Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Conference Calling's 31 in 31 Series: 2012-13 Ivy League Preview

The Conference Calling 31 in 31 preview series will examine each of the NCAA Division I auto-bid conferences (so no Great West or independents), one per day, leading up to college basketball's opening day on November 9. 


The Ivy League doesn't do athletic scholarships, but it's still not exempt from the pressures of Division I athletics.

Harvard's cheating scandal has cost the defending league champions its co-captains and drastically altered the league race. Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry may have the option to return next year, but we're here to discuss the here and now.

The league is coming off an unprecedented postseason, the first in history to invite four Ivy schools to tournaments. The league was beginning to see clear evidence that its academic mission and athletic success weren't at complete cross-purposes in a one-and-done basketball culture. Harvard's Government 1310 damaged the team and the school, but can the league continue to maintain its momentum?

Since no one else in the league is drawing the kind of touted recruits that Harvard's Tommy Amaker is bringing in, it may be the Crimson's tide that raises all boats. If Harvard slumps as a result of the scandal, it's back to business as usual for the Ivies, largely ignored until March, where its champion gets a little dap for earning a bid the hard way, winning for three months instead of three or four days. If a tournament upset gets pulled, all the better.

So, will Harvard slump without Casey and Curry? Who takes over and earns that tournament bid? Read on after the jump.

1. Princeton
--The Tigers' frontcourt is the strongest unit in the league, led by the best player in the league. Senior Ian Hummer has steadily improved his all-around game during his four years, and he's reached a point where his three-point shot may be the only remaining wart. Oh, wait, he shot 32% from deep last season, too. To paraphrase all the Ivy coaches not named Mitch Henderson, "Oh, crap."

After splitting starts down the middle last season, seniors Brendan Connolly (6'11", 255) and Mack Darrow (6'9", 230) will likely flank Hummer this year. Connolly was not a factor in the non-league slate, but he shot 62% from the floor and carded 7.6 PPG in conference play. He dropped 14 points, 7 boards and 6 assists on Brown in early March. Darrow came up strong in the CBI, producing 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against Evansville and Pitt. Connolly will be the inside force and Darrow's size makes him hard to contest from the arc.

The Tigers have seven other players standing 6'8" or taller, including sophomore Denton Koon. Koon scored in double digits six times and ripped 10 boards against Florida State, despite never starting a game. The Tiger frontcourt looks more like a different exhibit at the zoo.
Pictured: Princeton rebounding drills.
Even point guard T.J. Bray (6'5", 205) has opponents looking up at him. Bray finished in the Ivy top 10 in the usual point guard categories—assists, A/T ratio and steals—but he also ended up ninth in an unusual playmaker category with 135 defensive rebounds. He went the entirety of January and February without committing more than two turnovers in a game.

Darrow and Bray are reliable three-point shooters, but there's no true dominant gunner following the graduation of Douglas Davis. Freshman Mike Washington can rise and fire and sophomore Clay Wilson has a rep for being a great shooter. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the two have roughly the same amount of D-I game experience.

The Tigers need to find more shooters to clear space for the big men to operate, plus their foul shooting needs to improve markedly. The team was seventh in the eight-team league at the line, and there's not a man returning who shot better than 67%. The departed Davis and Patrick Saunders were each 82% shooters.

Still, a team with that many big-ass people can usually impose its will. And those big-ass people likely wouldn't have been recruited to Princeton if they couldn't move well enough to fit in the Princeton offense.

2. Columbia
--The Lions are another case study of the immortal basketball question: does returning everyone from a mediocre team mean the team is better the following year? All five starters return, as does 2010-11 starter Steve Frankoski.

Size is a strength for Columbia, if not quite on the same scale as Princeton's behemoth crew. Late last season, coach Kyle Smith stumbled into an effective pair by teaming All-Ivy candidate Mark Cisco (6'9", 245) with rising sophomore Cory Osetkowski (6'10", 265). The two played well enough together that Smith has decided to integrate zone defensive concepts to keep smaller, quicker offenses from exploiting the two heavy-footed posts.

Cisco led the league in FG% and finished fifth in rebounding, second on the offensive end. Osetkowski is a solid passer who avoids foolish mistakes (1.7 A/T ratio), thanks primarily to being a guard who hit a mad growth spurt. Does that mean he's set to be the next No. 1 NBA draft pick?
"Headband + mask > Unibrow, bro."
Okay, maybe not. But he does pitch for Columbia's baseball team. How'd you like to see a dude that size slinging the pill at your melon?

Four other Lions stand 6'8" or taller, but one's a freshman and two are seldom-used sophomores. The one with experience is senior John Daniels, who's an iffy scorer but crushes the glass (11th in the league in rebounding despite only 19 MPG). 6'7" wing Alex Rosenberg is a skilled passer and dribbler who can knock down the three, but fouls frequently hampered him.

In the backcourt, Brian Barbour, Meiko Lyles and Frankoski form what could be the Ivy's best backcourt trio. Barbour is the league's best and most prolific free throw shooter, and his frequent kamikaze rushes account for his shaky sub-40% field-goal shooting. He's not one who leaves the ball behind when he attacks the basket either, as his 1.9 A/T ratio ranked fourth in the league.

Lyles drained almost 44% of his threes, racking 12 games of three or more bombs. The ultimate was a four-game stretch of CU wins, including victories over Loyola Marymount and North Texas, in which he knocked down 19 treys. Frankoski was a 34% gunner in 2010-11, including making 40% in non-league games.

Freshman Grant Mullins averaged 32.5/8.5/8.0 as a senior and will likely get some run in relief of Barbour, if not alongside him. Barbour will occasionally be allowed to get in touch with his off-guard roots, and Mullins is the perfect sidekick during those periods.

The Lions needed a culture change, and it could be coming this season. CU finished 4-8 in close games last season, but a second year for the majority of the roster to build cohesion could lead to a reversal of that record. They'll contend, especially if Princeton stumbles for any reason.

3. Harvard
--The expected losses of Keith Wright and Oliver McNally hurt. The unexpected losses of Casey and Curry hurt more. The situation looks even more dire when we consider that, other than guard Laurent Rivard, no one averaged more than five PPG last season. But if Tommy Amaker has proven anything, it's that he can recruit.

The frontcourt may have solid talent, but it will lack experienced depth. 6'7" sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi will have to replace Casey. He has plenty of athleticism, is a reliable inside scorer and is also one of the Ivy's best offensive rebounders. Replacing Wright will fall to 250-pound sophomore Kenyatta Smith. Smith played a whopping 17 minutes last season, squeezing five turnovers and eight fouls into that time. His bulk will buy him a chance, but will Amaker have to turn elsewhere?

Four freshmen stand at least 6'7". Agunwa Okolie, a three-star ESPN prospect, is more of a wing player. 6'10" Michael Hall is spindly (205 pounds), but has a major wingspan and is very athletic. He competed in the high jump and triple jump in high school. 6'8" Evan Cummins is still a player better suited for a high-post role than a low-post one.

The wing positions will be contested between sophomores Wesley Saunders and Jonah Travis. Saunders should serve as the team's top perimeter defender, and he didn't kill the team with bad shot selection as a freshman (.509 from the floor). Travis will be well-suited as a glue guy off the bench.

In the backcourt, Rivard and senior Christian Webster can hold down two of the spots, but freshman Siyani Chambers needs to grow up fast. Chambers is the only real point guard on the roster, so the onus falls on him to replace Curry. The 5'11" Chambers can score, but would prefer to create for others.

That should suit Rivard and Webster just fine. Rivard has scored in double figures his first two seasons and topped the Ivy in eFG% and TS% last year, both topping 60%. As a sophomore, Webster was a 13-PPG man with a .619 TS%, but those numbers fell to 4.5 and .447 last year. He missed a couple of games with a hip injury in January, but his shot was already wrecked by then. If the Crimson are going to score effectively, he needs to rediscover that sophomore form.

On a position-by-position basis, the potential is there. There are still a lot of players who need to learn on the job and do it quickly, however. Most of the Ivy League will be only too happy to line up and take whacks at the Crimson, who are perceived as compromising the conference's academic standards under Amaker. Young players taking over under controversial circumstances and taking on motivated opponents is usually a recipe for disaster. This will be a major test of Amaker's coaching acumen.

4. Cornell
--In a case of be careful what you wish for, Cornell coach Bill Courtney is midway through a transition from the jump-shooting squad he inherited from Steve Donahue to the athletic defensive squad he prefers. If not for a fortuitous return from injury, he might have tilted the scale too far the other way and been left with little scoring.

As it is, junior forward Errick Peck will be relied on to recapture his 2010-11 form (11 PPG, 38% from deep). Bigger than most Ivy threes and faster than the fours, he should be able to get his own shot if his repaired knee will allow it. He'll be joined up front by sophomore Shonn Miller, a player capable of playing inside-out who does most of his damage inside. Miller was top-10 in the league in rebounds and steals, while coming second in blocks. He can guard anyone on the court, but is still refining his offensive game.

The Big Red don't have the kind of established big men that Princeton and Columbia have, and that will also hurt their chances at title contention. Senior Eitan Chemerinski can score inside and 6'9" classmate Josh Figini can drain the deep ball (52% last season). 6'9" sophomores Dave LaMore and Deion Giddens are still struggling to become assertive low-post players. Freshmen Braxston Bunce (6'11", 250) and Holt Harmon (6'9", 240) are solid offensive players who may see early action.

Point guard Galal Cancer has a hard time replacing All-Ivy playmaker Chris Wroblewski, and he surely had some growing pains as an understudy last season. Cancer struggled with his shot (.418 TS%) and ball security (70 turnovers, sixth in the league), but he did also make a lot of plays for others (.278 A%, seventh in the Ivy). His continued development will determine Cornell's eventual finish.

Off-guard Johnathan Gray started as a team manager, and now he's an All-Ivy honorable mention and member of the Virgin Islands national team. He has no qualms with getting his own shot, and if he can ever hit more than 40%, he'll lead the Big Red in scoring. If.

Cornell was an all-or-nothing defensive team last year, leading the league in steals and turnovers forced while placing next-to-last in scoring defense. Simply contesting shots and getting the rebounds will be good enough. If Cancer can mutate into a starting-caliber Ivy League point guard, the offense may be in good shape, but the bigs have to assert themselves on the glass and on defense.

5. Brown
--The Bears thought they had a solid lineup last season, only to see one expected starter go down with an illness and another contract a severe case of ineligibility. Even though the offense featured four players carding 9.8 PPG or more, it didn't matter. The defense struggled badly, trailing the entire league in scoring, FG% and 3P%. New coach Mike Martin has a little talent, but can he find anyone who can play defense?

Guards Sean McGonagill, Matt Sullivan and Stephen Albrecht form a strong backcourt trio, perhaps even better than the group at Columbia. McGonagill led the league in assists and ranked top-10 in scoring and steals. Sullivan and Albrecht combined for 116 made threes, hitting on 37%. If Albrecht's nagging back problems don't flare up and cost him time, look for all three to top 12 PPG.

Brazilian sophomore Rafael Maia was a 15/10 man at Maine Central Institute, but the NCAA shut him down for last season. (Almost typed "shit him down" there, which is probably a good term for what the NCAA often does to players.) The Bears would love to have 9.9-PPG man Andrew McCarthy (no, not that one) back, but he's taking some time off from school. They do welcome back 6'8" senior Tucker Halpern from his long-term illness. Halpern averaged 12.6/4.5 two years ago and shot nearly 40% from the arc.

Freshman Cedric Kuakumensah (6'8", 245) could see quick minutes for a team that could use some solid interior defense.

If there's one thing the Bears can do, it's shoot. (And if real bears could shoot, wouldn't it make hunting so much more interesting?) If they can find anyone who can stop the other team from doing the same, a first-division run could be possible. As it is, this looks like the ceiling for this year.

6. Penn
--Let's get this out of the way immediately: Penn should be dangerous next season. The only senior on this roster is forward Larry Loughery, who's played a total of 78 minutes in his career. Without Ivy League POY Zack Rosen, this should be a learning year for the Quakers.

Off-guard Miles Cartwright should get first shot at replacing Rosen's scoring. A double-digit man his first two years, Cartwright has a career TS% around .560 and is capable of scoring from anywhere. He can occasionally play the point, but the Quakers need him scoring. Junior Steve Rennard may get first dibs on the floor general role. He can hit the three and guard either backcourt spot, but he's yet to be a prime distributor.

If not Rennard, look for freshmen Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis to battle for the point. Lewis is more of a classic distributor than the scoring-oriented Hicks, but he can also get caught thinking and be forced into turnovers.

The upside of forward Fran Dougherty is that he's a 50% shooter from the floor. The downside is that he matches that from the line. The 6'8" senior can be a stud on the glass if he gets the minutes, which he's first in line to do. 6'8" sophomore Henry Brooks averaged nearly nine fouls per 40 last year, still struggling with his recovery from a high school ACL tear. If he's healthy, he could be a strong producer, as he showed in going for 8-and-6 against Duke.

6'11" freshman Darien Nelson-Henry (no relation) is a burly inside scorer who can be exploited by quicker and more explosive pivots, of which the Ivy has a few.

Cartwright is really the only proven commodity on the Quaker roster. A lot will have to go right around him for Penn to make any kind of move up the table.

7. Yale
--The Bulldogs have work to do finding replacements for center Greg Mangano and swingman Reggie Willhite, who accounted for nearly half the team's scoring last season. Guard Austin Morgan and forward Jeremiah Kreisberg will have to form the new inside-outside duo.

Morgan was more efficient outside the arc than inside it, but he was downright unstoppable at the foul line (90%). Like Cartwright at Penn, he's capable of playing the point, but is more valuable as a scorer. Senior Michael Grace will likely handle the point full-time. He's another good foul shooter who needs to cut down the turnovers a bit.

Kreisberg has to get back in the groove after offseason back surgery, but if he's healthy, he has a chance to prove he can succeed out of Mangano's lengthy shadow. 6'6" sophomore wing Brandon Sherrod is incredibly explosive getting to the basket. He attempted one more free throw than field goal last season, but only hit 58% from the line.

Freshman Justin Sears is the most touted newcomer. A 6'7", 195-pound forward, he's got a four-man's game in a three-man's body. He either needs to bulk up or expand his shooting range.

Yale is similar to Wisconsin in the Big Ten in that it's become foolish to expect them to fall from the top four. Yale hasn't been in the bottom half in 12 years. Still, there are a lot of question marks regarding both ends of the court. The Ivy's top shot-blocker and steals man are both gone from a team that still ranked near the bottom in scoring defense. If this team finishes in the top four again, coach James Jones' phone should be ringing off the hook in the offseason.

8. Dartmouth
--The Big Green were the worst offensive club in the Ivy last year by far. This season, the roster has exactly two upperclassmen on it, so coach Paul Cormier needs to hope that his job security clock has two years left on it.

The team leaders are sophomores Jvonte Brooks, John Golden and Gabas Maldunas, three guys who combined for 10 Ivy rookie-of-the-week honors. Brooks scored 43% of his points from the foul line, drawing a lot of contact and taking advantages of the opportunities those beatings bought him. He's also one of the Ivy's most relentless rebounders.

Maldunas crashed the glass and blocked shots well, but didn't take nearly the contact that Brooks did, settling more for mid-range shots. Golden handles the outside work, knocking down 38% from deep.

Senior center Matt LaBove (2.4/2.3) and junior guard Tyler Melville (5.4 PPG, 83% FT) are the two aforementioned upperclassmen.

A pair of sub-6' freshmen may battle for starting guard spots. 5'11" Alex Mitola is the knock-down shooter, while 5'9" Malik Gill is the speedy conventional point.

If the sophomore forwards raise their game another notch, Dartmouth can escape the cellar. Some backcourt production will need to be found somewhere.

In this section: each team's most compelling non-conference game, weighted for visibility and chance of a win.
Brown: Dec. 28 vs. Providence
--The city rivals come to Pizzitola lacking at least one of the highly-touted freshmen that were expected to drag them from mediocrity. The Bears are still a heavy underdog, but will they catch the Friars stumbling and feeling sorry for themselves?
Columbia: Dec. 1 vs. Bucknell
--Mark Cisco vs. Mike Muscala in a low-post melee.
Cornell: Nov. 28 vs. Stony Brook
--The Big Red also play Bucknell, but Muscala should crush Cornell's shaky bigs. A smaller Stony Brook team should be a more realistic test.
Dartmouth: Nov. 24 vs. Fort Wayne
--Frank Gaines comes to the Leede to test the Big Green front line.
Harvard: Nov. 13 at UMass
--At 10 AM on a Tuesday morning, new Crimson point guard Chambers gets his wake-up call when he takes on UMass star Chaz Williams. Good luck, rookie.
Penn: Jan. 19 vs. St. Joseph's
--It's at the Palestra, but St. Joe's is considered the home team. Miles Cartwright vs. Langston Galloway should be fun, the rest not so much.
Princeton: Nov. 16 vs. Rutgers
--The giant Tigers may be more than ready to contain new Scarlet Knight Wally Judge. If Princeton's backcourt can slow Rutgers' guards, the Big East team losing here might not be much of an upset.
Yale: Nov. 10 at Sacred Heart
--Austin Morgan vs. Shane Gibson should be a fun matchup to watch. I'll bet on Gibson.

No puns on Hummer's name. Wife will be proud.
G Brian Barbour, Columbia (6'1", 180, Sr.)
--10 games of one or no turnovers last season. Most pure point guards can't say that, never mind a guy who was a scorer when he got to college.
G Miles Cartwright, Penn (6'3", 175, Jr.)
--23-9-6 on Quinnipiac in the CBI. Ready to be The Man with Rosen gone.
F Ian Hummer, Princeton (6'7", 230, Sr.)
--Dropped 25 and 15 on Florida State last season, so we know the kid can ball. Ivy League POY.
G Sean McGonagill, Brown (6'1", 180, Jr.)
--Not just a passer, he had five games of 20-plus points himself.
G Laurent Rivard, Harvard (6'5", 215, Jr.)
--The Ivy's best shooter will have to prove it without Casey and Wright around to draw attention inside.

F Jvonte Brooks, Dartmouth (6'6", 215, Soph.)
--Slows the game down with all his trips to the line, but unlike so many today, he gets points out of it.
C Mark Cisco, Columbia (6'9", 245, Sr.)
--28 points and 31 boards in back-to-back meetings with Cornell last season. If he'd chewed the Big Red any harder, he'd have been sponsored by Wrigley.
F Shonn Miller, Cornell (6'8", 202, Soph.)
--31 and 17 with seven blocks in his first two Ivy games. Needs to finish stronger this year (7.1/4.8 over last eight games).
G Austin Morgan, Yale (5'11", 185, Sr.)
--Needs to get shooting numbers back to sophomore levels (.438/.446/.802), or the Bulldogs will be chained.
F Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard (6'7", 225, Soph.)
--The minutes will be there; says here he'll do something good with them.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ian Hummer, Princeton
COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Miller, Brown
--If the Bears can guard their cave, Miller's going to do some interesting things at his alma mater.
--The minutes are there for anyone who rises up and takes them. If Hicks learns the point, he and Cartwright will be potent.

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