Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week 5 Powerpoll

Another week, another great finish for the Ivy League.

All six Ivy teams in action on Saturday either met or outperformed expectations, pushing the league into the teens in every ranking system (16th in Pomeroy and Sagarin and 13th in RPI). Removing the six upcoming non-D-I games, we're over halfway through the non-conference schedule, with the league tracking toward its best finish in the ratings systems in recent history.

That league strength can only help the Ivy winner maintain a decent seed, even with an 11-3 or 10-4 finish. Only one team gets to claim the prize though, so let's see where the league teams stack up heading into the fifth week of the season.

8. Dartmouth (7)

The Big Green isn't going anywhere playing small, but it doesn't really have a choice.

The best rebounder on the team continues to be 6'4 David Rufful, but with 16 percent of the team's minutes going to players taller than 6'5, that shouldn't be all that surprising - neither should the below average 25 percent offensive rebounding rate and the 63 percent defensive rebounding rate.

In two wins this season, Dartmouth grabbed more than 68 percent of the defensive boards. In its five losses, opponents grabbed more than 40 percent of the offensive boards. That's going to make it tough for the Big Green to compete with the better rebounding teams in the league (Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale).

7. Brown (6)

The next few spots are almost indistinguishable - teams long on potential but short on production, as of yet.

The Bears have a horrible defensive rating, but that might not be the whole story. Brown's supposedly terrible defense is actually above-average in three of the Four Factors. Obviously, the Bears are almost dead last in turnovers, but the combination of the four should have Brown around 200th in total defense.

The Bears' opponents have been so bad offensively, however, that the weighted defense number slips into the 300s. As Brown's opponents' offensive rating creeps north towards average, it will be interesting to what extent the Bears' Four Factors get worse or their weighted defensive rating improves. Where they meet in the middle will determine what chance, if any, Brown has in the Ivy race.

6. Penn (8)

The Quakers had a smooth week, pulling away in the second half to knock off two low-majors, but the meat of the schedule lays in front of Penn, and that is where the Quakers' proving ground will be.

After selling Penn and the expectations all season, it might be time to start buying the Quakers. Penn's weighted defensive rating of 103 is both eight points per 100 possessions better than last year's, and tied for fourth in the Ivies behind Harvard, Princeton and Cornell. Much of that improvement came through shutting down MD Baltimore County and Army, not necessarily two stalwart offensive units, but remember that the rating is a strength-adjusted number, so the Quakers' defense shut down those two squads with even greater force than expected.

Penn closes the fall semester with Villanova on Wednesday, so we probably won't learn much more about the Quakers until they return to action during winter break at Delaware.

5. Columbia (3)

The defensive struggles are no longer the afterthought story. They are now the front-and-center issue.

The Lions adjusted defensive efficiency numbers have fallen to dead last in the league, and the surprising offense, while among the league's best as well, still falls short of the defensive number. That means that even with the astounding guard play Columbia has had, it's still not a nationally average team. If that guard play falls off and the offense cools off, the Lions could start to struggle mightily.

Forcing turnovers (317th nationally) and missed baskets (250th) have been the points of weakness for Columbia, so much so that it doesn't matter that the Lions are the 59th best defensive rebounding team. Without a quick and vast improvement in those two areas, Columbia won't last very long in the league race.

4. Yale (4)

Flukes happen. Sometimes they'll even happen twice. In the rarest occasions maybe even a third.

The Bulldogs are no fluke.

Yale sits at 3-4 against a Top 100 schedule and already has the Ivy League's biggest win of the season at Boston College. Between forward Greg Mangano and guard Austin Morgan, the Bulldogs have a top five post player and a top five wing and some supporting cast members (guards Porter Braswell and Reggie Willhite) who have performed better than expected.

Depth will certainly become an issue in Ivy League play, as the talent gap between the team's stars and reserves is rather vast, but this team could be dangerous on Friday nights.

3. Cornell (5)

After three years of Steve Donahue and highly efficient Big Red offense, it's hard to imagine a Cornell team that ranks seventh in offensive efficiency in the Ivy League.

While the Big Red isn't exactly carrying the sniper label from long range anymore, the 35.4 percent connection rate from three is still above average nationally. Cornell can't do anything from inside the arc, though, and that's where the offensive consistency has been lost. The Big Red has made only 19 more two-pointers (94) than three-pointers (75) and is the only team in the league making less than 40 percent of its shots for two.

It's just so hard to pick against demonstrated defensive ability in this league, and Cornell is currently tied for the best defensive rating in the Ivies with Harvard, despite getting outrebounded and sending opponents to the line at unheard of rates.

A team with the interior problems and atrocious metrics that the Big Red possesses shouldn't be playing at this level, but until the performance falls off, Cornell has earned the third spot.

2. Princeton (2)

The defense is slowly turning around and so are the Tigers.

Princeton still hasn't produced enough turnovers and opponents are still shooting far better than last year, but the metrics are trending back toward average. Obviously, average isn't enough for the Tigers, but it's a start.

The issue has almost been beaten to death at this point, but the defensive struggles might be related to pace. Princeton has been playing at about eight possessions faster per game than last year, and the offense has responded well, but the extra exertion involved with going up and down the floor at a faster rate might have reduced the level of effort the Tigers could expend at the defensive end.

If Princeton hadn't had the disastrous CBE Classic run, there would be some potential at large consideration for the league if the Tigers could run the non-conference table, but the losses to James Madison and Presbyterian have eliminated any hope of that.

1. Harvard (1)

The Crimson is by no means flawless.

It's defensive scheme at Michigan looked disorganized at times, favoring the defense of the Wolverines' rather weak dribble-penetration over harassing three-point shooters - an area where Michigan excels. Offensively, Keith Wright struggles when asked to do too much, too often, and the team seems to be in need of another player that can take the ball from the perimeter to the hoop without help (the still-not-100-percent Kyle Casey comes to mind).

Yet, despite yielding a 17-1 run and playing brilliantly only for a few stretches, Harvard once again gave a BCS team everything it could handle.

That's the teetering point upon which this Crimson team is perched right now - a good team that remains one player and marginally better execution away from being great. The former is only likely, but not guaranteed, to win a conference playing as tough as the Ivy League is this season.

1 comment:

  1. And Princeton became the seventh to meet expectations this weekend with a home W over a-bit-better-than-middlin' St. Joe's team.

    Considering the distance they traveled and the quality of opposition, even though they didn't get wins, both Harvard and Cornell were pretty impressive Saturday.

    As you say, at the halfway point of the pre-season, being just one game under .500 for the league is darn good!