Mediocrity Abounds as Ivy M. Hoops Begin
Brown and Yale are undefeated in first, Dartmouth is winless in last, and Harvard's tied with Penn and Princeton in the middle.
Such is the state of Ivy League basketball at the outset of league play.
Of course, the Quakers (5-6, 0-0 Ivy) and Tigers (7-7, 0-0) have yet to suit up for a conference game, while the Bears (5-6, 2-0) and the Bulldogs (4-10, 2-0) have enjoyed the spoils of facing the hurting Crimson (7-9, 2-2) and the lowly Big Green (4-10, 0-4).
Following the season-ending eye injury to star junior forward and leading scorer Dan Clemente, the young Harvard squad looked destined for a tough lesson at the hands of a seemingly strong Dartmouth team, led by standout forwards senior Shaun Gee and junior Ian McGinnis.
The Crimson, however, shocked most by defeating the Big Green on December 15, 66-59, and then again on January 8, 48-43, jumping out to a surprising 2-0 start in Ivy League play.
Youth and the lack of Clemente, seems to have finally caught up with Harvard, though, as it dropped contests at Yale and at Brown--69-61 and 78-68, respectively--last weekend to drop to .500 in the Ivy.
Captain Damian Long has played consistently, scoring 14.1points per game (ppg) and junior center Tim Coleman has shown toughness inside, leading the Clemente-less squad with 14.6 ppg and 8.2 rebounds per game (rpg). Freshman point guard Elliot Prasse-Freeman has improved steadily as the season has progressed, and is averaging 6.8 assists per game (apg). Without Clemente, however, the Crimson will likely struggle as their Ivy schedule progresses.
Dartmouth, meanwhile, has proven to be the most overrated team in the league thus far. After being swept by the Crimson to start the Ivy schedule, the Big Green proceeded to fall to both the Bulldogs and Bears last weekend by the scores 71-69 and 79-63, respectively.
Gee has maintained solid play, contributing 18.9 ppg and 5.9 rpg, and sophomore point guard Flinder Boyd has also been consistent, scoring 8.9 ppg and dishing out a league-best 6.9 apg. McGinnis is averaging 7.9 rpg, and junior guard Greg Buth contributes 16.3 ppg.
Despite these obvious strengths, the Big Green season has been disastrous thus far, as the squad has been unable to maintain consistent play. Dartmouth now stands six games under .500 overall and winless in four league games. And with the tougher games of the season still looming--two games apiece versus Penn and Princeton--things look bleak in New Hampshire.
Emerging from the Dartmouth and Harvard struggles, Yale and Brown find themselves in the improbable position of first in the Ivy. Neither team has shown much promise on the year, with each presently below the .500 mark.
Freshman forward Earl Hunt has stepped up to lead the Bears, averaging 17.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg. He was named Ivy League Player of the Week for his play in the team's last three games. Hunt poured in a Brown rookie-record of 39 points against Harvard, and dropped in 19 more, along with nine boards, against Dartmouth. These performances were preceded by a 29 point, seven rebound outing in a 96-95, overtime loss at Quinnipiac on January 11.
Fellow freshman, 6'6 center Alaivaa Nuualiita has also played well with 14.2 ppg and 6.1 rpg. He was honored this week as the Ivy's top rookie performer, scoring 48 points and 22 boards in the three contests. Nuualiita and Hunt provide the Bears with a solid nucleus, but the lack of talent and experience may prove too much for Brown down the stretch.
Yale's tenure at the top, however, looks to be even shorter than the Bears. With a 4-10 overall record, the Bulldogs' lack of overall talent will likely show as the tougher portion of their schedule approaches.
Sophomore guard Onaje Woodbine leads the Eli with 14.2 ppg, and 6'11 junior center Neil Yanke brings an inside presence and 7.7 rpg to the table. But outside of these two, Yale's roster looks fairly skimpy.
In New York state, Columbia (7-7, 1-0) and Cornell (6-7, 0-1) have played just one Ivy contest thus far--against each other. The Lions prevailed easily, defeating the Big Red 75-58 in Ithica.
Sophomore forward Craig Austin leads the team with a 15.0 ppg average, and he paced Columbia to the win over Cornell with 21 points and four assists. Sophomore forward/center Mike McBrien--who stands in at 6'7--adds 5.3 rpg. The Lions' lack of depth and experience make them a work in progress.
Junior forward Ray Mercedes provides superb athleticism to the Big Red with 15.2 ppg. The dynamic 5'9 sophomore point guard Wallace Prather contributes 13.1 ppg and 3.7 apg. Prather scored a career-high 25 points in the loss to Columbia.
Despite strong play from Mercedes and Prather, though, Cornell is a longshot at best to contend for the Ivy League, as the rout by Columbia demonstrates.
Left out of the equation so far, however, are the perennial powers of the Ivy League--Penn and Princeton. Neither team has begun its league schedule, and both sport mediocre records. The numbers are somewhat deceiving, however, as both the Quakers and the Tigers have faced off against quality Division I competition.
The young Princeton team is led by 6'10 sophomore center Chris Young and 6'6 freshman swingman Spencer Gloger. Young--last year's Ivy League Rookie of the Year--is averaging 13.5 ppg, while Gloger is netting 13.1. Forward Mason Rocca--the team's only senior--contributes 13.0 ppg to add to the balanced Princeton attack.
The Tigers stand at just .500 on the year, but have fallen to strong teams such as Syracuse, UNLV and Xavier. Princeton does boast wins over Rutgers and College of Charles ton and looks to once again be a solid contender for the league crown.
Defending league champion Penn, meanwhile, is currently under .500, but enters the Ivy schedule as the odds-on favorite to repeat.
The Quakers are led by star point guard, senior Michael Jordan. The 6' Jordan leads the squad 16.0 points and 5.0 assists per contest, and he is a strong candidate for player of the year honors.
Penn also boasts sharp-shooting 6'5 senior guard Matt Langel and 6'11 senior center Geoff Owens. Langel and Owens contribute 12.4 and 10.4 ppg, respectively, as well invaluable experience. Additionally, Owens is a big presence in the paint, averaging 6.0 rpg and 1.5 blocks per contest.
Penn and Princeton are clearly the class of the league, boasting superior talent and depth. And when both teams begin Ivy League play on January 28--the Quakers at Columbia, the Tigers at Cornell--all eyes will be on them as the quest for the Ivy crown begins.