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.


8. Dartmouth (8)

It's becoming increasingly more clear that whatever tricks Paul Cormier had up his sleeves are becoming less effective down the stretch. The Big Green got whacked on the road two weekends ago and returned home to drop a pair of nine-point games to Brown and Yale.

Dartmouth's adjusted efficiency margin in league play has been a -0.2 points per possession or about -13 points per game, which is the league's worst by a significant margin.

The Big Green's lone saving grace is that its horrible offense has been high variance, while its decent defense has been incredibly low variance, meaning that on any given night, it could get the offensive output necessary to win - but its average output has been among the worst in Division I.

7. Brown (7)

Last night's game against Harvard was Brown's season in a nutshell. The Bears got unheard of offensive production in the first half, sinking difficult shot after difficult shot to put 53 on the scoreboard in 20 minutes.

Then, it yielded a 46-11 run as the Crimson went from down 24 to up 11 in a span of 16 minutes. Brown tried to collapse inside to shut down Keith Wright and Kyle Casey, but left Harvard's three point shooters wide open. Then, when the Bears started taking runs at shooters, the Crimson fed the ball into Casey, who took over inside.

Until Brown can learn to play consistent, solid defense, it will remain one of those dangerous teams that can win occasional shootouts, but struggles to notch victories consistently.

6. Cornell (6)

There are five Top 200 Pomeroy teams in the Ivy League. Name them.

Princeton, Penn, Harvard and Yale are the seemingly easy ones. But which team is the fifth? Has to be Columbia, right?


Cornell has snuck into the Top 200 at No. 200 with the type of showing this weekend that has epitomized their season. Almost blew a monster lead to Penn and then couldn't pull out a close one against Princeton.

Still, the Big Red came the closest of any team thus far of dethroning the Ivy-unbeaten Tigers and continue to be a deceptively good team. If the season were 100 games long, the record would probably straighten itself out, but Cornell will have to settle for Mr. Pomeroy's approval as an "around-national-average" ball club.


5. Penn (3)

There's really no way to rehash the story in a way that hasn't already been told.

After taking Harvard to two overtimes, Princeton to an extra session and Cornell to one as well and coming away with three losses, the wheels finally came off the wagon on Saturday night. It's a results-based business and the end result is a depressing four-game losing streak on the heels of an uber-encouraging four-game winning streak.

The Quakers still have plenty to play for, including an outside shot at a postseason berth, but the odds are stacked against it (would need to win out aside from a loss to Princeton or Harvard) and there's the obvious question of whether Penn can get re-focused mentally after such a tough stretch.

4. Columbia (5)

Saturday night was almost the Spiral Showdown, as Columbia entered the game against Penn with a three-game losing streak, including a disappointing no-show against the Tigers the night before.

After a see-saw first half, the Lions built a 12-point cushion early in the second, withstood a Quaker run to cut it to three, before counterpunching with a 9-0 run to knock Penn out.

At 13-9 the Lions would seem to be a potential postseason candidate, but their horrible non-conference schedule would probably necessitate a strong close to even have a chance. The schedule is favorable, but it's hard to see them getting to the 9-5 they would need in order to have a realistic shot.


3. Yale (4)

The Bulldogs had their chance to become a real factor in the Ivy race Friday night against Harvard, but once again couldn't get that final extra basket to win a road game against the top two (lost 67-63 at Princeton earlier this season).

That leaves Yale down to its final chance to get back in the race, as it hosts the Tigers this upcoming Friday. A weekend sweep would make the Bulldogs a legitimate contender (Yale hosts Harvard a week later), while losing either game would end their title hopes. The matchup pits the top two defenses in the league right now, so don't expect a lot of points at The Church.


2. Harvard (2)

The Crimson is 7-1 in the Ivy League.

That simple statement is both true and deceptive. Among the games in the win column for Harvard include one where it trailed by 12 points and another where it trailed by 24. Then, there was the Penn game that went to double overtime and the Yale game where the Crimson never led by more than six.

Suffice it to say, Harvard is really exploring the studio space with this league year. The insane swings will likely leave the Crimson on the short end at some point, especially since Harvard's next four are on the road and it might have to go an extended stretch without Oliver McNally.

As each weekend passes with the Crimson still in the race, however, the more likely it becomes that the March 5th showdown with Princeton will indeed be meaningful.


1. Princeton (1)

It hasn't been pretty at times (vs. Penn and Yale as well as last night), but the Tigers have arrived at the midway point at 7-0. The last four teams to get out to such a start cruised to the Ivy title. In fact, the last time a team started 7-0 and didn't seal the deal was 1998-99.

Devoted Princeton fans may remember that as the team that "had three points" at a point in a game against Penn when more would have been expected - a game the Tigers won in the fourth-largest comeback in Division I history. That squad dropped its first game of the second half at Yale before losing at Harvard and to Penn in the finale as the Quakers turned a 6-1 start into a 13-1 finish.

While the parallels to this season are somewhat vivid, what isn't the same is the chase team. The 98-99 Penn squad had defeated then-No. 6 Temple and lost by five to then-No. 8 Kansas, putting it into a slightly different tier than this year's No. 1 contender, Harvard.

The Tigers are a distant first in adjusted efficiency margin (+0.11; No. 2 Harvard - +0.06) - the second straight year that Princeton has dialed up the effort in league play. It's hard to call the Tigers anything other than the heavy favorite at this point.

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