Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Has The Youth Movement Stalled?

For those wondering how the Ivy League could have possibly risen so quickly into lofty rankings territory as a conference, look no further than the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes.

The top eight Ivy League players in points produced per game are all juniors or sophomores and 14 out of the top 20 are as well. Most pre-season All-Ivy projections had a first-team comprised solely of 2nd and 3rd year players.

The senior class has some strong talent (Dan Mavraides, Peter Sullivan, Jack Eggleston and Kareem Maddox come to mind), but the strength of the league is in those '08 and '09 classes.

This year's freshmen, however, haven't burst onto the scene like those prior two groups.

Last season, three freshmen showed up in the top 18 of the points produced per game category. Fast forward to now, and the first rookie (Miles Cartwright) appears at No. 20.

A simplistic but useful starting point in comparing the three classes is to take the '08, '09 and '10 "starting fives" and perform the eyeball test.

G Zack Rosen
G Douglas Davis
G Noruwa Agho
F Keith Wright
C Greg Mangano

G Brandyn Curry
G Christian Webster
G Austin Morgan
F Ian Hummer
F Kyle Casey

G Miles Cartwright
G Sean McGonagill
G Steve Frankoski
F Laurent Rivard
C Jeremiah Kreisberg

If those starters don't prove the point, look at what each left out. In the '08 class, we haven't even included the rookie of the year, Chris Wroblewski, or a freshman starter for Princeton, Patrick Saunders. In the '09 class, we're missing three key freshmen from Brown alone (Andrew McCarthy, Tucker Halpern and Matt Sullivan).

From this year's rookies? Maybe you can make an argument for Dyami Starks, but that's about it as of now.

While it does take time for freshmen to develop, making this comparison a tad unfair, it is quite clear already that the pool from which development can come is much smaller this year. Even if we assume that the 2010 starting five above will grow into a squad that could be competitive with the previous two, the depth is where these three classes diverge.

Oliver McNally and Rob Belcore had offensive ratings over 100 as freshmen and were no more highly regarded than the fifth and sixth best guards from the 2008 class behind the three above and Wroblewski. Not to mention, Jabari Trotter and David Rufful, who were Dartmouth's second- and third-highest scorers that year as rookies but were probably only the seventh and eighth best guards in the class.

Last year was a senior-dominated campaign for many teams, blocking quality freshmen from consistent rotation spots. Thus, there were plenty of current sophomores who put up good numbers last year, but couldn't get over 40 percent playing time, including Austin Morgan, Mark Cisco, Brian Barbour, Brendan Connolly and Errick Peck - all of whom had offensive efficiency ratings over 100 in their relatively limited action. Those players, plus Brown's freshman trio, plus the other four sophomores joining Morgan on the 2009 starting five made last year's group an incredibly deep class.

Only three freshmen this year not discussed above have offensive ratings over 100 - Van Green, Dwight Tarwater and Ernest Rouse - but they also have usage rates that would best be described as anemic. That's important because breakout candidates are most often those that chew up lots of possessions in their limited time on the floor.

Looking at it from the usage first, efficiency second angle, Brown's Dockery Walker and Dartmouth's Tyler Melville are your rookie leaders for possession percentage, but their 66 and 62 offensive ratings, respectively, don't inspire much confidence as of now.

Maybe the league has been spoiled over the past two years. The judgment ultimate success or failure of a class often must wait until the class reaches maturity as the senior leaders of the league. The 2008 and 2009 groups didn't wait, but that doesn't mean that 2010 will necessarily be a distant third to those two in the long run.

If this year is ultimately deemed to be a disappointment from a talent addition perspective, however, don't expect that trend to continue. The league continues to receive national recognition for its 2011 incoming classes and some teams aren't even finished yet. How that hype translates to the court is anybody's guess, but it should at the very least inspire hope that the talent pipeline, which gushed in 2008 and 2009, hasn't started to dry up.

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