Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 6 Powerpoll: Exam Break Edition

The winter exam break is upon us (well, most of us, sorry Princeton). Only seven games are on the league slate between December 12th and 20th, as most students prepare for their finals.

With almost two-thirds of the non-conference slate behind us, the Ivies still sit in 12th place in the RPI and only slightly behind (15th and 16th) in the Sagarin and Pomeroy Ratings. The overall quality of the league has made positioning inside the conference incredibly tough to maintain. Unlike some years, teams are only really advancing in the powerpoll on the strength of quality performances, not by the field falling back to them.

Who's rising and who's falling this week? Let's see in a "final exam" version of the powerpoll.


8. Dartmouth (8)

There might have been a little rust as the Big Green stumbled out to a 12-point deficit early in the second half, but then guards David Rufful and Ronnie Dixon combined for 24 points over the final 16 minutes as part of a 37-point explosion by Dartmouth to grab a 71-68 victory against Army.

Dartmouth won't be historically bad offensively like it was last year, but any improvement will be marginal relative to the distance it needed to cover to even be below average. It's very clear how much the lack of rebounding ability - having a lot of do with the Big Green's lack of height - is killing the team, especially in games where it's playing decently well otherwise.


7. Brown (7)

It's hard to tell much from the Bears' burning-hot-then-ice-cold schedule, which has included no Pomeroy 100-200 ranked teams (where currently five different Ivy squads fall).

Brown has looked awful in its two meetings with decent teams (at Rhode Island and at Providence) and has put together a real mixed bag in its other six games. The schedule sets up nicely for a 7-7 non-conference run, but don't be fooled - unless the Bears find a way to beat American or Quinnipiac, all of their wins will be against teams outside the Top 200 or in Division III.

6. Columbia (5)

Flirted with disaster in each of its three home games over the past seven games - all of which were against sub-Top 200 competition.

There's no doubt that the Lions can score points, and their young guards have been sensational. Columbia has struggled with second-half defense though, and if that's fatigue, one could only imagine it will get worse during Ivy back-to-backs.


5. Penn (6)

Don't look now but the Quakers' defense is fourth-best in the Ivy League and steadily improving. Penn has held its last three opponents at or below their average offensive rating, indicating a set of three above-average defensive performances.

The team is still lacking quality depth in both the frontcourt and backcourt, but the former will hopefully get a boost soon, if Mike Howlett can return from an injury that has kept him out since the beginning of the season. Junior Zack Rosen and freshman Miles Cartwright have played amazingly well, but the remainder of the guards have struggled. For Penn to be competitive, depth will need to develop there - not stars, just players that can properly complement Rosen and Cartwright.

4. Cornell (3)

If the Big Red can keep playing strong defense, the wins will come. Without reliable performance on the interior, however, they won't come consistently enough or in great enough quantity to make Cornell the four-time Ivy champs.

Aaron Osgood's return will help, but he shouldn't be regarded as a savior. The real solution would be a much improved Errick Peck. The team needs Peck's ability to slash and create as a complement to the Big Red's stellar three-point shooting. Also, Cornell needs a lot more on the boards from Peck, whose rebounding rates thus far are well below average among qualified players.


3. Yale (4)

Still waiting. Waiting for the Bulldogs to collapse and show themselves to be the sixth- or seventh-best league team that everyone thinks that they are.

And continue to wait we shall.

Yale put together another nice week with a dominant home win over Albany and an easy road win at Bryant, which has given both Columbia and Harvard trouble this season. The Bulldogs have set themselves up such that they will only go as far as Austin Morgan can take them, but so far, that's been quite a ways. Greg Mangano has been a rock upfront, but depth has been an issue both in the frontcourt and backcourt, perhaps suggesting that the Bulldogs will struggle on Ivy Saturdays.

2. Princeton (2)

Once again the Tigers fit the pattern of being the league's best first-half team and maybe sixth- or seventh-best second half team. After leading by 15 early in the second half, Princeton let a horrible Monmouth team chip away and pull to within one with just over a minute left.

The Tigers held on, but this game added another data point to the growing set of second-half collapses. With a visit to Tulsa tomorrow and games against Northeastern and possibly Central Florida on the horizon, Princeton must learn how to bring consistent effort for 40 minutes. Playing just 25 or 30 minutes of good ball and attempting to hold on against those teams will likely lead to three Ls.

1. Harvard (1)

It was 44-43 Boston University with 17:01 to go. Three minutes later, it was 52-44 Harvard. Three minutes later, it was 63-49 Harvard. Finally, just a couple minutes later, it was 72-51 and the game was over.

That's been the pattern for every home game, all five of which the Crimson has won by 15 or more points. When Harvard isn't turning the ball over, it can score in bunches, as it possesses a whole host of competent three point shooters and an interior threat in Keith Wright that commands a double team.

The Crimson has been strong defensively as well, forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off the boards and the free throw line. Stiff tests await Harvard, though, as the return from the exam break includes trips to UConn and Boston College in a span of four games.

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