Sunday, November 13, 2011

Noruwa Agho Takes 25 Shots, And Other Things That Happened This Weekend

Hard to argue that the most surprising performances of the weekend came in Ivy showdowns with the Big East, of all conferences.

The league's No. 7 seed, Columbia, waltzed into Gampel and gave the defending champion UConn quite the battle for 40 minutes. Meanwhile Ivy No. 8 seed Dartmouth was within a possession of Rutgers before ultimately falling by six.

The rest of the weekend was a combination of okay and downright scary results. Brown and Harvard took care of their Division III opponents with relative ease. Penn pulled away late to coast to a win in an ugly game against UMBC. Yale used an 18-1 run to open up a commanding lead on Central Connecticut, only to have the Blue Devils close a 14-point deficit to one with under two to play before the Bulldogs closed out a 73-69 victory.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Opening Weekend Preview

It's finally here.

All eight Ivy League basketball teams will open their seasons this weekend with actual games that count in the actual NCAA record books. (Rumor has it that a lot of these teams have already "played" a couple of "games" against other Division I "schools" over the past 10 days or so).

That's the good news. The bad news is that the grand re-opening of college basketball in the Ivy League could be a bit of a letdown.

Harvard and Brown kick things off on Friday night with MIT and Johnson & Wales, respectively, which both hail from outside the Division I ranks. Columbia and Dartmouth have the exact opposite problem, as each take to the road to visit a Big East school - Connecticut and Rutgers, respectively. The Big Green has the best projected winning percentage for any of the underdogs in those four games at a mere four percent.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: The Uber-Post

Princeton or Harvard. Harvard or Princeton.

Last year, that was pretty much the only question that mattered. This year, who will win the Ivy title is pretty much the only question that doesn't matter.

Of far greater importance are the debates about Yale as the number one contender, the fall of Princeton, the rise of Penn and the high hopes of Brown, Cornell and Columbia. With most pundits worrying far more about where Harvard will be seeded rather than if the Crimson will win the title, the goal of this year's projections will be to parse out the good Ivy teams from the decent and the decent from the bad.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: Pre-Season All-Ivy

The projection of team statistics is far more stable than their component parts, primarily due to the law of compensating errors.

But the awards that many fans love so much are bestowed on an individual level, making more granular prognostications necessary in preparation for the upcoming season.

In this portion of the season preview, we'll take a look at the returning players to watch as well as the top talent from the incoming class. These are not projections of who will make each team per se (obviously if Noruwa Agho scores over 15 points a game, they'll put him on the First Team regardless of whether he needs 25 shots per game to do it), they are merely a representation of the value of each player as seen by the tempo-free community.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preseason Primer

The release of the final preseason projections on this site is still a few weeks away (though the Ivy League will release its official media poll this Wednesday).

It's expected that Harvard will top the preseason list for the first time in the history of the poll, and not to ruin the surprise, the Crimson will probably be favored pretty heavily in this site's release as well.

That (and maybe that Dartmouth will finish last) is where the consensus stops, however. Different prognostications have had Princeton as the number one contender or as far down as fourth. Yale has been tabbed by many as the likely runner up, but by others out of the upper division entirely. Penn is probably the most egregious offender, as some think the Quakers could steal second, while others have them in a fight to avoid seventh.

The purpose today is not to rank the teams, but rather to provide some starting points for thinking about each Ivy team and the league as a whole, which should help better prepare you, the reader, for establishing your own preseason hierarchy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Great Unknowns

Penn is the epicenter of this debate.

Senior point guard Zack Rosen is on pace to become the second most productive Ivy player of the past 10 years. Flanking him are fifth-year senior Tyler Bernardini, a streaky but at times lights out shooter who can add value at both ends of the court, and sophomore Miles Cartwright, an uber-athletic slasher who could vault to All-Ivy status if he could hold onto the ball a little better.

Even if you like the Quakers' returning depth at the guard position behind those three stars, there are two gaping holes at the four and five left by the graduation of Jack Eggleston and Conor Turley. Internal candidates do exist - the ever fragile Mike Howlett and sophomores Fran Dougherty and Cameron Gunter - but the true hope rests on the shoulders of heralded freshmen forwards Greg Louis and Henry Brooks.

How reasonable is that expectation, though? Brooks is the 19th most highly rated recruit of the past 10 years. Louis is 43rd most highly rated over the same span. Both are in the top 10 percent of the over 400 recruits from that timespan. But do the ratings even matter?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Does Defense Matter

The advanced stat movement in basketball has a long way to go to catch baseball.

Various hurdles exist along the path. The popular parlance notes that baseball is an "individual sport masquerading as a team sport," whereas basketball outcomes are much more of a product of five interwoven parts. Then, there's the issue of whether basketball even collects enough data, or at least the right data, from which to draw conclusions.

The latter is especially concerning on the defensive end of the court. Dean Oliver, the godfather of the "Pomeroy" stats, suggested an expanded boxscore, which would include forced field goal misses to allocate defensive stops more appropriately, rather than just giving credit to the player that ultimately rebounded the miss. Without such a change, Oliver's defensive rating disproportionately favored big men, who could rack up huge numbers of rebounds and blocks, while guards saw their ratings primarily dependent on the only other input to the rating - steals.

Critics of Oliver's defensive rating launched a bevy of arguments, including the lack of a "forced miss" statistic and the circular nature of assignments (even if you could single out defensive performance, the best defenders draw the best offensive players, which would cause the best defenders to look more average than they actually are).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Final Ivy Composite Schedule

At long last, here is the full and complete Ivy slate. Tip off is in less than two months. (Games in yellow are placeholders for a tournament format. Actual opponents will depend on results in the tournament games.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

UPDATED: Ivy Composite Schedule (As of 9/15)

We're getting closer to the full release of the Ivy schedules, but for now, here are the announced/expected games and dates, where available. Cornell, Harvard and Yale's schedules are officially released. Each of the other schools has at least half of its non-conference games on this list (Brown and Columbia at around 50%, Dartmouth and Princeton at about 65% and Penn at about 80%).

Games in yellow are either part of a tournament - thus the pairings are mere placeholders depending on game outcomes - or in the case of Penn and Princeton, guesses at game dates based on traditional scheduling.

Excluding the non-Division I games (all of which are denoted DIII, regardless of whether the opponent is DII, NAIA, etc.) and based on last year's Pomeroy finish, Princeton currently has the toughest expected non-conference strength of schedule at .674. Penn is a close second at .644. The Quakers are easily in front when considering DIII contests into the SOS, and one should expect Penn to end up with the toughest SOS even when excluding the DIII games after the remaining dates on each of the Quakers and Tigers schedules are revealed.

Following Penn and Princeton, Cornell has the third toughest schedule with Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown right behind. Expect the Bears and Big Green to see their SOS slip as more games are released, though. Finally, Yale and Columbia bring up the rear as the only two teams with SOS ratings below .500.

(UPDATE: Brown's full schedule has been released and sure enough, the Bears have slipped to the weakest league schedule. Expect Columbia to challenge for that title when its full slate is released.)

(UPDATE 9/9: Columbia released its full schedule and sure enough, it now has the weakest slate by a landslide. Excluding non-D-I games, the league's SOS sits right at .500 now. We have 90 percent of the games on the schedule with just Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton yet to release. The Tigers still lead in the SOS category, but assuming they actually want to play at home during the non-conference slate, their SOS will probably take a tumble as the remaining games should include enticing some cupcakes to play at Jadwin.)

(UPDATE 9/15: Down to just 10 or fewer games to go - depending on whether teams max out their schedules. Dartmouth and Princeton have four left and Penn has two. Those are also the only three with schedules remaining to be released. The Tigers are still hanging onto the top spot in the SOS battle with Penn close behind. Cornell and Harvard remain in third and fourth, then a huge gap before getting to Yale, Dartmouth and Brown and another huge gap to get to last place Columbia.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shorting Harvard

The Crimson is a Top 50 team. It's a lock to grab the Ivy League title. It'll be a tournament sleeper.

But locks don't have gaping flaws. This Harvard team might.

Offensively, the Crimson is already one of the best teams the Ivies seen over the past 15 years, posting top six Adjusted Offensive Ratings for both the whole season and during the conference slate. Losing no one, adding a stellar recruiting class and getting a full year of Kyle Casey at 100 percent should at the very least guarantee the same, if not better, production during the 2011-2012 campaign.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Value of Returning Possessions

The praise has been lavish.

Some have gone so far as to make the 2011-12 edition of the Crimson a pre-season Top 50 team, while almost all have made Harvard the prohibitive favorite in the Ivy League.

What is it, exactly, that separates the Crimson from Princeton, with which it shared last year's Ivy title and the latter of which secured the league's automatic bid?

The simple answer is returnees. In this case, Harvard returns everybody from the last campaign, while the Tigers lost two of their top four players off of a team that was already among the shallowest benches in Division I basketball. While that simplistic response is, in and of itself, correct, it hardly quantifies the impact of retaining and losing players. It is that task which we will undertake in this analysis.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Worst All-Ivy First Teamer (UPDATED)

In a proper ordering of the thoughts conveyed in this piece, it is important to stress that being the worst All-Ivy First Team member is akin to being the dumbest member of Mensa.

Any criticisms of either need to be placed within the context that the achievement in question is one of extremely high quality, and doubting whether a candidate cleared the necessary bar is hardly analogous to taking the negative side of a binary good-bad argument.

Noruwa Agho is a 6'3 shooting guard who just completed his junior season at Columbia. He led the Ivies in points per game, which was enough to get many, but not all, league coaches to vote him to the Ivy League's First Team.

In so doing, however, Agho became one of the worst First Teamers of the past 15 years, joining a group that includes Yale's Emerson Whitley, Cornell's Ka'Ron Barnes, Dartmouth's Shaun Gee and Harvard's Dan Clemente (twice).

While the casual Ivy observer will recognize some of those names, it's a lot to expect that all but the most fervent supporters will remember each of their individual league campaigns, and for that reason, we'll focus on Agho, who was by almost every aggregate metric the worst All-Ivy First Team member of at least the past five years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top Freshman Campaigns Last 15 Years

They get imaginary minutes before ever stepping on the court. They often represent the hope of a fanbase looking to rise from the league's depths. They are the great unknown from whom so much is expected.

And yet, they're just freshmen.

With the explosion of twitter and recruiting sites, college basketball fans have been brought closer to the window, looking in on one of the most intense battles waged in sports as coaches jockey for the nation's top talent. Even in the Ivy League, which more often than not gets second choice among a pool that's artificially small to begin with, fans watch intently as their school locks down high schoolers from across the country.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bests, Worsts of Last 15 Years & What It Means For Future

The 2010 Cornell team that buried three after three en route to the Sweet 16. The 1998 Princeton squad that snagged the league's highest seed (5) in the 64-team era. Or how about the 2003 Penn group led by the dynamic Ugonna Onyekwe?

Which team was truly the Ivy's best over the past 15 years? Which squads had the most potent offensive attacks and played the stingiest defense? Which were the years were the best for the league, and which were the worst? And most importantly, what can the past tell us about the future?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Initial Draft of Preseason 2011-2012 Rankings

It's been almost four long months since Brandon Knight beat Kareem Maddox off the dribble and finger-rolled in the game winning shot that sent Kentucky past Princeton in the First Second Round of the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats used the 59-57 win as a springboard at the start of a Final Four run, while for the Tigers, it was merely the first loss of many.

First was the known reality that seniors Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides had exhausted their eligibility and would be need to be replaced. Second was a more troubling and unexpected departure, as Coach Sydney Johnson left to take the same position at Fairfield.

Ironically, it was the latter which was the easier fix. Princeton once again stayed inside the family, hiring another BCS assistant who was with the Tigers in their mid-90s glory days - Mitch Henderson. Trying to replace a legitimate All-Ivy candidate and the team's best offensive and defensive player in Maddox as well as the team's best three-point shooter in Mavraides will likely prove to be a much taller task.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The 14-Game Tournament's 2011 All-Ivy Team

The Ivy coaches have spoken, and their results have been posted here.

Now it's time for The 14-Game Tournament's All-Ivy Teams and Individual Awards. The awards listed below are based, exclusively, on performance during the Ivy League season and, unlike those from the league office, will come with some brief explanations. Also, the teams will be restricted to the same size as the Ivy office's (4 Honorable Mentions, 5 First- and Second-Teamers).

With that housekeeping out of the way, let's reveal the picks:

Ivy League 2011 All-Ivy Release

Player of the Year
Keith Wright, Harvard (Jr., F, Suffolk, Va.)

Rookie of the Year
*Sean McGonagill, Brown (Fr., G, Brookfield, Ill.)

Defensive Player of the Year
Kareem Maddox, Princeton (Sr., F, Oak Park, Calif.)

First Team All-Ivy
Noruwa Agho, Columbia (Jr., G, New City, N.Y.)
*Keith Wright, Harvard (Jr., F, Suffolk, Va.)
Zack Rosen, Penn (Jr., G, Colonia, N.J.)
*Kareem Maddox, Princeton (Sr., F, Oak Park, Calif.)
*Greg Mangano, Yale (Jr., C, Orange, Conn.)

Second Team All-Ivy
Chris Wroblewski, Cornell (Jr., G, Highland Park, Ill.)
Kyle Casey, Harvard (So., F, Medway, Mass.)
Brandyn Curry, Harvard (So., G, Huntersville, N.C.)
Ian Hummer, Princeton (So., F, Vienna, Va.)
Dan Mavraides, Princeton (Sr., G, San Mateo, Calif.)

Honorable Mention
Tucker Halpern, Brown (So., F, Brookline, Mass.)
Brian Barbour, Columbia (So., G, Alamo, Calif.)
Christian Webster, Harvard (So., G, Washington, D.C.)
Jack Eggleston, Penn (Sr., F, Noblesville, Ind.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And Now It's Official: We're Playoff Bound

Behind a huge second half from Kareem Maddox, Princeton defeated rival Penn 70-58 last night and earned its own share of the Ivy League title.

The Tigers, which scored just four points over the final 10 minutes of the first half, exploded for 51 points after the intermission, as Maddox dropped in 21 of his 23 in the second stanza.

After Princeton took an early 15-4 lead, the Quakers ripped off a 23-4 run to grab a 27-19 advantage with 19 minutes left to play. From there, it was all Tigers, as it took Princeton just two minutes and an 8-0 run to pull even. The two sides traded baskets until the eight minute mark, when the Tigers used a 13-2 run to put the game away for good.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Potential Ivy League Playoff Game Announcement

If Princeton defeats Penn at The Palestra tomorrow night and forces a tie with Harvard a top the Ivy League, then a playoff would be held this Saturday at 4 p.m. at Yale's Payne Whitney Gym. The game will be streamed live on ESPN's online content provider, ESPN3 will also be streaming the matchup between the Quakers and Tigers tomorrow night.

More information, including how to get tickets for the playoff game, will be made available on Wednesday morning.

NOTEBOOK: Harvard Clinches Share, Princeton Can Join Tomorrow Night

From the moment Tommy Amaker was hired at Harvard in April 2007, this moment was seen as a foregone conclusion - a point in the future that existed without a definite date, but with a definite presence.

Amaker would lead the Crimson to an Ivy title, at some point, and Harvard's big gamble would pay off. At least a few people, however, would have been skeptical that it would happen this soon.

The progression has been steady each year, starting even from the first. With a young, but ultimately decently talented roster, recovering from loss of All-Ivy talents Brian Cusworth and Jim Goffredo, Amaker led Harvard to its first marquee win, knocking off Michigan at home, during a tough 8-22 campaign.

The following year brought the Crimson's first win over a ranked opponent (Boston College) and Harvard's first win at The Palestra in 18 years. Last season brought the Crimson's first 20-win campaign ever and its first postseason tournament berth since 1946. In year number four, Amaker delivered on his initial promise and brought Harvard its first ever Ivy League title.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

14-Game Tournament: ESPN The Ocho (err, 3)

The back-and-forth continues.

A week after Princeton took a tumble in the final game of its four-straight road contests, Harvard did the same, dropping a 70-69 decision at Yale. The Tigers' loss dropped Princeton from two-thirds to win the Ivy title to just one-third. The Crimson's defeat the following weekend deadlocked it with the Tigers right at 50/50.

And so we venture into the league's final weekend - the ultimate outcome in severe doubt for the first time since 2002. Both teams seem to have their own advantages - Harvard merely needs a home sweep for a share and in so doing, would force Princeton to win at Penn for its share. Meanwhile, the Tigers only need to win in Boston on Saturday night to clinch a share and only take one of their other two road games (in Hanover and Philly) to take the league outright.

Both the Penn and Princeton games at Lavietes are sold out and have been for weeks now. ESPN3 hopped on board to broadcast the Saturday night showdown between the Crimson and Tigers over the internet. If Harvard survives Friday night unscathed, it could be the most consequential night in the Ivy League in nine years, only to be topped, in the event of a Crimson victory, by a potential playoff game the following weekend.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NOTEBOOK: Week 17 Powerpoll, Adjusted Efficiency Margin

The second straight league leader couldn't survive the Saturday night portion of the Connecticut/Rhode Island road trip.

This time it was Yale doing the damage, as it dropped then-Ivy leading Harvard 70-69 at Payne Whitney Gym. A Brandyn Curry layup at the buzzer never quite made it over the heel of the rim, allowing the Bulldogs to hang on and with the Cornell win at Penn, seize control of third place in the league.

Now the table is set for an interesting final (extended) weekend. Harvard can clinch a share of its first ever Ivy title with a home sweep of Penn and Princeton. The Tigers can clinch the title outright by sweeping the road trip or can clinch at least a share with a loss at Dartmouth and a win at Harvard.

If the Crimson sweeps or splits but beats Princeton, then the Tuesday showdown between the rival Quakers and Tigers would suddenly add a level of intensity, as Princeton could either clinch its share of the title or the outright NCAA berth at The Palestra.


Princeton 10 1
Harvard 10 2
Yale 7 5
Penn 6 5
Columbia 5 7
Brown 4 8
Cornell 4 8
Dartmouth 1 11

Team OffEff DefEff AdjEff
Brown 1.007 1.054 -0.047
Columbia 0.945 1.010 -0.065
Cornell 1.040 1.097 -0.058
Dartmouth 0.871 1.069 -0.198
Harvard 1.082 1.001 0.082
Penn 0.987 0.978 0.009
Princeton 1.009 0.929 0.080
Yale 0.974 0.994 -0.020

The Adjusted Efficiency Margin didn't change at all from last week, despite the shakeup in the standings. Harvard and Princeton remain a tight 1-2 at the top, while Penn and Yale are a tight 3-4 after a pretty significant gap.

The next bunch - Brown, Cornell and Columbia - remains clumped together in the same order as last week - 5-6-7, respectively. Finally, despite its strong showing at Yale, Dartmouth remains mired in a distant last.

While the Crimson remains in the lead for now, given the razor-thin margin, it is likely that whichever team wins the league will also win the conference-only adjusted efficiency margin race. The Ivy adjusted efficiency margin leader has won the league every year since 2004, when Penn's +7.5 stunningly lost out to Princeton's +3.1.


8. Dartmouth (8)
Looked frisky in New Haven and could have sprung the upset. Have to balance that against the stinker in Providence the next night, though.
7. Columbia (4)
The Lions are 3-7 now in their last 10 with two of those victories coming against the aforementioned Big Green.
6. Brown (6)
Can't take away the talking points of "Beat Princeton" and "Led Harvard by 39 points combined over two games." Would have been better if the Bears had nailed down a 2-2 record against the league's top two, though.
5. Penn (3)
Embarrassing and costly mistake at home against Cornell. Now the Quakers must win out to extend their season - a highly unlikely proposition.
4. Cornell (7)
Probably a spot too high for the Big Red, but it has gone 4-3 after a rough league start and could save a miserable season with a home sweep to reach the 10-win mark.
3. Yale (5)
Don't look now, but with two RPI Top 50 wins, the Bulldogs could be a road sweep away from the CBI or CIT.
2. Harvard (1)
The Crimson better hope that 80% Opponents FT percentage regresses to the mean hard this weekend. It's making an otherwise above average defense look very average.
1. Princeton (2)
The team with the easiest path to the title. Beat Harvard on Saturday night for a share and pick one of at Dartmouth or at Penn for the outright NCAA bid.

Friday, February 25, 2011

14-Game Tournament: America Loves Drama

No one expected Princeton to survive the four-game road trip unscathed.

But there the Tigers were, having dispatched the three toughest challenges, according to Pomeroy, and needing just one more win at Brown to maintain a commanding lead in the Ivy race. With a return home to face Columbia and Cornell and a trip to Dartmouth upcoming, Princeton would have little trouble showing up in Boston on March 5th at 12-0 in league play.

Then the Bears proved why Saturday night road games have a special distinction in the minds of the Ivy League faithful. Brown built an 11-point first half lead, only to watch Princeton chip it away entirely to grab a one-point lead of its own. Undaunted, the Bears immediately responded with a 21-10 run to go up double-digits with under three minutes to go and never looked back.

Meanwhile, Harvard was beginning the same road trip - just on a week's delay. The Crimson had little problem dispensing with Cornell and Columbia, but now must deal with the pairing that gave the Tigers trouble, starting tonight at Brown.

Harvard has exactly the same stakes as Princeton as well. A sweep would have it return home to Boston at 11-1, needing just a win as a near-double-digit favorite against Penn to set up a winner-take-all showdown (for Harvard, at least) for the NCAA berth. A loss at either Brown or Princeton would swing the odds back to the Tigers' favor, though barely.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What If Middling Majors Played Mids Schedule (Part II)

Climbing back on that precarious bubble, it's time to follow up last week's post about Mids and Middling Majors by flipping the script and re-running the analysis in reverse.

This time, the Middling Majors get to join the Horizon League or Conference USA or The Valley and try their luck at the "cupcake" schedule of a Mid Major. As a refresher, the six Mid Majors selected for this analysis were picked on the basis of being on the Bracket Matrix's bubble as of February 16th (UAB, Butler, Duquesne, Colorado St., UTEP and Missouri St.). The nine Middling Majors were selected in the same way and include Michigan St., Boston College, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma St., Alabama, Kansas St., Georgia and Marquette.

The methodology was quite simple - take each Mid Major team's offensive and defensive rating and the relevant variance and co-variance metrics and generate win probabilities against the various opponents on the substitute Middling Major team's schedule. Then, run 1,000 simulations to see what the Mid's profile would look like if it had played the Middling Major's schedule.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Should Win & Who Will Win Ivy League Awards

With 70 percent of the Ivy season behind us, there is enough of a sample size with which to project out the contenders for and likely winners of the league's various coveted awards.

As with most awards and polls, the results tend to be more fitting of a beauty contest, rather than having a backing in the actual numbers (or usage of correct numbers - I'm looking at you Points Per Game!). So, in order to serve the two facets of the public - those who like advanced statistics and those that like predictions - I will provide, for each award, an argument for the player that should win and then the name of the player (often different) that will win.

For all analysis, I will be using the conference-only numbers. While it is my personal belief that "year" means entire season, the voting coaches seem to apply the term universally to the calendar sort, giving league play undue and almost blanket influence over the results. In order to keep the playing field level for the "should" and "will" win projections, this piece will stick with the Ivy-only stats.

Let's get to it and project out some hardware!

Monday, February 21, 2011

NOTEBOOK: Adjusted Efficiency Margin Tells The Story

The weekend's events have shuffled the Adjusted Efficiency Margin standings, as Harvard closed the entire 5.6 point gap with Princeton and took a minor lead.

The Crimson has jumped ahead despite a 12.2 percentage point gap in free throw "defense," though that was much larger before Brown sank 25 of its 27 attempts Saturday night.

Brown        98.7      104.4 -5.8
Columbia        95.7      102.5 -6.7
Cornell      103.1      109.1 -6.0
Dartmouth        84.9      104.9 -20.0
Harvard      107.8        98.7 9.1
Penn        99.4        97.7 1.7
Princeton      100.8        92.7 8.1
Yale        95.8        97.2 -1.3

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week 16 Powerpoll: Brown Draws First Blood

Despite some shaky moments, Ivy leaders Harvard and Princeton entered Saturday night 15-0 against the rest of the league, just nine wins away from a clean sweep.

The Crimson held up its end of the bargain with a 61-42 win at Columbia last night, but the Tigers couldn't get past a Brown squad, rejuvenated by the return of its captain, Peter Sullivan. Sullivan went 16-for-16 from the free throw line as the Bears posted the third most efficient offensive performance against Princeton (behind Presbyterian and Duke) all season.

Meanwhile, Penn rebounded from its disastrous four-game stretch where it lost three times in overtime before getting blown out at Columbia with a road sweep and season sweep of  Yale and Brown. The win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night knocked them out of postseason contention but kept the Quakers slim CBI or CIT hopes alive. Penn needs to hold serve against the Big Red and Lions this upcoming weekend, win at Dartmouth and split with Harvard and Princeton to get to 15-13 (9-5 Ivy), which should be enough to at least get into consideration.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What If The Mids Played A BCS Schedule? (Part I)

It started as a Twitter flame war.

ESPN had just done its seemingly annual "which is more NCAA worthy: Mids or Middling Majors?" debate, forwarding the same points and generating the same conclusions as it always has. Mid-Majors are cute and cuddly but just can't compete with the meaty resumes of even the most mediocre of BCS level squads. Meanwhile, the defenders of the little guys point out how they seem to outperform their seed expectation pretty routinely, suggesting that they're characteristically under-slotted in the tournament field and fail to garner the respect they truly deserve.

After bemoaning the contrived nature of the ESPN debate (don't get me wrong, it's hard to write anything novel on the subject), Andy Glockner - Bubble Watch guru for and that site's resident Bracketologist - picked up the baton and added the important point that BCS schools had better rack up a handful of quality wins, because they get so many chances to do so.

It's almost as if the Middling Majors are given every opportunity to fall hind-parts backwards into marquee victories. In response to Glockner, I mused that the Middling Majors' resumes should be compared against what a generic bubble team could have done with the same schedule.

Then, John Ezekowitz of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective asked the logical follow up question. If only we could give the Mid Major bubble teams a Middling Major schedule, we could see what kind of profiles they could generate and then compare them against the resume that specific Middling Major actually compiled.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why Princeton's Adjusted Efficiency Margin Might Be Deceiving

The best team in the Ivy League at the 14-Game Tournament halfway pole?

Both the simple metrics (standings) and more complex statistics (adjusted efficiency margin) agree: It's Princeton.

The only place they differ is by how much. The Tigers hold a slight half-game lead (one game in the loss column) over Harvard in the league standings, but Princeton's +11.1 adjusted efficiency margin is double the Crimson's +5.5.

In this case, however, the win-loss stat may be closer to the real story than the efficiency one, due to a wildly divergent, yet uncontrollable underlying factor.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is "Best" Always The Best?

With just about two weeks to the tip of the first conference tournament, the Ivy League will once again have its run as a popular footnote, since the Ivies are the only Division I conference not to hold the event.

Instead of giving the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to the conference tourney winner, the league hands it to the team that survives the 14 game round robin Ivy schedule. There are a variety of reasons for this, including but not limited to: logistics and class, necessity as it relates to the Ivy athletic mission and a sense of merit.

In a previous post, I raised the point that while 14 is a larger sample size than three, it is hardly sizeable enough to guarantee that the best team wins the league. In fact, the odds of the 14-Game Tournament selecting the best team versus a simple 1-8 seeded conference tournament were only about 9 to 20 percentage points better depending on the amount of parity and whether the games were staged at the higher seed's gym or on a neutral floor. When you consider that quite often the Ivy champion would at least be in the discussion for an at large bid, especially as the tournament continues to expand, some of those unlucky teams in that 9 to 20 percentage point delta might wind up getting picked for the Big Dance anyway.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 15 Powerpoll: Mighty Fast Pace Cars

For a moment on Saturday night, it looked like the league might be in for another of those second-half coronations that has become so customary rather than a legitimate title chase.

Then, Harvard stormed back from 24 points down for a relatively easy win while Princeton snuck past Cornell in a tricky Saturday night visit to Ithaca. The Tigers retain their one-game loss column lead on the Crimson, which is out to its best Ivy start (7-1) in 40 years.

Yale managed to salt away a win in Hanover, a night after taking Harvard to the wire, but the 5-3 mark (two behind Harvard and three behind Princeton in the loss column) leaves them likely needing to win their final six games and still get help to have a shot at even a playoff.

The rest of the league is essentially fighting for fourth at this point with the Lions edging ahead of the Quakers in poll position for that spot after beating Penn 75-62 last night.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Notebook: Two Horse Town

After Harvard finally put Yale away with a Keith Wright dunk off of a press break, the Crimson joined Princeton as the second member of the breakaway pack that is now two or more games ahead of the rest of the field.

While the Tigers might only be a game ahead in the loss column, Princeton has carved out a huge lead in the adjusted efficiency margin at +12.3 points per 100 possessions as compared to Harvard's +6.6. The Tigers still have the tougher remaining schedule with six more road games to the Crimson's four, but given how easily Princeton dispatched Columbia at Levien last night, the home/road split might not matter to the Tigers.

The odds are dead even at this point, with both teams winning the league 61 percent of the time (49 percent on a tie-allocated basis).

Friday, February 11, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Defending Newman

There will be a Jim Goffredo reference in this story. That's how old it is.

Earlier this season, Columbia walked in to Newman Arena and did something that no Ivy team had done in the past 22 tries.

It won.

While that snapped Cornell's impressive home league winning streak, what it failed to snap was the Big Red's nine-straight, home back-to-back weekend sweeps. That mark spans back to the same place that the 22-game win streak reached - a 85-79 loss to Harvard on March 2, 2007 in which Jim Goffredo dropped 32 points in his second to last game to outshine freshman Ryan Wittman's 24 points on 92 eFG% shooting.

Maybe the nine-straight sweeps are merely a relic of the past waiting their inevitable turn to join the many other streaks and spurts that came to an end this year. In such a dismal season (by record, at least), it could also be a reminder that there is still plenty to play for, especially for a team that could still have been the Ivies' second best in many of the recent years past.

This current Cornell team will never be consistent offensively - the Big Red just doesn't have the personnel required to do the low-variance things like getting to the line and making interior buckets. The same frontcourt problems leave Cornell exposed defensively, forcing it to cede easy layups or quickly venture into foul trouble.

What the Big Red can do is shoot. Cornell hits at a 37.4 percent rate from deep at Newman, and that is its ticket to saving this Ivy season. Yes, it's high variance. Yes, it makes it tough to hold leads.

But it's who the Big Red is, and if it wants to salvage the rest of its Ivy season, it would be best to embrace that fact and just fire away.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Inside The Numbers: A Change At The Top

Round One of the Ivy Heavyweight Battle went to the home team, as Princeton downed Harvard 65-61 on Friday night.

It took 50 minutes and a couple of bizarre events, but the Crimson managed to rebound from the loss at Jadwin by defeating Penn at The Palestra in double overtime 83-82. The end result pretty much matched expectations - sweep for Princeton, splits for Harvard and Penn - but the ride was quite the wild one.

We'll take a look at how those results affect the Ivy race and give you some next-level stats in a moment, but first, a public service announcement from the Please-God-Everyone-Notice-Jack-Eggleston-Is-Extremely-Talented Fund.

Week 14 Powerpoll: Hey, Remember Us?

There was a time - not all that long ago - when Penn and Princeton absolutely owned the Ivy League. They had the Ancient Eight on lockdown.

When one was down, the other was up. Lots of times they were both up, leading to national recognition and awesome fireworks. But they hadn't both been down at the same time for about 20 years, when Cornell finally broke through in 2008 and grabbed the title three-straight times.

This weekend, however, both teams put the league on notice: This is our league, and we want it back.

Aside from a talented Harvard squad, the Quakers and Tigers are pretty close to having just that.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Notebook: Princeton Grabs The Lead

The 22nd time? Same as the last 21.

Princeton used a 19-2 run around the halftime break to turn a six-point deficit into a 43-32 lead and hit its free throws in the closing moments to hang on for a 65-61 win over Harvard last night.

Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox were too much for the Crimson to handle down low, especially after Harvard big men Keith Wright and Kyle Casey picked up their fourth fouls midway through the second half. Hummer and Maddox found themselves with matchup advantages down the stretch and exploited them en route to a 13-for-21 combined performance from the field for 31 points between them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Peter Sullivan Means...

In case you missed it this past weekend, Brown forward Peter Sullivan missed his first career game - an overtime loss at Penn.

Sullivan's solid three-point shooting and knack for getting to the line as a freshman allowed him to force his way into the starting lineup as a rookie - a spot he has maintained until injuring his shoulder against Princeton. Now the Bears must face the prospect of going forward without their captain, as Sullivan's younger brother Matt, a sophomore, is expected to take his starting role.

How much of an impact will this have on Brown? Ask a variety of people and you'll get pretty much the same answer, one of either "He's irreplaceable, they're screwed" or "They might go winless in the Ivies." You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that would say that it might not have a significant impact whatsoever, even though that might indeed be the case.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Where Were You On Feb. 3, 1989?

No, it wasn't the day the Berlin Wall fell. It wasn't the day when the Tiananmen Square protests came to a head either. And, nope, it wasn't the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (though that was Feb. 2, so good guess).

February 3, 1989 was the last time that Harvard defeated Princeton at Jadwin Gym. The victory marked the end of a 4-2 spurt over six years for the Crimson in New Jersey, a run which came on the heels of a 25-year road losing streak to the Tigers.

The current skid (21 years and counting) hasn't been entirely smooth sailing for Princeton. One of Harvard's worst teams in school history took the eventual Ivy League champion Tigers to double-overtime in 2004 and the Crimson pushed Princeton to overtime again in 2007 without Brian Cusworth, who had exhausted his eligibility midseason. Every time, however, the Tigers have found the extra clutch basket to escape with the victory.

Rarely do the games yield many style points, but Princeton would be just fine with more of the same, if it means another crucial league win.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Inside The Numbers: Beware Variance

With 14 games down, the league has begun to sort itself out a little bit. There are still three tiers, but the tiers are a lot more even than when the bottom and top combined for just three teams with five left in the middle.


Harvard           22             6           11             3
Princeton           23             7           11             3
Yale           15           13             8             6
Columbia           17           11             8             6
Penn           14           14             8             6
Cornell             8           20             4           10
Brown           11           17             4           10
Dartmouth             7           21             3           11

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week 13 Powerpoll: Home Is Where The Wins Are

A relative snoozer on Friday got wild on Saturday as Penn-Brown and Princeton-Yale went down to the buzzer (and in the former's case, past it).

Five teams still have at least a decent shot at the title as the calendar turns to February. Let's sort it all out in this week's powerpoll.

Friday, January 28, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Odds Are That...

Two-and-a-half months of evaluation have finally yielded to actual games, as the eight Ivy teams will have their first back-to-back weekend, starting tonight at 7 p.m.

With just 14 games to decide a champion, and just three or maybe four losses permitted to remain a contender, every weekend can and does feel like the biggest weekend of the year.

We'll get to the weekend odds down below, but given that this is the last "pre-season" 14-Game Tournament piece, let's start with the generic league-finish odds.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Even Ken Pomeroy Hates Joe Scott

Maybe hate is a strong word.

In fact, Ken Pomeroy probably doesn't even know what Joe Scott did to him. But, rest assured, if Pomeroy knew, it would keep him up nights.

You see, Mr. Pomeroy has a system. Actually, to be fair, the system is the brainchild of a different brilliant basketball mind, Dean Oliver, but Pomeroy has been the statistician and messenger that has been most effective at popularizing Oliver's work. Put simply, Oliver developed a method by which teams of all different compositions and strategies could be rated against each other on a level playing field, and, most importantly, team quality could be distributed down to the individual player level.

Week 12 Powerpoll: Let The Games Begin

The mad dash is underway. Six weekends, plus two Tuesdays to crowning a new Ivy champion.

Some teams have already dropped back from the pack, as Brown, Cornell and Dartmouth are two games off the pace before league play even started in earnest. Others have dropped behind the leaders merely by virtue of not having stepped on the court.

Finally, everyone gets to join the 14-Game Tournament fracas. But before they do, let's see where each Ivy team stacks up:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

And Then There Were Five...

The last Ivy team to have its season ended during the 2009-2010 campaign has become one of the first this year, as Cornell fell to Columbia 70-66 at home yesterday afternoon.

The Big Red joins Brown and Dartmouth on the bottom of the Ivy heap at 0-2, while the Lions, Harvard and Yale all sit at 2-0. Penn and Princeton will get underway in league play at home this weekend against the Bears and Bulldogs.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Analysis: How They Played Against Whom They Played

Measuring Ivy League teams against each other based upon what can be wildly disparate non-conference schedules can be a difficult task.

The tempo free movement has led some breakthroughs in the field of unbalanced comparisons, and now one of the gurus of such analysis, Ken Pomeroy, has provided another aspect by which to compare team performance. In an effort to allow readers to parse out more meaning from game-by-game offensive and defensive efficiency figures, Pomeroy has added a rank for each, which indicates how well a rating stacks up against all of the other teams the opponent has played.

While this particular measure suffers from bias based upon the quality of specific opponent's opponents, in the aggregate, it can provide useful information about a team's offensive and defensive performance in the context of who it has played.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 11 Powerpoll: All Hail Strongest Ivies Since 2001-2002

It's official now - the Ivy League and its 14th through 16th RPI, Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings will record the best finish in each since the 2001-2002 season that saw the league earn an 11 seed in the Big Dance and send two teams to the NIT.

Five Ivy teams finished the non-conference slate in the Top 200 of the RPI, two league squads hung in the top 100 of the Sagarin ratings and six cracked the Top 220 of the Pomeroy ratings. Harvard, Princeton and Yale combined for four wins over BCS opponents and the league is 11-12 against the CAA, A10, MAAC and Conference USA with one game left to play.

This is the final non-Ivy back-to-back weekend of the year, with three travel partner return games dotting the Saturday schedule. Let's take a look at where the teams stack up heading into those games:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Non-Conference Superlatives

With just two Division I games remaining (Penn wraps up the Big 5 schedule), it's time to take a look back at the league's non-conference performance and recognize the noteworthy performances from what has been a very strong first two months for the Ivies.

Best Win (tie): Harvard 78, @BC 69; Yale 75, @BC 67

It would be almost impossible to distinguish between the two, since the opponent was one in the same and the margins were separated by a point. The Bulldogs pulled off the upset over the No. 55 Pomeroy team by shooting a blistering 62 eFG% (for a +18% eFG margin) and being stingy with the basketball (17% TO Rate). It was a completely opposite story for the Crimson, which actually got outshot by eight eFG percentage points, but cleaned up the boards well and kept the Eagles off the free throw line.

Runners-Up (Pomeroy Rating): @Harvard 82, Colorado 66 (60); Princeton 82, @Tulsa 78 (84); @Princeton 78, Rutgers 73 (97)

Week 10: Ivy League Awards

For the second week in a row, Columbia guard Noruwa Agho and Yale center Greg Mangano shared the Ivy League Player of the Week honors.

Mangano had 23 points and a whopping 17 rebounds against Brown, while Agho had 25 points on 53% eFG shooting as Columbia defeated Cornell for the first time in 10 tries. Agho racked up four turnovers in the victory, continuing a troubling trend as he has attempted to add the title of ball distributor to his game this season.

League Rookie of the Week honors went to Harvard's Laurent Rivard, who scored all 16 points (on 92% eFG shooting) in the second half in a win over George Washington. It could have easily been his third straight win, but his 23-point effort at Boston College wasn't enough to get the nod in Week 9.

Friday, January 14, 2011

14-Game Tournament: The CORNELL!!!/columbia Series

None of the Lions faithful want to remember that 2002-2003 season.

Columbia went 2-25, 0-14 in the Ivy League and rarely even close. The Lions also scored fewer than 50 points in 13 of the 27 games that year and 40 or fewer a whopping seven times.

Most of the effects of that disastrous season wore off rather quickly, as Columbia rebounded to go 6-8 in league play the following year and put together three-straight .500 finishes from 2007 to 2009. One landscape shift, however, hasn't reset itself to pre-2003 levels yet, and it happens to be one of the most important in league play - the season-opening travel partner series.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Week 10 Powerpoll: Four More Teams To Get Underway

Harvard and Dartmouth kicked off the 2011 Ivy League season last Saturday, but pardon the rest of the league's apathy.

Ever since the league has settled into the current scheduling format, January has always been a weird month with the Crimson and Big Green usually kicking things off before the other six and Penn and Princeton not hitting the floor for league contests until almost February.

This Saturday, four more Ivy teams will dive into the 14-Game Tournament with Cornell traveling to Columbia and Yale headed to Brown. The Lions haven't beaten the Big Red at home since 2005 and haven't won a game in the series since 2006. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have won three out of the last four in Providence.

Conventional wisdom is that splitting the travel partner games (unless your travel partner is one of the favorites) can put you in a pretty deep hole to start. This year, however, that might not be as much the case, with the eventual champion's record expected to fall in the 11-3 or 10-4 range.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Harvard 68, Dartmouth 53: Quick Thoughts

This time, the Crimson did more than just survive and advance.

Dartmouth used an 8-0 run to cut Harvard's 17-point lead to nine with 9:31 left, but a Laurent Rivard three pushed the margin back to 12, and the Big Green would get no closer the rest of the way.

Harvard held Dartmouth to nine points over the game's first 14 minutes, but the Big Green got 10 quick points to cut the deficit to 25-19 with three to go in the first half. Dartmouth trailed by just eight as the first half ticked down, but Rivard nailed a trifecta with six seconds left to give the Crimson a 32-21 lead at the intermission.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Getting A Head Start

As has become tradition in the Ivy League, Harvard and Dartmouth will kick off the league slate tomorrow at Leede Arena, in the opening contest of the 14-Game Tournament.

By most accounts, the contest should be an exercise in anticlimax. The spread should settle in the low double-digits in favor of the visitors, and the Crimson is coming off a huge win over a top 50 opponent, Boston College.

Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, however.

Friday, January 7, 2011

History Remains, Until You Change It

A 10-5 start with a sweep of Dartmouth got them all talking. Twice.

Maybe Harvard would finally do it. Finally exorcise the demons of never having won an Ivy title.

But twice, the Crimson failed spectacularly. In 2002-2003, Harvard got swept at Penn and Princeton and followed it up with two more losses at Brown and Yale before losing star guard Pat Harvey to academic ineligibility and proceeding to finish 4-10. Three seasons later, the Crimson started 4-1 before getting beat on a baseline, banked three at Cornell and blowing a six-point lead in the final minute at home against Princeton en route to a 5-9 finish.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Week 9 Powerpoll: Just Five Days To 14-GT

Travel partner month is finally here (Penn and Princeton fans, feel free to skip down to the rankings...) as Harvard and Dartmouth kick off the Ivy season in Hanover this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Yale/Brown and Cornell/Columbia follow one week later, with all three return games taking place on the 22nd.

Just 15 Division I non-conference games remain, four of which tip tonight during the seven o'clock hour, meaning that the league's RPI finish in the teens (currently 14th) is all but guaranteed.

Let's take one final look at where we stand before the 14-Game Tournament tips in earnest this weekend: