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:

8. Dartmouth (8)

Losing at Colgate, a team the Big Green had dominated at Leede two months earlier, was not a good sign. There's plenty of fight in this Dartmouth team, as it closed a 47-32 deficit to one with under a minute to play, but ultimately couldn't pull out the win.

It's been a long time since a team went winless in Ivy play, but the odds are creeping up there (now 7.1%). While this weekend's visit to Cambridge probably isn't the best opportunity to record a victory, if it can't split the next weekend's visits by Columbia and Cornell, expect those odds to balloon.

7. Brown (7)

The victory over Quinnipiac looked good until a deeper dive revealed that the Bears had to score 57 points on just 39 second-half possessions and caught the Bobcats without their two best offensive rebounders.

It was still a very nice win for Brown, but none of that will matter if it can't find a way to get the reverse split with a win in New Haven on Saturday.

Quick gambling tip: If you like the Bears in any game the rest of the way, I'd suggest parlaying it with the over, because Brown will struggle to win anything but a shootout.

6. Cornell (6)

Brian Delaney of the Ithaca Journal wrote a whole piece about it this week, and it's absolutely true. The Big Red is just fouling way too much.

The 50.4% FT Rate Allowed (free throws attempted over field goals attempted) is 324th nationally. The blame falls primarily on the big men, four of whom currently rank in the top six of the fouls committed per 40 minute category among qualified players (Errick Peck - 5.7, Aaron Osgood - 6.0, Mark Coury - 6.0 and Adam Wire - 6.0).

Add that to the fact that the big men are a huge part of the two-point field goal shooting percentage problem (41.2%, 331st nationally), and there's the reason why the ceiling is probably third or fourth for this year's edition of the Big Red.

5. Penn (5)

The Quakers are really struggling at this point on both sides of the ball. Penn turned it over on 37 percent of their possessions at Temple, struggling to handle the Owls' athletic interior players and pressure defense. Opposing offenses have torched the Quakers for efficiency ratings of 140, 111 and 118 in the last three games, which is still below average even after adjusting for the fact that those three opponents were Kentucky, La Salle and Temple.

Some re-evaluation will be necessary if Dan Monckton and Mike Howlett can return to the court, but until then, this looks like a team that will be good for an upset or two en route to a 7-7 or 8-6 mark at best.

4. Columbia (3)

With 14 minutes to go against Cornell, the Lions led 49-36. Then, the defensive wheels came off.

It took a little more than four minutes to erase that margin almost entirely, as the Big Red scraped together a 17-5 run. The Lions had to score 25 points over the final 17 possessions to hold off the Cornell rally - a blazing offensive pace.

Columbia will need much tougher defense on the road to have any chance at completing the sweep and will need to continue that over the final 12 games of the season to have any chance at being a serious contender for the title.

3. Yale (4)

As one would expect, the Bulldogs earned an important road win with defense last Saturday, holding rival Brown to just five points over the final 10 possessions of the game as it salted away a five-point win.

Greg Mangano has been the anchor, posting a 30 percent defensive rebounding rate (third nationally) and an 8.5 percent block rate (57th nationally). Opponents are shooting just 45.7 percent from inside the arc on the season, which is barely inside the top 100 in the nation.

Put simply, Yale has proven thus far that it is above average at getting stops when it needs them, and that could be the difference in a handful of Ivy games this season.

2. Harvard (2)

Uh oh. This site's non-conference MVP, Keith Wright, has sore ribs (at best). The non-conference ROY, Laurent Rivard, has a mysterious Achilles and/or ankle ailment that he's struggling to play through. Starting wing Christian Webster has a hip pointer.

While none of these injuries are season-ending or even guaranteed to put any of the three on the bench for a game, the news fosters an ominous foreboding amongst Harvard fans, who have seen injuries - usually to the frontcourt - dash hopes in the past.

The gritty victory at George Washington makes the Crimson 19-6 in non-conference Division I games over the past two seasons, but none of that will matter unless Harvard can keep its two-year league mark to around six losses as well.

1. Princeton (1)

It's been a long time since the Tigers have played a meaningful, challenging game - three weeks ago, in fact, at Central Florida - and assuming you don't consider this weekend's showdown with the College of New Jersey as one which meets those qualifications, it'll be another eight days before Princeton finally sees real competition - at home against Brown.

That makes it pretty difficult to even remember what got the Tigers to this spot, but here's a quick refresher. Kareem Maddox and Ian Hummer are playing extremely well offensively and their backups, Mack Darrow and Brendan Connolly, have shown themselves to be capable at eating minutes, making Princeton the team with the best frontcourt in the league.

Douglas Davis, Dan Mavraides and Patrick Saunders are three incredibly accurate three-point shooters on the perimeter, creating a dangerous, well-rounded attack.

Defensively, the Tigers have struggled to reclaim last year's magic, but with the offense firing on a whole different level, this team is still one of the two clear favorites in the league race.

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