Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week 4 Powerpoll

It started out as a rough week for the league, but the anchor leg on Sunday make a very strong comeback. After spending most of the first two weeks with a conference ranking in the teens, a bunch of average to mediocre performances dropped the league back into the 20s. Then, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia swept games against BCS and solid mid-major opposition to provide a much needed boost for the league.

As we leave the first calendar month behind, let's see where each of the Ancient Eight stacks up in this week's powerpoll.

8. Penn (8)

It wasn't that long ago, but the Quakers knocked off a very good Davidson squad to kick off the season.

Four games later, Penn has shown little improvement on the defensive end and little ability to compete with a different eschelon of team this season. With Mike Howlett still yet to play this year, the interior has been barely more than what Jack Eggleston can provide all on his own.

The Quakers are clearly loaded offensively, but without a second interior piece, they can be inconsistent for stretches, and the defense isn't good enough to keep them in games when they're cold. Much like last year, that's enough to keep Penn on the plus side of meetings with teams outside the top 200, but not enough to get the Quakers to where they want to be in the Ivy landscape.

7. Dartmouth (7)

When the Big Green doesn't get slaughtered on the defensive boards and killed by the opposition's interior threats, it can successfully defend home court against weaker low major competition. That doesn't happen all that often, though, especially since Dartmouth can only scratch out about 40 minutes per game from players above 6'6. The team's best rebounder, David Rufful, is 6'4 and no match for teams with stronger interior presences.

Jabari Trotter has been a bright spot for an otherwise offensively challenged team, but he's not the Alex Barnett-type that can singlehandedly give this team an offensive rating in the 90s.

In specific matchups against opponents who have had to trek all the way to Leede, the Big Green can survive, but otherwise this team isn't much of a threat to anyone.

6. Brown (4)

It will be incredibly difficult for the Bears to compete being this poor defensively. Three of the five teams that Brown has played thus far have had their best offensive performance of the season against the Bears and another had its second best.

Against UNH on Saturday, Brown dug a huge first half hole, but with its arsenal of offensive weapons was able to creep back into the game, even taking the lead with under two to play. But when it needed a stop, it couldn't manufacture one, and the Wildcats iced the game with free throws.

The primary factor has been turnovers, and the Bears inability to force a decent percentage lead to too many possessions ending in shots and ultimately points. It's been a problem for three years now, and it's hardly improving, which is not a good sign for Brown's Ivy title hopes.

5. Cornell (5)

It's the fifth powerpoll of the season, and there's been no movement in the Big Red's position from the start.

Cornell continues to meet expectations, making it incredibly hard to promote or demote the squad. The Big Red's stingy shooting defense has masked the team's true flaws (can't rebound and can't defend without fouling) and has been enough to keep it in the games it should be competitive in and push it to victory in the ones it should take.

There won't be much more of an opportunity to learn anything about Cornell for awhile, as it travels to Syracuse and Minnesota for two likely uncompetitive games this week before taking a 14-day exam break. In other words, if the Big Red is to finally move from the five spot, it's going to have to be of someone else's doing.

4. Yale (1)

It remains stunning how well this Bulldogs team has compensated for the departure of its star forward Michael Sands just before the season started.

An expected down year for Yale was supposed to get even worse without Sands, but instead, the Bulldogs knocked off Boston College, gave Providence a scare and rebounded from a blowout loss to Illinois with a must-have win over Ivy killer Army.

The keys on both sides of the court have been to do one thing really well. Offensively, Yale has been great at getting to the line and even better at converting once there, while defensively, the Bulldogs have cleaned up the glass well. That has allowed Yale to team a slightly below average offense with a slightly above average defense for a team that has played its way into the top 200 over the first five games of the season.

3. Columbia (6)

The blowout loss at Longwood was a disappointment and seemed to indicate that once again Columbia would fall into the pattern of looking good at Levien, but much worse on the road.

The Lions' 14-point, second-half comeback at American doesn't change that perception overnight, but it certainly helps. What's more is that star guard Noruwa Agho had nothing to do with the comeback, which was fueled primarily by freshman guard Dyami Starks and sophomore guard Brian Barbour.

Columbia has been the Ivy League's best rebounding team thus far, and that was a huge factor in the win against the Eagles, especially since the Lions didn't shoot well from anywhere, even the line. If the Lions keep rebounding the basketball this way, they'll be in a lot of Ivy games.

2. Princeton (3)

With 10 seconds left to go against Siena, the Tigers were dangerously close to a 2-4 start, including a few blown leads late in games.

Then Dan Mavraides nailed two threes in the final 10 seconds to pull the Tigers back from down from five to send the game into overtime. From there, Princeton went on a 7-1 run to kick off the extra session to grab its second home overtime win of the year.

The Tigers haven't been nearly as air tight defensively as they were last year, but they have rebounded well on the defensive end and kept opponents off the free throw line. The vast improvement offensively has been enough to keep Princeton afloat for now, but the Tigers need to get better on defense to be the team that was picked first in the Ivy League during the preseason.

1. Harvard (2)

Kyle Casey is back, but he's not doing much yet.

In 27 minutes, Casey has scored six points and has seemed to struggle to get into the flow of an offense that is running at a very high level right now. In a game where NBA scouts came to see Colorado's dynamic backcourt of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, Harvard's Oliver McNally and Christian Webster matched them shot for shot and Keith Wright was the best frontcourt player on the court.

The Crimson was the far deeper team as well, getting eight assists from point guard Brandyn Curry and nine points out of freshman Laurent Rivard.

Now at 4-1 with a signature win under its belt, Harvard has steadily built a portfolio befitting a team ready to win its league.

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