Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The 2013-14 Ivy Pre-Season Projection Uber Post

There has been an undeniably strange structure to the questions posed this offseason.

Will Harvard become the first team to win a share of four-straight Ivy titles since Penn and Princeton both accomplished the feat in the early-to-mid 1990s?

Will Harvard spend most of the year in the Top 25?

Will Harvard make a deep run in March?

Will Harvard be the best Ivy team ever?

In the world of rhetoric, these might be derisively exposed as instances of begging the question or in the world of law, potentially labeled as leading the witness. For these questions wantonly assume the conclusion to the examination undertaken in this piece - that Harvard is a lock to win the Ivy title and the only race is for spots two through eight.

No, the ultimate finding of the preseason projection model wasn't that your 2013-14 Ivy favorite is the Princeton Tigers (quite bold, Sporting News...). But the Crimson doesn't take home 100 percent of the solo titles either, nor does it even claim a share of the crown in every simulated season.

Like most stories in life, reality comes up a little short of the associated hyperbole.

2013-14 Ivy Projection Record & Odds

 League         95% High        95% Low
 W   L  W L W L
Harvard 13 1 14 0 11 3
Penn 9 5 12 2 6 8
Yale 9 5 12 2 6 8
Princeton 9 5 12 2 6 8
Brown 4 10 7 7 1 13
Columbia 4 10 7 7 1 13
Cornell 4 10 7 7 1 13
Dartmouth 3 11 6 8 0 14

Total        1        2        3        4        5        6        7        8
Brown 0.0% 0.1% 0.8% 6.7% 35.7% 26.1% 19.6% 11.0%
Columbia 0.0% 0.1% 1.1% 5.7% 31.1% 28.7% 21.5% 11.8%
Cornell 0.0% 0.3% 1.2% 3.8% 27.0% 25.8% 26.0% 15.9%
Dartmouth 0.0% 0.1% 0.7% 2.0% 17.7% 24.2% 22.7% 32.6%
Harvard 96.3% 3.4% 0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Penn 3.9% 43.6% 31.5% 19.3% 1.2% 0.4% 0.0% 0.0%
Princeton 1.9% 35.9% 32.9% 25.7% 3.3% 0.3% 0.1% 0.0%
Yale 3.3% 39.3% 30.4% 23.6% 2.6% 0.5% 0.3% 0.0%

Solo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Brown 0.0% 0.0% 0.3% 2.6% 19.4% 12.4% 9.1% 11.0%
Columbia 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 1.5% 15.8% 12.0% 11.4% 11.8%
Cornell 0.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.8% 13.0% 11.0% 13.5% 15.9%
Dartmouth 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.5% 8.4% 9.6% 8.6% 32.6%
Harvard 91.2% 2.7% 0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Penn 1.4% 24.9% 17.3% 16.4% 0.7% 0.3% 0.0% 0.0%
Princeton 1.1% 20.1% 17.4% 20.5% 2.4% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%
Yale 1.1% 22.1% 16.7% 20.7% 2.2% 0.3% 0.1% 0.0%

There is no denying that Harvard is the heavy favorite in the Ivy title race. The Crimson checks in with the best preseason odds to win the league crown in the four years of this model's existence.

Lost in that message, however, is that being an overwhelming favorite does not guarantee winning in a romp. Setting aside the roughly 1-in-27 times that Harvard misses out on a piece of the title entirely, the Crimson still only takes the NCAA bid by what one would consider to be a comfortable 3-or-more game margin 56 percent of the time. A full 20 percent of the time Harvard is left in the same situation it faced in 2011-12, teetering between a playoff or a narrow, one-game margin.

Speaking of that 2011-12 Crimson squad, there are a lot of parallels between it and the current edition of the team. Harvard was a 91 percent favorite to claim at least a share of the Ivy title (versus 96 percent this season) and had three teams with an outside shot to chase it down (Penn, Princeton and Yale - same as this year). The media spent the entire season lauding the 2011-12 squad's invincibility, only to express shock when the Crimson stumbled at home to the Quakers and lost control of its own destiny for an outright bid with just one weekend to play.

One of the undercurrents of that race, which made it possible for Penn, Princeton and Yale all to contend, was how easily the top four teams beat up on the bottom four. The Crimson and Quakers both went 8-0 against the lower division, while the Tigers and Bulldogs each went 7-1, splitting with Cornell. Essentially guaranteeing seven or eight wins in those eight games turned the Ivy race into a six-game season and crazy things can happen with such a small sample of contests.

Fast forward to 2013-14. As will be shown later in this piece, the projected Pomeroy rankings for the lower division teams are all clumped around the 300 mark. The individual game win odds for a top four team at home against a bottom four team are almost all north of 85 percent, while the same odds for a upper division team visiting a lower division team are primarily 70 percent or higher. If there's a way to take down Harvard this year, 2011-12 provided the blueprint and the landscape has set up nicely for a repeat.

Over the past three seasons, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale have finished first through fourth twice and would have accomplished the feat for the third consecutive time last season, if Brown hadn't overcome a six-point deficit with two minutes to play against the Quakers in the final weekend of the season. The odds of the H-Y-P-P crew making it three top four finishes in four years are incredibly high in 2013-14, as the Bears, Lions, Big Red and Big Green all deal with varying levels of personnel losses off of teams that only averaged five Ivy wins in the first place. In fact, the gap between fourth and fifth in terms of average projected Ivy victories is over four, a chasm between two non-title teams which hasn't been seen since Harvard finished third at 10-4 in 2010 and Yale finished fourth at 6-8.

Much like Penn, Princeton and Yale, which could finish in any order in the upper division, there's no clear pecking order in the lower division race either. Brown and Columbia have the slight edge, and the best (though meager) odds of cracking the top four, but all of the Bears, Lions, Big Red and Big Green are between 92 and 97 percent to finish in spots five through eight.

Team-By-Team Projections

Brown - 92 ORAT, 103 DRAT; 0.2393 Pythag; No. 288 Nationally

It's hard to fault onlookers for bestowing the sleeper tag upon the Bears. After all, second-year coach Mike Martin brought in a deep class of kids who could contribute on the Ivy level to build upon a season which saw Brown knock off cross-town rival Providence and single-handedly dash Princeton's Ivy title hopes en route to a fourth-place finish.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and the Bears have the look of a team that hit their momentary peak. The loss of Tucker Halpern for the season to injury combined with the graduation of guards Matt Sullivan and Stephen Albrecht, leaves almost two full backcourt spots worth of minutes to be filled with no returning players who have every played more than 30 percent of team minutes in a season. Sullivan might be the toughest to replace, as he ate up 90 percent of team minutes, took 23 percent of his squad's shots and was the most adept finisher at the rim, converting 65 percent of his attempts from in close. He was also opportunistic with thefts on the other end, leading a Brown team which has historically struggled to create turnovers by ending three percent of opponents' possessions with a steal.

Martin did a great job to bring in four guards in his 2013 class, but for this Brown team to be successful, he'll likely have to get starters minutes out of some combination of two or more of them. There have been 89 freshmen over the past 17 seasons to play at least 50 percent of their teams' minutes (a little over five per season), and there's even some precedent to get a pair or more from the same team (Dartmouth in 2012 and 2013; Cornell in 2012 and Brown and Harvard in 2010). Of those five, however, only Dartmouth 2012 (Jvonte Brooks) and Harvard 2010 (Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster) have had any players post an offensive rating over 100, hinting that playing multiple freshman for many minutes doesn't lead to robust output on the offensive end.

If Brown can somehow flank its All-Ivy point guard Sean McGonagill with two capable backcourt partners, the Bears should be in great shape to outperform the model's projections. With junior Dockery Walker returning to join rookie sensations Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah and heralded incoming freshman Aram Martin in the frontcourt, Brown should have one of the best frontlines in the league.

In the 36 percent of team possessions for which both Maia and Kuakumensah were on the floor last year, Brown's defensive rating was 92, compared to 100 when off the floor. Given that the Bears were already the league's third best defense last season, more minutes for the two bigs would seem to be the recipe to yield the fewest points per possession in the Ivies.

If that's the case, then why did Tyler Ponticelli get over 20 minutes a game for Brown? Quite simply, the pairing of Maia and Kuakumensah was a train wreck offensively, as the team scored registered an offensive rating of just 88 with the two on the court together, and actually played marginally better (+2 vs. -26) with the duo split up or neither playing at all. Flip out Kuakumensah for Ponticelli and the pairing with Maia saw Brown have a 100 ORAT while maintaining a 94 DRAT. Do the same with Maia on the bench and Kuakumensah and Ponticelli on the floor and the Bears' ORAT balloons to 104 (though that duo was horrible defensively with a DRAT of 105). The big question for Brown is whether Kuakumensah and Maia can put up good enough offensive numbers together to be able to take advantage of their considerable defensive skills.

If not, Walker has the ability to be a productive offensive player, so its possible that he could fill that Ponticelli role for Brown this season. That's before getting to Aram Martin, who racked up many mid-major offers and might be able to step in and provide some production right away.

The Bears have stacked up two solid recruiting classes in this year's freshman and the class of 2014, which should pay dividends for Brown over the next few seasons. For the 2013-14 campaign, though, the Bears might be in for a momentary step back.

Columbia - 96 ORAT, 107 DRAT; 0.2289 Pythag; No. 292 Nationally

After spending three straight years hovering around the 200 mark in the national rankings, the Lions enter rebuilding mode, as guard Brian Barbour and post players Mark Cisco and John Daniels all graduated this past spring.

Cisco's departure is the one that might hurt the Lions the most. Despite seemingly having a disappointing season and receiving a great deal of the blame for Columbia's collapse in league play, Cisco's presence on the court made other players better. When forward Alex Rosenberg was on the floor with Cisco, the Lions posted ridiculous splits of 112 ORAT and 100 DRAT. Without Cisco, those numbers fell to 102 ORAT and 100 DRAT. Cisco's most likely replacement, Cory Osetkowski, played well with Rosenberg in relatively limited minutes (101 ORAT and 94 DRAT), but didn't quite provide the boost that Cisco did.

Let's get back to Cisco's decline for a second. The 6'9 center loved taking two-point jumpers throughout his career in Morningside Heights. By his junior and senior seasons, he was taking over half of his shots from that range. As a junior he made 40 percent of his jumpers - a very strong mark. As a senior, that rate dipped to a far more pedestrian 29 percent. Shooting percentage on two-point jumpers is inherently volatile, and it takes an incredibly adept shooter to stay around even 40 percent consistently (see: Rosen, Zack). With Rosenberg shooting 43 percent from there and Osetkowski knocking down 53 percent of his tries, some regression from those two might be in the cards.

Even if Osetkowski can provide similar production to Cisco, frontcourt depth remains a huge concern. The Lions return just Zach En'Wezoh, whose inability to play defense without fouling limited him to just 24 minutes after November last season, and otherwise will have to rely on production from four freshmen. Finding a consistent interior presence will be vital in keeping the Lions competitive, as Columbia is very likely to throw out guard combinations that will struggle to keep opponents from attacking the paint off the dribble. With offensively-minded Rosenberg slotted in for starters minutes at the four, that puts more pressure on the five to be an active shot blocker and rebounder, which might force the Lions to select personnel that will be a major offensive liability.

The guard situation for Columbia is a little clearer and should allow for the Lions to continue their pattern of surprising results - both good and bad. Barbour might not have been the best shooter, but he consistently posted Free Throw Rates of around 50 percent as a starter, meaning that for every four field goals he attempted, he got to the line for two shots as well. As a 90-percent shooter for his career, that meant a steady stream of points even on nights when he struggled to locate his shot.

With Barbour's departure, however, the complexion of the backcourt changes. Meiko Lyles, Grant Mullins and Steve Frankoski are all strong three-point shooters and are joined by Maodo Lo, who despite being quite capable of creating his own shot inside the arc, still managed to take a majority of his shots from three last season. The Lions already took the 84th highest percentage of threes in the nation last year, and that was with Barbour taking a relatively high percentage of twos. Columbia won't reach uncharted territory for an Ivy (Princeton spent three years at No. 3 nationally under Joe Scott taking roughly half of its shots from three), but the higher teams have climbed up that ladder, the more stunningly high variance they have become.

Variance is a great thing for a below-average team, as it should provide some thrilling results - like the road win at Villanova and home win over Harvard last season. At the same time, the shaky perimeter defense combined with a cold shooting night will lead to a fair share of disappointing outcomes, likely leading to Columbia's fifth-straight season with a league record under .500.

Cornell - 92 ORAT, 104 DRAT; 0.2127 Pythag; No. 299 Nationally

For a brief, fleeting moment, the Big Red had everything for which to play. At 5-3 in the Ivies, with four of its final six at home, it had reason to believe it could hang around in the title chase. At 13-12 overall, it needed just a .500 finish to be eligible for the postseason for the first time since making it to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

Then, Penn launched a 24-9 second-half run to hand the Big Red its fourth Ivy loss, and everything unraveled quickly from there. Point guard Galal Cancer, who had been struggling offensively himself but demonstrably pushed Shonn Miller and Nolan Cressler's ORAT/DRAT lineup splits much higher, left the team, and Miller, Devin Cherry and Johnathan Gray couldn't complete the season due to injury.

The result was a six-game losing streak, and despite that being in the past, it's what has been carried forward to the present that has done the most damage. Cancer never returned to the team, senior swingman Errick Peck chose to play as a graduate at Purdue rather than take a fifth undergraduate season, and Miller's injury will likely keep him out for the entire 2013-14 season. That leaves Cressler, Cherry and senior guard Dom Scelfo as the only three returning players to see more than 10 percent of team minutes for Cornell last season.

Cressler has the makings of an offensive star, as his top Ivy comps are to the freshman and sophomore seasons of Ryan Wittman and Laurent Rivard. The Big Red was clearly better off with him on the floor than off, as Cornell posted a 104 ORAT and 105 DRAT with Cressler on court versus a 93 ORAT and 107 DRAT with him on the bench. Digging deeper, however, things get a little bit troubling. Cressler spent almost 60 percent of his possessions on court with Miller. On those possessions, the Big Red posted splits of 109 ORAT and 94 DRAT. In the other 40 percent of Cressler's on floor possessions, the Big Red had an ORAT of 98 and a DRAT of 119.

Wading into the world of small samples is a dangerous game, but looking at Cressler and Cherry together with and without Miller, an even more stark difference occurs. In 330 Cressler-Cherry possessions, Cornell scored and allowed 1.01 points per possession (101 ORAT and DRAT). In the 119 of those possessions that didn't include Miller, the Big Red scored 0.89 points per trip while yielding 1.29. To put that in perspective, the worst team in Division I last season (Grambling St.) scored 0.76 points per possession while allowing 1.21.

Some of that might fall on the shoulders of Cherry, who took a boatload of shots but struggled to score from everywhere on the floor. He took 40 percent of his shots at the rim and made just 44 percent of those tries, while 31 percent of his shots were two-point jumpers and he made just 28 percent of those. There might be room for growth in his jumper strike rate, both inside the arc and outside it, but finishing at the rim tends to be a more consistent skill. That's where Cherry needs to show what would be relatively surprising improvement if he ever wants to be an efficient scorer.

Including sophomore center Braxston Bunce, Cornell has brought in a deep class of six rookies to plug some of the holes left by the loss of four starters and three more rotation players. While the extra experience might serve these players well down the road, the issue of today is a scary one. The Big Red will either have to start a lightly used senior or one of four completely unrrated freshman recruits at the point, and have no players above 6'6 who have ever seen more than 12 percent of team minutes in a single season. At least in the post, Cornell has both Bunce and freshman David Onuorah, who each come in with solid interest from quality Division I programs. That being said, the list of successful rookie post players in the Ivy League isn't exactly a long one (only of the 167 players over 6'7 to see some time as freshman since 1997, only 12 have seen 50 or more percent of team minutes).

The result is likely to be an incredibly ugly season for the Big Red, and it's not one that having Miller would have necessarily fixed. If the rookie bigs are as good as advertised, and Cornell can find a serviceable point guard, the Big Red might be able to forge some hope from this lost season, but the odds are against even that beacon serving as a silver lining to an otherwise forgettable campaign.

Dartmouth - 93 ORAT, 106 DRAT; 0.2026 Pythag; No. 304 Nationally

In a league with so many deeply flawed teams, it is shocking that many people's favorite sleeper program should appear so comatose in these rankings.

The disconnect is one of judging a team by its peak performance or its average, and specifically for Dartmouth, judging one player by his peak or his average.

Last season, sophomore swingman Jvonte Brooks was slowed by an injury that prematurely ended his season and led him to quit the basketball team in favor of trying his hand at football. That presented junior reserve guard Tyler Melville, who for his career to that point had an eFG shooting percentage barely north of 40, with an opportunity to receive starter's minutes in Brooks' place.

Melville started each of the Big Green's final 11 games and finished the season as the only regular with an offensive rating over 100 (110) and with an eyepopping eFG rate of 56 percent. He finished second on the team in Free Throw Rate, second in Assist Rate and scored 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting in a narrow 68-63 loss to Princeton at Jadwin Gym. Prior to Melville becoming a regular in the lineup, Dartmouth sank to 301st in the Pomeroy Ratings. By the end of the season, the Big Green had settled at 275th.

The problem is that 2013 Melville shared similar seasons with Columbia's Patrick Foley and Yale's Alex Gamboa and Austin Morgan. But 2012 Melville's sim scores revealed commonalities with the 2011 version of himself and players like Harvard's Jim Goffredo and David Giovacchini and Columbia's Corey Barnes. The 2011 and 2012 versions of Melville shot 30 and 32 percent on two-point jumpers, respectively, while 2013 Melville shot up to 46 percent. Given that the 6'2 senior takes about half his shots from that range, he'll need to avoid a decline to a more reasonable hit rate in order to remain a catalyst for the Big Green offense. Since the model likes regression to the mean, it's heavily discounting Melville's odds of a repeat, something which has sent Dartmouth back down to familiar ranking territory.

Star center Gabas Maldunas scored much deserved second-team All-Ivy honors while posting a 97 offensive rating on a hefty 27 percent usage rate. When on the floor, Dartmouth's team splits were a 95 ORAT and 99 DRAT, while they ballooned to 97 and 112 with him off the court. But without Melville on the floor with him, Maldunas and Dartmouth posted just an 89 ORAT and a 100 DRAT, meaning that it was Melville's offensive outburst that was making even the Big Green's stars look better.

Add to that the fact that Dartmouth returns just six rotation players from last year's squad and the importance of every contribution gets magnified further. Sure, coach Paul Cormier did another nice job assembling an unheralded but possibly productive five-person freshman class. For this team to take the step forward that most expect, however, the rookies need to be bolstering the output that already exists, not replacing production that has suddenly vanished.

That places the spotlight squarely on the team's lone senior. If Melville can deliver like he did down the stretch in 2012-13, there's no reason Dartmouth wouldn't become the favorite for that fifth place finish. If he reverts to his previous form, the Big Green will likely be left scrambling to avoid getting mired in the 300s.

Harvard - 109 ORAT, 96 DRAT; 0.8007 Pythag; No. 44 Nationally

The Crimson nearly lost the Ivy title last year because it couldn't grab a defensive rebound, and yet the best defensive rebounder in the country (yes, country) played just eight minutes per game over the first six contests of the league slate.

There's both a specific and a general point to be made about that statement above. First, Harvard won't come close to being the Top 25 team that some expect if it continues letting opponents post an Offensive Rebounding rate that is five percentage points (or nine as it was in Ivy play) higher than its own. That's just too many extra possessions to overcome, no matter how efficient your offense and defense is.

More importantly, however, is the general question of whether the Crimson can adequately diagnose problems and leverage its substantial personnel advantage to solve them before they result in additional losses. For instance, the Jonah Travis and Laurent Rivard frontcourt somehow worked over the early part of the season, but it was plain to see it falling apart as Harvard struggled to control the paint against any team with the semblance of a post presence. Sure enough, over the second half of the year, Harvard had a 106 ORAT and 98 DRAT with Travis off the floor versus 100 ORAT and 110 DRAT with him on it.

That's not Travis's fault. He's not a center, and putting him out there as one was begging for disaster. He does have quality post moves and could be a successful four man, but he got very few possessions with a true center in Kenyatta Smith and only slightly more with a credible big in Steve Moundou-Missi, making it hard to discern whether he could have been a value add at that other spot.

From an analysis perspective, last year was kid's stuff compared to the upcoming season. There wasn't really any need to study the backcourt - Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers were going to play until they drop, leaving only the question of whether to split time for Webster and Rivard at the other wing or to move Rivard to the four to provide both with more minutes. This year, though, Harvard will have to figure out whether Brandyn Curry is really a value add as an off guard with Siyani Chambers running the point, or whether Rivard really should be playing the four with an insane amount of frontcourt depth on the bench, or whether Saunders and Casey - both of whom want 25+ percent of the on-floor possessions - can share the rock in a way that enhances the production of both.

There is no doubt that this Harvard team will be very good. A significant majority of the rotation has consistent Free Throw Rates of 40 percent and up, meaning that the Crimson will get a steady flow of points from the line all season. In fact, the lowest Harvard has ranked in Free Throw Rate since Amaker's second season with the team is 67th nationally (the Crimson was second nationally last year). Combine that with efficient shooting (Harvard has been Top 20 nationally in eFG% three of the past four seasons), and it's clear that the Crimson will find a way to score points in bunches.

The problem is that Harvard's best offensive lineup will almost certainly not be its best defensive lineup. There will be a fair amount of value to unlock in knowing which players provide the most advantageous trades in offense-for-defense terms, and that will likely be the difference in a binary sense between a few wins in the recordbooks and in a ratings sense between being a Top 50 team and a challenger for the Top 25.

Penn - 99 ORAT, 98 DRAT; 0.5392 Pythag; No. 151 Nationally

There is no team for which an injury caveat rings more true than for the Quakers.

At its core, this is a four-person Penn team, and any hopes of reaching the precipice of the Top 150 for the second time in three years or even the Top 200 for the third time in four years rest upon approaching 30 or more minutes per game from each of Miles Cartwright, Tony Hicks, Darien Nelson-Henry and Fran Dougherty. Cartwright has delivered that consistently for his career and Hicks did the same down the stretch, but Dougherty and Nelson-Henry share the same career apex for minutes played per game at around 16. If the latter duo can't get closer to doubling that than matching it, the decline off this projection could get rather steep, rather quickly.

There is plenty of reason for optimism in West Philadelphia. Dougherty performed like an Ivy Player of the Year candidate, until injuries forced him to the sidelines for almost all of the final 21 games last season. In 421 possession on the floor with Cartwright, the Quakers posted an ORAT of 97 and a DRAT of 85, while Penn recorded 92/104 splits with one or more of the pair on the sidelines. Those two seniors will be joined by sophomores Hicks and Nelson-Henry, who each came alive during the second half of last season. While neither was a consistent offensive force, the pair did play much better defense during league play, as their 102 DRAT in 167 possessions during the non-conference slate fell to just 92 in 372 Ivy possessions.

The problem for Penn will be finding any production outside of those four stars. The Quakers have plenty of experience on the bench, but little proven quality. Henry Brooks and Greg Louis return as frontcourt depth, but both players posted offensive ratings south of 90 and the team as a whole played much better with them on the bench than it did with them on the floor (90/106 for Louis on floor vs. 95/98 off and 90/101 for Brooks on court vs. 97/100 off). The same goes for last year's starting point guard Jamal Lewis, whose value on defense was supposed to make up for his poor offensive rating, yet the defense was actually worse with him on the floor (102 on court vs. 99 off) than the offense was (93 on court vs. 94 off).

That's before even getting into the detrimental effects of combining these bench options. Patrick Lucas-Perry had an insane offensive year, posting an eFG of 58 percent and an offensive rating of 122. In 803 possessions, though, his lineup splits were a 95 ORAT and a 105 DRAT, meaning that the Quakers were better off with him sitting on the bench (92 ORAT, 98 DRAT). The problem is that Lucas-Perry had to play 295 of those possessions with Greg Louis, and Penn posted an 84 ORAT and 103 DRAT for those trips. In the 508 other possessions, the Quakers scored 1.02 points per possession and yielded 1.06, which is essentially tied with Dau Jok for the best mark outside the top four.

If that seems confusing, don't worry, it is. And imagine trying to figure out all of those combinations with eyes alone and no benefit of numbers. It becomes almost a Sisyphean task to fill out a rotation of complementary players with what the Quakers return.

That being said, Penn brings in one of the best and deepest recruiting classes with more than a couple players that could potentially provide immediate help. One star guard and one quality big could unlock a little upside and push the Quakers even further toward that elusive Top 100 mark. At the same time, one key injury could send Penn tumbling.

That's the high stakes game the Quakers will be playing during their 2013-14 campaign.

Princeton - 99 ORAT, 101 DRAT; 0.4433 Pythag; No. 198 Nationally

If only leaving this section blank were an option.

In 1428 possessions with Ian Hummer on the court last season, Princeton recorded a 112 ORAT and a 96 DRAT. In the 256 trips down the floor with him on the bench, those figures flipped dramatically to 82 and 100, respectively. Looking at the key returnees for the Tigers with and without Hummer yields the same result:

TJ Bray - 114/96 with; 85/105 without
Will Barrett - 112/97 with; 84/96 without
Hans Brase - 115/94 with; 83/100 without
Denton Koon - 115/99 with; 90/100 without

Clearly, Princeton's offense ran through Hummer, and it struggled mightily without him on the floor as the focus of the opposing defense. Somewhat as evidently, however, Koon had figured something out that the others hadn't. It didn't take long to figure out what.

Looking at the past two Tigers seasons, Koon was the only player other than Hummer to have taken at least 100 two-point shots and he was the only Princeton player to shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc both years. When Hummer went to the bench and spacing wasn't as readily available, Koon could still create his own shot in a way that the Tigers' perimeter-oriented players could not. Most players create their own shot off the dribble, but that wasn't quite the 6'8 junior's specialty. Almost 75 percent of his baskets last year were assisted, meaning that it was his savvy cutting ability more than his athletic moves with the ball that provided him the space to be a deadly 63 percent finisher at the rim.

Obviously, there was almost no way for Princeton to remain afloat with Hummer taking 30 percent of the possessions and a quasi-double-team with him to the bench, but Koon managed to keep the Tigers respectable in a way that none of the other returning stars could. While a usage rate of 20.5 percent isn't going to be enough to compensate, Koon posted a usage rate of at least 27 percent of on floor possessions five times during Ivy play and finished with an offensive rating above 100 in all of them. The question is whether he can be as successful without the 79th best assist man in the nation (Hummer) rewarding his cuts with a nifty feed for the bucket.

If Koon can't step up his usage rate, the offensive burden will likely fall on Bray - the only other player with a demonstrated ability of getting to the rim and finishing efficiently. The 6'5 senior guard has come a long way from the player that consumed just 11 percent of the on-court possessions and took just eight percent of the shots as a freshman, but at just 18 percent in each as a junior, he still hasn't advanced beyond role player status three years into his college career. That 20 percent threshold can be a difficult one to cross with every marginal possession being of poorer and poorer quality. If Bray winds up being the man for Princeton, the title might come at the expense of his 113 offensive rating, which ranked him among the top 300 players nationally last season.

While there is reason to be hopeful, Princeton fans must keep in mind that the last player to lead the Tigers in usage rate not named Hummer was Zach Finley. It might take Princeton awhile to figure out things on the offensive end. By the time Ivies roll around, however, expect the Tigers to be a thorn in the side of the contenders if they don't have an outside shot at the title themselves.

Yale - 100 ORAT, 100 DRAT; 0.5014 Pythag; No. 170 Nationally

Quick: Which Ivy team has won the most league games over the past seven seasons - Penn, Princeton or Yale?

The answer is all of the above, as the trio finished tied for third over that span with 56 Ivy victories, just three games behind Harvard and nine behind Cornell. That stat becomes all the more surprising when you consider that of the five, Yale is the only one not to win a title during that timeframe and hasn't even crept closer than three games back during any of those seven campaigns. The Bulldogs brilliance lies not necessarily in excellence, but rather consistently being good. It's the hallmark of a team that has finished in fourth place or better in the Ivy League for an astounding 13 straight seasons.

But last year, that streak seemed all but dead. A desperate rally at Harvard had fallen short and a disappointing loss at Dartmouth had followed, dropping the Bulldogs to just 1-3 in Ivy play. Over its final 10 games, though, Yale would rise from the ashes, grabbing a season sweep of Princeton among its seven victories during that span, matching Harvard for the best record over the final five Ivy weekends.

While it might have seemed like the usual sneaky James Jones third- or fourth-place finish, nothing was ordinary about last year's edition of the Bulldogs. In the 11 years of the Pomeroy era, only one Jones team shot worse from the field and none shot worse from inside the arc. Yale grabbed two full percentage points more offensive rebounds than it had ever corralled before and it made it to the free throw line at a record clip. On the other end, it never issued so many free passes to the charity stripe nor did it ever allow such proficient shooting from beyond the arc. All told, it was Jones' second-best offensive team of the Pomeroy era and his fourth-worst defensive team.

Despite the strong close to the season and the clear evidence that this Bulldogs squad is unlike the typical Jones offering, most pundits seem to discount Yale's chances for reasons that don't hold up under examination.

The Bulldogs lack of a point guard is the most common noted flaw, as they lost both Austin Morgan (not really a point guard) and Michael Grace to graduation. But Yale actually played worse with either player or both players on the court last year that it did with them off of it. Morgan hoisted up two-thirds of his shots from three, and 87 percent were off of a pass, so he was hardly creating shots, while Grace was creating shots for himself and others, but half the time the shots he took were of the very low percentage two-point jumper variety.

Javier Duren provided a little better assist rate than Grace, while also posting a much better shooting percentage on both two-point jumpers (a mark that will likely decline) and shots at the rim (which should continue to be excellent). It's unclear why he's not considered a logical choice at the point, as he might even be a slight upgrade. Armani Cotton and Justin Sears can attack the rim and finish at rates that former All-Ivy Yale swingman Reggie Willhite only touched in his best seasons in New Haven. Those guards and combo forwards can also rebound at astounding rates, meaning that Yale's undersized post players won't be as exposed as they might otherwise be.

That's not to say the Bulldogs are without flaws. Of the six players to take more than 40 threes last season, four made over a third of their tries and three of those have graduated. Yale could struggle mightily against teams that can keep the Bulldogs from getting to the rim without sending them to the free throw line and might even wind up seeing more zone than most if opponents do the proper scouting. The Bulldogs were 7-4 in games where they posted a Free Throw Rate over 50 percent last season (and won all but one while posting an eFG under 54%). They were 7-13 otherwise (and only won two while posting an eFG under 54%).

In essence, that pretty much makes Yale Harvard without the same shooting and depth. The way the Ivy League is shaping up this season that should be plenty good enough for an upper division finish, and quite possibly even the role of the number one contender.


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  2. Thank you for a really well-done pre-season IVY BB review. I think I've seen nearly all of the pre-season Ivy Basketball previews for the coming season, and this preview is the best I've read. It's difficult to prepare a pre-season projection, given that every team is different from last year's, and I feel that this preview is significantly better than some others out there. Other well-written reviews include USA Today review done by this same author, and the ESPN Insider Ivy Team Reviews done by his colleague, John E.

    In particular, this review takes the time to show where the numbers vary with peoples’ expectations, so the predictive ability of the writer’s projections are born out in hard numbers, not just speculation.

    Thanks for putting the time and effort into this thorough write-up.