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.


Harvard           22             6           11             3
Princeton           23             7           11             3
Yale           15           13             8             6
Penn           14           14             8             6
Columbia           16           12             7             7
Cornell             9           19             5             9
Brown           11           17             4           10
Dartmouth             7           21             3           11

Total     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8
Brown 0% 0% 0% 1% 9% 29% 47% 14%
Columbia 1% 3% 18% 31% 40% 7% 1% 0%
Cornell 0% 0% 1% 6% 21% 52% 18% 3%
Dartmouth 0% 0% 0% 0% 1% 8% 26% 64%
Harvard 62% 33% 4% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Penn 2% 8% 32% 34% 19% 4% 1% 0%
Princeton 56% 38% 5% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Yale 5% 14% 50% 24% 7% 1% 0% 0%

The Quakers had the opportunity to make the race more interesting for everybody, taking both Harvard and Princeton to overtime over the past week, but Penn couldn't close either game, letting the Crimson and Tigers maintain a cushion at the top.

Despite being a game back in the loss column, Harvard maintains a slight advantage in the projections due to the fact that its two toughest games are behind it, while Princeton has its two toughest games back-to-back at the end of the year. If the Tigers can survive the New York road trip with a sweep, however, they should take a healthy lead in the projections.

Yale and Penn are still technically alive in the race, but both would need a lot of help to stay in it. The reasonable ceiling for each is 10 wins, which would necessitate Princeton going 5-4 down the stretch and Harvard going 5-3. One of those two things could happen, but having both occur is quite unlikely.


Princeton at Columbia

After a brutal opening stretch that included five-straight road games, the Lions finally return home to Levien to play six of their last eight. The problem is that the season might already have slipped away from them.

Columbia had held it together nicely through four games and needed just a split last weekend to stay in the title hunt, but the defense that had stiffened in league play finally collapsed. The Lions yielded adjusted offensive ratings of 120 to Brown and 108 to Yale en route to getting swept.

Meanwhile the Tigers keep chugging along, putting together stunningly efficient stretches in the middle of games and then attempting to ride double-digit leads out as they slowly collapse late in the second half. This recipe has worked at home, where the crowds can carry Princeton home to victory, but the major question is whether the Tigers will be able to get away with this on the road.

Predictive Model: Princeton 70, Columbia 68

Yale at Harvard

Both teams enter this game having survived tight contests last week to keep their Ivy championship hopes alive.

The Bulldogs had to overcome a 10-point deficit with two minutes to play against Cornell to eke out a 71-70 victory, while the Crimson had to "win" three different times against Penn, finally capped off by Oliver McNally's baseline runner with 11 seconds to go in the second overtime.

This matchup pits the league's second most efficient defense (Yale) against the league's most efficient offense (Harvard) with the loser incurring almost insurmountable damage in the league race. Greg Mangano is the league's most imposing defensive presence and should be able to handle Harvard's Keith Wright inside, but Mangano fouls at above-average rates and must fight that to stay on the floor.

Predictive Model: Harvard 70, Yale 61

Predictive Model For Other Friday Games:
Cornell 68, Penn 66
Brown 65, Dartmouth 63


Penn at Columbia

If both the Quakers and Lions survive Friday night as underdogs, this will be a true elimination game for each.

In case you haven't noticed, Penn has been the second-best team (by adjusted efficiency margin) in Ivy play. The Quakers boast the league's fourth-best offense and, quite surprisingly, the league's best defense to slide in right behind Harvard in the AEM standings.

Yet luck hasn't really been on Penn's side thus far, making it conceivable that the Quakers could remain the league's second most efficient team in conference while sliding as low as fifth in the standings.

One would have to assume that the ball would bounce Penn's way at some point, but Columbia is certainly hoping that "some point" isn't Saturday night.

Predictive Model: Columbia 70, Penn 68

Princeton at Cornell

The Tigers better get used to this, because it's only the second of four-straight tricky road dates against dangerous league teams.

Yes, the Big Red is 1-5 in conference and 5-15 overall, but it came within an almost impossible collapse against Yale of sweeping that road trip and is still respected enough to be favored tonight against Penn. At 212 in the Pomeroy Ratings, Cornell is 28 spots ahead of the 2009 Yale squad that was the league's second best team that year.

In other words, aside from Dartmouth, there are no easy outs on the road in league play, especially on Saturday night after a four-hour drive late the night before. If any team can handle that stress, it's this battle-tested Tigers squad. But don't expect it to be easy at all.

Predictive Model: Princeton 68, Cornell 66

Predictive Model For Other Saturday Games:
Harvard 77, Brown 62
Yale 64, Dartmouth 58


Sweep - 2.9%; Split - 57.2%; Swept - 39.9%

Sweep - 20.5%; Split - 52.0%; Swept - 27.5%

Sweep - 21.8%; Split - 52.3%; Swept - 25.8%

Sweep - 11.3%; Split - 46.3%; Swept - 42.3%

Sweep - 79.8.%; Split - 19.4%; Swept - 0.8%

Sweep - 17.6%; Split - 48.7%; Swept - 33.6%

Sweep - 40.3%; Split - 46.4%; Swept - 13.3%

Sweep - 11.7%; Split - 65.6%; Swept - 22.7% 

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