will be very surprised. In fact, it is hard to look at any other team as seriously contending for top Ivy League honors. However, look for Princeton to return to form this year after a disappointing season last year-but do they have enough to overtake a powerful Penn team? I doubt it unless Joe Scott is able to relate to his players in his second year.
Remember that Princeton is the only other team in the Ivy League to have won the conference title in the past four years. Meanwhile Harvard looks poised to make a run at the title, but will have to first settle their guard issues if they hope to contend. Cornell is my dark horse and X-factor this year as they have already shown they can play with Top 20 teams like Syracuse, who after their scare to Big Red dominated Texas Tech.
Finally, I see an improved Columbia Lions team make positive strides this year with Yale and Brown rounding out the Ivy League cellar-which should at least provide some decent vintages of wine to console them as they look at more losses than wins.
We'll have our Ivy League picks each Friday through basketball season at Doc's. Let me know what you think at email@example.com.