Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014-15 Ivy Preseason Projection Uber Post

The Ivy League has quickly become a mid-major freight train.

Sure, finishing 2013-14 with the highest rank and average pythagorean winning percentage of the Pomeroy era was nice, as is Dan Hanner's 2014-15 projection of the Ivy as the 12th-best league in the country (which would set another record). But the most impressive part of the league is how its best teams closed out the campaign last season, establishing a momentum that carries far beyond Harvard, and its summer of Top 25 praise.

Five Ivy League teams made the postseason, and four of them won at least a game. Yale played all the way into April, notching four victories (including the first Ivy vs. Ivy postseason battle against Columbia) on its march to the CIT Championship Game.

All told, five Ivy teams finished among the top half of Division I, and none of those five squads returns less than 60 percent of its minutes from last season. In fact, Columbia brings back everyone, Brown loses "just" four-year starter and perennial All-Ivy guard Sean McGonagill and Yale's only significant loss is Brandon Sherrod, who has reminded us all of the true nature of the Ivy experience by taking a year off to pursue his passion of a cappella - something with which I can't argue, given that I've watched Pitch Perfect about a billion times.

The league's two regular season Top 100 teams (Harvard and Princeton) each lost nearly 40 percent of its minutes, but both have recruited so well in recent years that potential answers abound that could keep each from skipping a beat.

And then, there's Dartmouth. Yes, the Big Green endured a seven-game Ivy losing streak, including being the only Division I victim of hapless Cornell last year, but that was all after losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas. Even without him (which Dartmouth will likely be again, at least through December), however, the Big Green still posted some bizarrely prosperous Ivy weekends, including a home sweep of Penn and Princeton and a road sweep of Brown and Yale. With him, the team peaked at No. 175 in Pomeroy in early January and posted an entertaining seven-point loss at Illinois.

In accordance with custom, Penn and Cornell will also be participating in varsity basketball this season.

This is the point when I normally share my projections for Ivy and overall records, as well as odds of finishing in particular places within the league. I've moved that to the end this year, as I want to be more transparent with the process first through the discussion of each team. The projection doesn't just materialize out of thin air, but is a combination of a variety of factors (returning minutes, outcomes from random events vs. outcomes from consistent events, historical bounds of possible outcomes for new players, etc.). These will pop up again and again as we walk through each team's section.

So, without further adieu, we'll take on each team in the order of last year's Ivy finish.

HARVARD (2013-14: 27-5, 13-1 Ivy; Round of 32 NCAA Tournament)

Returning Minutes: 62.5%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 73.4%

Since 1990, observing Adjusted Returning Minutes and a team's finish the year prior can help explain roughly a third of the deviation in performance observed the following season.

There are many explanations for this, but two are paramount:

1) For as much as we like to highlight breakout players or surprising slumps, once a player is on the court for a sufficient number of minutes, that player is more likely to continue to produce at a similar level than he is to deviate in any significant way.

2) Basketball is a team game, so increasing the number of unfamiliar faces on the floor has a somewhat exponential negative effect on the team's output.

Both of these explanations can, at their core, explain why Adjusted Returning Minutes is primarily a negative factor. In most cuts of the data, it was hard to isolate a positive effect of returning the bulk of a team's minutes - beyond that which would be expected by pure regression to the mean. The negative effect that losing an above average or greater percentage of team minutes was quite evident, however.

That makes Adjusted Returning Minutes a nice first step in the projection process. The effect is strongest if you return less than half of your team's minutes (accounting for a drop between .14 and .28 off last year's Pomeroy Pythagorean Win Percentage) and persists until you approach the historical average for ARM, which has hovered around 65 percent for the Ivy League. Anything above that mark, and there isn't much predictive power in ARM for Ivy teams.

So far, Harvard appears to be last year's team with a little regression to the mean.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (112 ORAT, 97 DRAT; Pythag - 0.8435, Rank - 32)

To get our starting point, we need to take the Pomeroy numbers from last year and make some important (but somewhat minor) adjustments to mitigate the impact of luck (yes, luck can persist for 32 games).

First, I want to adjust for any wild deviations in free throw percentage allowed. In 2012, Harvard "allowed" opponents to shoot 65 percent from the line, and in 2013, that figure ballooned to 73 percent. That alone accounted for about 1.5 points per 100 possessions or about 25 percent of the difference between the Crimson's staunch defense in 2012 and its average showing in 2013.

Next, I want to take a look at percentage of two-point jumpers made. Hawaii sure doesn't think this stat is very random, as it has finished as one of the top three best shooting teams in the country from that distance each of the past three years. The Rainbow Warriors are far more the exception that the rule, as most teams vacillate wildly around the Division I average of 35 to 36 percent. What doesn't change nearly as much is the percentage of shots taken as two-point jumpers. So, a quick fix here is to adjust the team's shooting percentage down toward the average while maintaining their percentage of jumpers taken as constant (modifications can be made to this depending on the shot selection of departing personnel - though we'll try to save personnel-based changes for the next section).

The same adjustment has to be made on the defensive side of the ball, but in even a more aggressive way. Both the percentage of shots taken as two-point jumpers and the percentage of makes are far less correlated year-over-year on defense than they are on offense. The best approach is merely to adjust every team to the national average for both.

Getting back to Harvard's case, we'd probably make no adjustments to the base from last season. Its free throw defense was slightly below average, but its two-point jumper defense was slightly above average - a veritable wash. The Crimson also shot a roughly average percentage of two-point jumpers and converted at a roughly average rate, so no adjustment is needed on that end of the floor either.

Now that we know both Harvard's "true" quality from last season, and the top-level expected change from an ARM perspective, we can dive into the personnel analysis to see how the Crimson will be different on a micro level and how that is likely to affect Harvard's output this season.


Over the final five games of the 2013-14 season, the most frequent Harvard lineups all included Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders, Steve Moundou-Missi and then two of three of the seniors (Brandyn Curry, Laurent Rivard and Kyle Casey).

That consistency is very valuable, despite the two gaping holes left to fill.

On the offensive end of the court, what we care most about is usage rates ("percent of team's possessions used") and efficiency (points per 100 possessions used). It is much easier to find ultra efficient players who use a low percentage of a team's possessions than it is find high usage players who post above average efficiency. In fact, only the top two most efficient players to use at least 28 percent of team possessions (Billy Baron and Doug McDermott) cracked the list of the Top 100 most efficient players in the country, and only the 10 most efficient players to use at least 24 percent of team possessions (a list that was led by Princeton's T.J. Bray) did the same.

In that respect, Harvard is in great shape. Moundou-Missi has consistently used about 21 percent of team possessions with above average efficiency, while Chambers has hovered around the same usage rate with slightly less efficient, but still above average results. In fact, Chambers' unlucky run on two-point jumpers last year (26 percent - worst on the team) overshadowed the fact that he cut his turnover rate five percentage points between his freshman and sophomore years.

Then, there's reigning Ivy Player of the Year Wesley Saunders, who has shown himself capable of handling 25 percent of the possessions with above average efficiency. If those three use 67 percent of the available possessions, that leaves roughly 16-17 percent a piece for the final two guys on the floor - a workload that its top two returning options in terms of minutes played in their previous season (Corbin Miller and Jonah Travis) would be comfortable handling with efficiency in the one-teens.

The interesting question is what happens when any of those three high usage guys goes to the bench (and even more interesting... what if one misses sustained time with injury).

The frontcourt would likely be just fine. Travis has demonstrated the ability to deliver a similar usage rate to Moundou-Missi with high efficiency (though it would come at a cost defensively), and sophomore Zena Edosomwan proved he isn't shy about consuming possessions in limited time as a freshman. Guard play is a completely different story. There is no other player at the 1-2-3 spots that seems remotely comfortable with a Saunders-level usage rate, meaning that Harvard should become very post-oriented when its 6'5 senior swingman is off the floor. While it has more of a chance of absorbing Chambers' usage rate, it doesn't have anyone that can match his ability to lead the Crimson in transition, where Harvard took 26 percent of its shots (57% eFG).

My model does not attempt to forecast injuries for a variety of reasons, some of which has to do with the fact that gap between the output of the replacement player and the injured player isn't large enough to swing a teams fortunes all that greatly over the long run. In the case of the Crimson's guards, that gap would likely prove to be quite significant, making it noteworthy to remember when considering the model's output - as there will be massive downside risk to the results.

Assuming Chambers and Saunders can provide roughly 35 minutes per game when needed, that leaves at most 10 minutes where both aren't on the floor at the same time. Presumably, senior point guard Alex Nesbitt or Miller will snap up Chambers' five minutes and any combination of folks could take Saunders' five, leaving a full 40 minutes open at one of the wings. That's the spot formerly shared by Curry and Rivard, who combined to hit 110 threes at better than a 40 percent clip. Along with any potential duty backing up Chambers, Miller is likely the frontrunner to consume most of the minutes at that open wing spot. While Tommy Amaker might be tempted to go bigger at the three with Travis or Agunwa Okolie, the pair have combined to take all of four threes in their careers, which would leave Chambers as the only threat from long range on the floor. The result would either be a spacing nightmare with the opponents opting for a sagging man defense or a 2-3 zone. That potential outcome likely makes playing Miller or freshman shooter Andre Chatfield an imperative at that final wing position.

The Crimson's search for offensive answers at that final wing spot will likely have huge ramifications on the frontcourt pairings chosen for defensive purposes. A perimeter lineup of Chambers, Saunders and Okolie would be able to lock down opponents, allowing Harvard to go with its more offensively oriented post players, while adding Miller or Chatfield to one of the guard spots would likely require a Kenyatta Smith-type inside to deter drives to the basket.

What Does It All Mean?

Now that we've filtered through the individual personnel, we can start making individual-level predictions within the context of building to an overall Pomeroy Rating. Let's start with the biggest blocks of minutes first.

Saunders has put together two consecutive years with steady efficiency numbers, really only varying by his hit rate on three pointers. The same can be said for Chambers. Moundou-Missi has consistently been above average in his efficiency, though maybe a marginal haircut is necessary off of last year's stellar numbers. What's more is that those three players were the key members of a defense that posted a 34th-best 96.5 efficiency rating last year. So we can lock those numbers in for those players and the team's defense.

Next are the likely players. Miller is a strong favorite to grab another 60-80 percent chunk of minutes in the backcourt. His efficiency rating will be highly variable based on his ultimate three-point shooting percentage (he's not taking twos, getting to the line, rebounding or turning the ball over much). He shot 46 percent on a decent sample as a freshman and looked to be in solid game shape at Crimson Madness. Given his low usage, hitting an efficiency rating in the low one-teens as he did as a freshman shouldn't be too hard.

Most of the rest of the backcourt minutes will be eaten up by Okolie, who has steadily posted an efficiency rating in the 90s in small sample - so that's a good start for him. The one tradeoff to consider here is that the defensive rating needs to improve as Okolie gets more minutes and worsen as Miller gets more minutes.

Finally, the frontcourt poses a tricky set of tradeoffs. Smith looks poised to get a bunch of minutes starting along side Moundou-Missi. His efficiency rating was better down the stretch as a sophomore, but shouldn't be projected to be above average. His defensive rebounding and block rates were obscene, so Harvard's defensive rating should improve as he spends more time on the floor. Travis will also see a block of time this season and will present the exact opposite tradeoff. The remainder of minutes will go to Cummins and Edosomwan at their previous year averages.

Roll all of that up and Harvard looks like a team that will be very similar to last year's squad with the primary point of differentiation being what the Crimson can get out of the spot vacated by Rivard and Curry.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (110 ORAT, 96 DRAT; Pythag - 0.8068, Rank - 38)

YALE (2013-14: 19-14, 9-5 Ivy; Reached CIT Finals)

Returning Minutes: 89.4%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 78.9%

If you skipped the Harvard preview, flip back to it for a full explanation of why returning minutes matter.

Yale was slated to return every major contributor from a team that advanced all the way to the finals of the CIT before getting narrowly edged by Murray St. in a game it played without Justin Sears.

Then, it lost Brandon Sherrod for a year to the Whiffenpoofs, and its adjusted returning minutes fell back to the middle of the Ivy pack. That being said, bringing back nearly 80 percent of team minutes is plenty to avoid any necessary adjustments to its 2013-14 finish.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (102 ORAT, 101 DRAT; Pythag - 0.5358, Rank - 144)

Now that the adjusted returning minutes tell us we can rely on last year's Pomeroy figures as a start, let's go ahead and strip out the luck factors.

Yale shot roughly the national average on two-point jumpers and took only a slightly higher percentage than average from that range. No change will be necessary on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense is a different story. Yale allowed opponents to shoot just 32 percent on two-point jumpers, three to four percent lower than the national average on a higher than average percent of shots from that range. The data shows that we should revert these to the national average, which would mean fewer two-point jumpers (a shot you want opponents to take) and a higher percentage made. Opponents shot a little better than the national average from the line, but not enough to counteract the two-point jumper effect.

Thus, Yale's defensive rating would likely worsen a bit as a baseline expectation, while its offensive rating would remain unchanged.


As a team, Yale lived and died by its ability to dominate the glass and bully its way to the free-throw line. Only four players on the team took more than 40 threes last season, and they shot 27, 30, 32 and 35 percent.

A huge part of that board-and-bully strategy was Sherrod, who in 53 percent of team minutes grabbed 10 percent of the offensive boards and posted a 64 percent free throw rate. The other half of the power forward minutes went to Matt Townsend, who is a nice role player offensively, but doesn't rebound, block shots or get to the free throw line as well as Sherrod. And he likely won't be able to take on more than half of Sherrod's minutes, leaving about 10-15 minutes a game to be absorbed by Greg Kelley. Kelley is Sherrod's polar opposite, as the 6'8 senior operates mostly as a stretch four (62 of his 81 shots last year were from three) and is far more likely to foul (5.8 per 40) than to be fouled (2.2 per 40).

Yale does have the option of sliding senior Armani Cotton over to the four, but despite being 6'7, 215, that's not really Cotton's natural position even though he was the best defensive rebounder on the team last year. The bigger issue is that it would create problems in the backcourt that we'll address in a bit.

Luckily, the Bulldogs have a legitimate Ivy Player of the Year candidate in Justin Sears providing some stability in the post. As we said about Harvard's guard situation, though, if Sears misses extended time with an injury, this team will struggle mightily.

Maybe not as mightily as it would struggle without its lead guard Javier Duren, though.

When Sears missed Yale's finale at Pomeroy No. 115 Murray State, the Bulldogs lost by just eight despite shooting 24 percent from two and 31 percent from three. Yale grabbed 25 offensive rebounds in the contest without Sears and owned the defensive glass as well, securing nearly 80 percent of the boards on that end. When Duren was slowed by a nagging ankle injury over the final six games of the Ivy campaign, shooting just 6-for-41 in the four games he toughed out over that stretch, the Bulldogs went 2-4 with double-digit losses to Columbia, Princeton and Harvard - all of which it had beaten the first time through - and an embarrassing eight-point loss to Dartmouth to close out the Ivy campaign.

A lot of that has to do with what else the Bulldogs have at the guard spot. Nick Victor provides a bigger presence at a guard spot defensively but was the least offensively efficient regular in the Ivy League last season. Armani Cotton provides an even bigger frame to guard the perimeter along with a stronger offensive output - primarily via the free-throw line. Neither is a strong three-point shooter, leaving Duren as the only consistent three-point threat.

The Bulldogs could slot in Jack Montague at the off guard, as the junior hit 18-of-40 shots (45 percent) from behind the arc last season, but he also turned the ball over on nearly two-in-five possessions and couldn't be further from Yale's free throws and rebound mold. Anthony Dallier didn't quite live up to the freshman hype, posting an 33 eFG shooting percentage for his rookie campaign, though if he finds the stroke he had at Northfield Mount Hermon, he would be a perfect fit for this team's system.

What Does It All Mean?

It's hard to imagine Sears having a much better season than he did given that his turnover rate was exceptionally low for someone doing anything more than just launching threes and that his two-point jumper shooting percentage was already in the low-40s. Something in the one-teens on nearly 30 percent possessions seems right. Duren and Cotton should improve a bit, and we know enough about Townsend to pencil him in for above average offensive efficiency. That leaves just under half the team minutes to be eaten primarily by guards. Victor won't get to play 62 percent of team minutes at a 79 efficiency rating again, but how much can that be expected to improve, when known quantities Montague and Dallier posted 87 and 93 and of the unknown quantities, freshman Makai Mason seems like the only one capable of posting significant minutes.

In these situations where there are no clear answers, my research shows that something near Ivy replacement level (90 offensive rating) is the best bet, but that depends on the percentage of possessions required of the players. Given that Sears and Duren alone could eat up somewhere between 55 and 60 percent of team possessions, those unknown guards might not even need to contribute a usage rate in the teens. That allows us to project a much higher offensive rating for those possessions. Also, some minutes will also be assigned to Kelley at the forward spot at his decently consistent 104 rating.

Defensively, the lineup alterations should put some stress on last year's stellar rebounding numbers (52nd nationally on the offensive glass and 10th nationally on the defensive side), which will result in fewer Yale possessions offensively and more opponent possessions on the other end. The Bulldogs' 49th-ranked block rate will also take a hit, which will inflate its two-point percentage allowed a bit.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (105 ORAT, 101 DRAT; Pythag - 0.6152, Rank - 109)

PRINCETON (2013-14: 21-9, 8-6 Ivy; Reached Second Round of CBI)

Returning Minutes: 59.8%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 67.4%

The Tigers get a little bit of a bump from the full return of Denton Koon from a knee injury that slowed him all last season. During the brief span of six games when both Koon and T.J. Bray were able to play 30-plus minutes a contest together, Princeton ran its Pomeroy Rating all the way from 123rd to 65th. It remains an open question whether a full season of Koon and Bray would have been enough to make #2BidIvy happen, but that debate can wait for a different day.

The reality is that Princeton still has over 30 percent of team minutes to replace and uber-efficient ones at that. In fact, Bray was the most efficient player in the nation (yes, the whole nation, including the South) to use more than 24 percent of his team's possessions. And all Will Barrett did was make over 100 threes as a junior and senior on better than 40 percent shooting.

The model would be wary at the 67 percent ARM level, but probably wouldn't force a haircut off the top. That being said, it would be impossible to replace Bray's production either with one person alone or an increase in efficiency from a group of players. Well, for any normal team that is. Princeton is by no means normal, as it has a history of thumbing its nose at the best laid plans...

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (104 ORAT, 100 DRAT; Pythag - 0.6339, Rank - 101)

Nothing is easy with Princeton, because, as I mentioned before, Princeton is not normal. The average team takes about 30 percent of its shots as two-point jumpers. The Tigers took 10 percent (leading the nation). Also, they had the eighth lowest percentage of assists nationally on such shots, which basically means that their offensive strategy was to pass up a two-point jumper unless the immediate result would be a turnover. Eschewing the midrange shot is a fantastic strategy, but I don't know if they could go lower than 10 percent without a Draconian threat from the coaching staff.

My guess (welcome to the art side, folks) is that without Bray to eat up possessions, they're going to struggle a little bit to avoid having to take some two-point jumpers and that share will rise a bit. Also, Koon's career two-point jumper rate was in the low 20s, which would have led the team last year, so I expect that to put a little upward pressure on the share as well. All told, expect the offensive rating to fall slightly to start due to Princeton taking a few more of the worst shots in basketball.

On the other hand, the luck factors would point to the defensive end improving. The Tigers allowed an average rate of two-point jumpers and opponents connected on an average percentage of those shots. Princeton's free-throw defense, however, was among the Top 25 worst in the nation, so expect some efficiency improvements as regression to the mean occurs from the stripe.


Princeton coach Mitch Henderson had a very clear offensive strategy last season, but what is unclear is whether he has the personnel to execute it in 2014-15.

The Tigers led the nation in three-point shot rate with five different players hoisting at least 88 attempts from long range. Of the five, though, the two that shot the best (Bray - 41%, Barrett - 37%) are gone, leaving stretch-five Hans Brase (32% on 102 attempts) and guards Spencer Weisz (34% on 92 attempts) and Ben Hazel (35% on 88 attempts). Granted, five more Princeton players took between 25 and 45 threes last season with four of those returning including Steven Cook (50% on 26 shots) and Clay Wilson (38% on 45 shots).

Given the insertion of Koon into the lineup and the potential addition of freshman Amir Bell to the rotation - a heralded rookie, but not for his pure shooting stroke - though, this probably won't be a Princeton team that benefits from leading the nation in three-point attempt rate again in 2014-15.

What this Tigers team will be is big. Very big. The 6'8 Koon is athletic enough to play the three, which could allow Princeton to trot out the 6'8 Brase and 6'10 Pete Miller along with him, and to surround those players with a stable of guards who all range from 6'3 to 6'6. While Yale put up impressive rebounding numbers on both ends of the floor, it was actually the Tigers that led the Ivy League in defensive rebounding (and finished third nationally). Just don't expect Princeton to crash the boards on the other end, where they ranked among the 25 worst teams in the country in offensive rebounding.

What else the Tigers will be is far more balanced. Brase and Koon will shoulder a marginally greater than average share of the offensive load, but not at an eye-popping efficiency rate that would doom the team when one of them had an off night. Compare that to last year, where in the seven games that Bray either posted an efficiency rating below 100 or didn't play, Princeton went 3-4 (wins were over FAMU, a squeaker over Lafayette and the epic, Barrett-led comeback at Penn State).

The rotation is replete with intriguing options. Miller's 31% shooting from the line was the only thing keeping him from being a decent option in the post. Hazel provides solid perimeter defense with timely outside shooting. Cook and Weisz provided similar games from the off guard spot down the stretch, though Weisz adapted to the college game a little faster. Add to that arguably the league's best recruiting class (from a talent and depth perspective), and Princeton should have even more weapons at its disposal. 

If there's one glaring issue with this team, it's that it can't always find points consistently. Shooting can fall victim to a string of bad luck, and Princeton is neither adept at creating second chances (as discussed earlier) nor getting to the free throw line (246th nationally). What's more is that the Tigers lost their best weapon in terms of getting to the stripe (Bray) and their second best weapon (Miller) shot just 31% when he got there. I'm not saying we're in for a repeat of the 2005-06 season, but there aren't a ton of bad offensive rebounding teams which don't get to the line that frequently that live to tell about it.

What Does It All Mean?

Bray had the fifth best Offensive VORP season in my Ivy database that spans back to the 1989-90 season. To provide a recent comparison: Penn guard Zack Rosen's craps dice run through the Ivy League in 2012 was only the 11th best season in the database.

The stress of his departure won't be felt by the high usage guys like Brase and Koon. Penciling Brase for another slightly above average efficiency season with a usage rate in the mid-20s seems reasonable, as does a similar figure with a slightly lower usage rate for a fully healthy Koon. When those two are on the floor together, the remaining Princeton role players can contribute like role players do - sparingly, but with high efficiency. Even if both go 75 percent of team minutes, though, that still leaves somewhere between 25-50 percent of team minutes without one or both on the floor.

That vacuum of possession usage will put heavy pressure on guys like Weisz, Cook, Wilson and Hazel to shift from a more comfortable usage rate in the teens to a figure above the 20 percent threshold. There is a general tradeoff between efficiency and usage, and while some players can handle the extra workload better than others, it would be foolish to expect efficiency to increase as the percentage of possessions consumed rise.

Weisz, Hazel and Cook will get penciled in for similar minutes as last year at slightly higher usage rates and slightly lower offensive ratings.

Miller will be a notable exception in all of this, as we can pencil him in for more minutes at a higher efficiency rate, given that he couldn't possibly repeat his 9-for-29 performance from the free throw line, could he?

That leaves a little more than one full spot on the floor for freshmen to fill. For the Tigers, this hasn't always been the easiest thing to do well, as, up until last season, Princeton hadn't had freshmen eat up more than 20 percent of team minutes since 2009 (Doug Davis and Patrick Saunders).

Rookies do have a history of success in the Ivy League, especially in situations where playing time is competitive and spots on the floor are earned, rather than given by default. The incoming class is good enough to post national average efficiency numbers, but likely one of the rookies will try to consume more than the average rate of possessions (someone has to) which will cause the overall freshman efficiency rating to fall short of that national average goal.

Defensively, the interior height will help Princeton defend the rim while allowing its perimeter players to scare opponents off the three-point line without the fear of leaving open lanes to the hoop. That's important for a team that struggles at times to keep more dynamic perimeter threats in front of it. The Tigers went just 4-6 last year when allowing opponents to post a free throw rate above 40 percent, including the two shocking losses at Penn and Dartmouth.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (103 ORAT, 99 DRAT; Pythag - 0.6174, Rank - 107)

COLUMBIA (2013-14: 21-13, 8-6 Ivy; Reached Third Round of CIT)

(NOTE: This section was written prior to Alex Rosenberg's injury. Given that it was unclear at the time of publishing whether he would play the Ivy season or take off the full year and save his eligibility for 2015-16, we are treating him as if we will play this year's Ivy campaign.)

Returning Minutes: 100.0%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 86.2%

It wouldn't be Columbia without something throwing cold water on burgeoning enthusiasm. This time it was the announcement of the departures of guard Meiko Lyles and forward Zach En'Wezoh just a month or so before the season is set to begin.

Lyles is the big loss here, as he started the final nine games of the year, providing important defensive contributions as well as valuable floor spacing with his 41 percent career three-point shooting always in the back of the opponents' minds.

Luckily the guard spot is a position of strength for the Lions, as the player he replaced in the starting lineup - Grant Mullins - is fully healthy and ready to go for the 2014-15 campaign.

Regardless, returning 86 percent of team minutes is plenty to consider last year's Pomeroy Ratings a very good starting point.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (107 ORAT, 104 DRAT; Pythag - 0.5878, Rank - 123)

It makes sense that Columbia and Princeton should be back-to-back in this preview, as they are kindred spirits when it comes to offensive philosophy. The Lions took just 15 percent of their shots as two-point jumpers last season, fourth-best nationally behind Iona, Eastern Kentucky and, of course, the Tigers.

The Lions also took the 18th highest percentage of threes in the nation, and they return three different players that took over 100 treys last season as well as Steve Frankoski, who hasn't ever seen a three-pointer he hasn't liked, as evidenced by his 48 attempts in under 200 total minutes played last year. Also, much like Princeton, only two rotation players even took more than 20 percent of their shots as two-point jumpers, so Columbia clearly has communicated its strategy of avoiding the worst shot in basketball to its guys and has enough weapons to keep from being forced into shots it doesn't want to take.

Defensively, the Lions were a little lucky in terms of free throw defense, and they forced a slightly-higher-than-average percent of shots as two-point jumpers. That means that its defensive rating last season might appear a little better than it should have been due to luck factors.


Alex Rosenberg became just the third player in Ivy history to use 20 percent of his team's total offensive possessions for the season while posting an offensive rating over 120 (Kit Mueller 1990 and 1991; Ibby Jaaber 2006). The good news for Columbia fans is that over the course of that many possessions, a player shows what he really is - that is to say, the luck factor or noise starts to cancel itself out. 

At the same time, there isn't a ton of room for improvement. In fact, both Mueller and Jaaber declined a bit in their final season, as Ibby took on slightly more of a possession load but saw a nearly 10-point drop in offensive rating, while Mueller lowered his usage rate and saw a marginal decline in efficiency as well. While both technically declined, they still easily played at a level necessary to defend their Ivy Player of the Year titles and to lead their teams back to the NCAA Tournament.

What's important to consider is that what we're looking for is not absolute performance, but rather changes, year-over-year. For Rosenberg, any change is likely to be a regression, so anything that will propel this team forward needs to come from a different source.

Maodo Lo probably isn't the answer either. The junior guard should be getting more Player of the Year buzz than he is based on just last season alone. Lo's offensive VORP was 86th highest in the 25 years of the database and comparable to Jeremy Lin's junior season, Dartmouth swingman Alex Barnett's Ivy POY campaign and Chambers' freshman campaign in which he played nearly 95 percent of Harvard's minutes. Much like Rosenberg, the good news is that Lo will probably turn in similar production this season, but the bad news is that it would be hard for him to improve substantially on his 2013-14 campaign.

Taking a look at Columbia's Four Factors from last season, turnovers were a big concern. That stat leads us to our first area of potential improvement - guard Isaac Cohen. In the last 25 seasons, only Brown's Tyler Ponticelli was the only Ivy regular to take a lower percentage of his team's shots when on the floor. Cohen compounded the problem by turning the ball over on 31 percent of his possessions. While the 6'4 junior provided a lot of value on the defensive end, the stress he put on the offense might have been an overall net negative. With relative depth at the guard spot, and the addition of heralded freshman Kyle Castlin, the Lions could benefit from exploring more potent offensive options and gambling on the defensive end.

Along with that Columbia should see some gains from general health and experience, as a full season of Mullins and Frankoski as well as the general progression of post players like Luke Petrasek and Jeff Coby should show increasing gains on the offensive end.

At the same time, there's little reason to believe that the Lions will be any better defensively than they were in 2013-14, and that was already three points per 100 possessions away from finishing in the top half of the Ivies. Lyles and Cohen were two of the three best defensive rebounders under 6'6 in the league, and with Lyles leaving the team and Cohen posing real offense-for-defense tradeoffs, one-and-done trips could be a little less frequent for Columbia opponents this season.

What Does It All Mean?

As mentioned above, Rosenberg and Lo will at best combine to be what they were last season, meaning that we can feel good about our projections for about a third of Columbia's overall minutes.

Assuming that Mullins and Frankoski are fully healthy, we can feel confident in our projection for another 20-25 percent of team minutes. The remainder of the guard minutes will be divided between Castlin and Cohen but with divergent results. If we project more Castlin minutes, the Lions should see an increase in offensive rating at the expense of the defensive end and vice versa.

That leaves the frontcourt, where Rosenberg will likely get pushed to the four due to the extreme guard depth that Columbia has. The remaining 25 or so percent of team minutes should easily be eaten up by Cory Osetkowski and some combination of Petrasek and Coby. Each of the three presents different issues. Osetkowski is the best of the bunch offensively, though is hardly consistent on that end. He's also decent defensively, aside from his defensive rebounding allergies, which are particularly problematic when paired with another weak defensive rebounder in Rosenberg.

Petrasek and Coby are better defensive rebounders, but Coby was a fouling machine as a freshman and Petrasek was very poor offensively after stripping out his relatively ambitious performance in two-point jumper shooting percentage - something which he is unlikely to repeat.

Coach Kyle Smith has lauded the talents of sophomore forward Chris McComber, who becomes a wild card at a position that otherwise could be the difference between making the Top 100 and not.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (109 ORAT, 106 DRAT; Pythag - 0.5835, Rank - 126)

BROWN (2013-14: 15-14, 7-7 Ivy; Reached First Round of CIT)

Returning Minutes: 81.2%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 84.2%

If only Mike Martin got to face the same caliber of Ivy as Craig Robinson did back in 2007-08, maybe he too would be the number one contender challenging for the league crown.

That was the best Brown team since the one that claimed the Ivy title in 1986, and Martin has put together an edition of the Bears that could best them both. The problem is that the 1986 Ivy League might have been the worst in the 64-team era, while the 2008 version wasn't much better. The present day editions of the Ivy, on the other hand, have been shattering records for quality over the past four seasons and 2014-15 looks to be a continuation of the trend.

We've given Brown credit for more minutes out of a fully healthy Rafael Maia, but otherwise, both the returning and adjusted returning minutes are pretty much the same. The "only" loss was Sean McGonagill, who finishes his career with the 25th highest cumulative VORP of any Ivy player, essentially even with fellow Brown alums Damon Huffman and Alai Nuualiitia.

So, while the model would indicate that Brown shouldn't expect any regression based on lost minutes, replacing the quality of minutes that McGonagill provided won't be an easy task.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (101 ORAT, 101 DRAT; Pythag - 0.4986, Rank - 160)

Brown was pretty even on luck factors during the 2014-15 campaign. The Bears both took and allowed an average percentage of two-point jumpers, while making less than average and holding opponents to roughly the same. That could indicate some marginal upward pressure both on the offensive and defensive ratings, but nothing that really requires an adjustment.

On the free throw defensive front, Brown's opponents shot only marginally above the national average, so no adjustment is necessary there as well.

For the first time, though, we need to take a deeper look at the defensive three-point field goal percentage. The Bears held opponents to 30.6 percent shooting from deep, roughly four percentage points better than the national average and 19th best nationally. The problem with three-point shooting defense is that its very weakly correlated year-over-year, especially among the teams posting very good defensive numbers in a given year (bad teams are more likely to remain bad the following season than a good team is to remain good).

If Brown had allowed an average conversion rate from long range, it would have conceded over 20 more threes during the season, which would have implied a defensive rating that would be about three points per 100 possessions higher than its actual outcome. That would knock the Bears down toward the fringes of the Top 200 to start, which is important to consider for a team only expected to improve this season.


Of all five returning postseason teams, Brown is easily the most difficult to figure out. It has one player to see the floor for more than 40 percent of team minutes in a season and post an offensive rating above 100 (Steven Spieth). Its presumed starting point guard (Tavon Blackmon) fell just shy of 42 percent effective shooting last season, while its starting power forward (Cedric Kuakumensah) has posted identical 40 percent marks over each of his first two years in Providence. Oh yeah, and Sean McGonagill isn't walking back through that door.

What exactly are the Brown fans so excited about?

Sophomore Leland King could be one answer. He finished his rookie campaign with a flourish, posting an offensive rating over 100 on at least 20 percent of team possessions (and a couple times over 30 percent) in eight of Brown's final nine games. His 27-point, seven-rebound, four-block performance in the overtime loss to Harvard in the regular season finale merely whetted the Brown faithful's appetite for what is expected to be a monster sophomore season.

Combining King with Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia in the frontcourt should keep the Bears as one of the best rebounding teams and rim defending squads in the nation, while providing a bit more of an offensive punch than Brown has had from that position in recent years. Throw in senior Dockery Walker, who has been a rebounding specialist during his four years in Providence, and the four and five spots should be a source of great stability for the Bears this season.

That's great news, because Brown has a ton of work to do at the guard spots. McGonagill played 93 percent of his team's minutes last season, using 23 percent of the team's possessions and taking the 45th highest percentage of his squad's total shots of any Ivy player in the past 25 years.

And he did all that while posting an uber-efficient offensive rating in the one-teens, including a turnover rate of just 12 percent.

Brown will have no trouble replacing his 226 three-point attempts, as the Bears have always been able to find low-usage shooters to space the floor and knock down threes when needed. Finding a guard to create when no one else can, however, will be the huge chore.

The last backcourt player or swingman to post a higher usage rate than McGonagill in any season was Peter Sullivan during Sean's freshman campaign. Before him, you'd have to go all the way back to Mark McAndrew territory to find a guard who gobbled up as high a rate of possessions as McGonagill.

The rookie Blackmon posted the highest assist rate on the team last season and came the closest to an above-average usage rate, consuming 19 percent of possessions. The 6'0 point guard turned the ball over on more than 1-in-4 possessions, though, and wasn't much of a scoring threat. Spieth saw even less of the ball on offense, despite his efficient use of it, and benefited from a bulk of shots at the rim, most of which were assisted.

The Bears do have four guards in their freshman class, any of which could be the high-usage slasher that they need. Failing that, though, Brown has the look of a team which will struggle at time to find an offensive rhythm, especially against opponents that have the bigs necessary to battle on the interior and the athletic guards required to scare the Bears' shooters off the three-point line.

What Does It All Mean?

Brown will continue to be an incredibly difficult team to score on in the paint and should maintain its pronounced advantage on the defensive glass. Between Walker, King, Kuakumensah and Maia, the Bears should be able to handle their frontcourt minutes with slightly below national average offensive efficiency and an above average usage rate.

At the same time, they should be able to support a perimeter defensive unit that will struggle to keep opponents from penetrating into the paint, especially when Kuakumensah (the 10th best shot blocker in the nation last season) is on the floor.

The rest of the defensive numbers will likely be in decline this season. Opponents should shoot much better from three than they did during the 2013-14 campaign, and the loss of McGonagill, who rarely fouled, will likely lead to a slight inflation in the opponents' free throw rate. Both of those factors should cause Brown's defensive rating to worsen.

Then, there's the enigma that is the backcourt. The Bears could try to steal some minutes with King at the three, but that could put pressure on an otherwise thin frontcourt. Having King, Kuakumensah and Maia on the floor all at once - each above average possessions eaters - would allow Brown to throw two low-usage guards on the floor and still have a market clearing allocation of possessions. There would still be at least 20 minutes a game when all three weren't on the floor together, leaving a guard to fill the possession vacuum. That could be J.R. Hobbie launching more threes (a good thing) or Blackmon trying to force the action, creating more assists and more turnovers (probably not so good a thing).

There might be a freshman ready to play 20 minutes a game and use 20+ percent of team possessions at reasonable efficiency, but those don't exactly grow on trees in the Ivy League.

The safest projection is a backcourt which predominately features Hobbie, Spieth and Blackmon all at higher usage rates than last season and lower efficiency ratings (except for Blackmon, who was below replacement level already). The Bears badly need to find a potent combination offensively, because any combination is likely to be a liability on the other end.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (101 ORAT, 103 DRAT; Pythag - 0.4410, Rank - 182)

DARTMOUTH (2013-14: 12-16, 5-9 Ivy)

Returning Minutes: 87.8%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 87.8%

We may finally be approaching that moment where the Big Green can have actual needs that extend beyond  recruiting as much Division I talent as possible.

This was a Dartmouth team that touched 175th in the Pomeroy rankings in January, before losing star center Gabas Maldunas to a torn ACL for essentially the entire Ivy campaign. Turns out they will likely lose him for the non-conference portion of the 2014-15 campaign as well, which is the only reason why the Adjusted Returning Minutes aren't higher.

Still, despite the doom and gloom surrounding the loss of Maldunas, the remaining parts bound together to go 5-8 during the 13 games for which the 6'9 junior was absent, including a home sweep of Penn and Princeton for the first time since coach Paul Cormier was in Hanover for his first tour of duty 25 years earlier.

While the model treats all minutes as roughly equal, for a team like Dartmouth, which is so bereft of size, losing Maldunas puts a ton of stress on the forwards that remain on the active roster. For that reason, these projections will struggle to peg the Big Green to a season-long average, as so much will depend on when Maldunas can return to action and be effective.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (103 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3452, Rank - 236)

The luck factors for the Big Green might be the most concerning of any of the eight Ivies.

Dartmouth took 38 percent of its shots (34th highest nationally) from the Bermuda Triangle that is two-point jumper range, making it the Big Green's most popular shot. While Dartmouth made an above-average 37 percent of those attempts, that shot selection produced a major drag on the team's offensive efficiency.

That issue will likely only be exacerbated by the absence of Maldunas, as he took 68 percent of his shots at the rim. The next highest rate of shots at the rim among those to have taken at least 50 shots was Connor Boehm, who posted 37 percent of his attempts from close range. The presumed replacement for Maldunas, Brandon McDonnell, let a whopping 65 percent of his shots fly as two-point jumpers.

Dartmouth could get some help from its guards turning a higher rate of jumpers into three-point shots. Failing that, it looks like a minor downward adjustment to the Big Green's offensive efficiency would be necessary to compensate for its declining two-point jumper shooting percentage. Any concerted effort to avoid such shots, however, would lead to a huge opportunity to improve its offensive efficiency out of the gate.

On the other end, Dartmouth should get some help from the regression of the luck factors. Big Green opponents shot 75 percent from the line - fifth-best nationally - and given that Dartmouth sent opponents there a lot (31st highest rate nationally), the Big Green would have been expected to give up about 40 fewer points last season or close to two points per 100 possessions. Dartmouth did force a slightly higher than average rate of two-point jumpers, but opponents made a slightly higher than average percent of them. Thus, the Big Green shouldn't see much of an effect from two-point jumpers.

Dartmouth was also horrendously bad at defending the three, but given its interior issues and need to collapse to protect the paint, that effect could very well continue in 2014-15.


You almost have to look this stat up for yourself, but in the 13 years of the Pomeroy era, the highest offensive efficiency rating that Dartmouth posted prior to last season was 95.5 (270th nationally). Even the year that Alex Barnett carried the Big Green on his back to a 7-7 Ivy mark, Dartmouth couldn't crack the Top 300 in offensive rating.

Last year, then, was a remarkable turnaround. The Big Green finished with an offensive rating of 103 (203rd nationally), powered by the 45th-best three-point shooting percentage in the nation (38 percent). Much of that talent returns, too. Alex Mitola brings his 128 career made threes (at a 41 percent clip, mind you) back for his junior season, while flanked by Kevin Crescenzi and Eli Harrison, each of which took at least 40 threes and made 40 percent of them last season. Harrison even did so while taking two of every five Dartmouth shots while he was on the floor. That doesn't even include three-year starter John Golden, who struggled mightily from long range last season, but did have a freshman campaign with 38 percent shooting on 94 attempts from three.

While this all rolls up into the most offensively talented backcourt Dartmouth has had since Barnett took home Ivy POY honors in the late aughts, it leaves a lot to be desired on the other end of the court. At 5'11, Mitola doesn't have the size to match up with other Ivy guards, and the 6'3 Crescenzi and 6'6 Harrison commit five fouls per 40 minutes, sending opponents on a parade to the free throw line. Dartmouth's peskiest defender is Malik Gill, who during his two-year career in Hanover has consistently recorded steals on a whopping seven percent of opponent possessions, but Gill turns the ball back over on 25 percent of possessions and has shot too poorly to carve out a consistent role on the floor.

What's more is that some Dartmouth guards have inflated their offensive efficiency numbers with strong offensive rebounding rates, while the Big Green allowed the 25th highest percent of transition field goal attempts off rebounds. 

Those defensive issues in the backcourt could easily be covered up by the frontcourt presence that Maldunas provides. If qualified, the 6'9 center would have ranked in the Top 60 nationally in block rate, while Boehm, who moved to the five to fill most of those minutes, did block a single shot last year. In the 15 games with Maldunas, Dartmouth yielded a median free throw rate of 44 percent, while in its 13 games without him, that ballooned to 52 percent.

The Big Green has had a summer to find a more consistent frontcourt rotation to compensate for not having Maldunas to start the season. While it has a chance to find decent offensive production from its four and five spots, Dartmouth should face a huge challenge defensively until it can get Maldunas back on the floor.

What Does It All Mean?

A lot of the answer to this question depends on the team you're trying to project. Since we use the ultimate rating to project the Ivy odds, we're going to judge Dartmouth as the team it will be with Maldunas during league play, rather than the one that will be much weaker without him in the non-conference. Thus, we can reasonably expect the Big Green to fall well short of this projection on a season-long basis.

Barring foul trouble, Maldunas can go about 30 minutes a game, but given the Ivy back-to-backs and his potentially shaky conditioning, we'll put him down for 25 per. Boehm can likely go 30 minutes, but the question becomes how to allocate those minutes. Putting those two on the floor together for 20 minutes a contest would leave five minutes with neither on the floor. McDonnell and junior Matt Rennie are good enough to keep the curtain up, but having both on the floor together isn't the ideal scenario.

Boehm's numbers should decline a bit due to his strong performance on two-point jumpers last season, and McDonnell and Rennie's efficiency should take a hit as well as they're called upon to do a little more than in the past.

The backcourt is a little easier to project, as Mitola and Golden should take care of over half the minutes available there with each providing a stable range of production from which to project. Crescenzi should claim a fair amount of minutes as well, though his production will be projected to decline, as we fade his three-point shooting numbers a bit. 

That leaves the Big Green with about 70 percent of team minutes at one guard spot. Gill is a possibility due to his perimeter defense, but, at 5'9, having him and Mitola (5'11) on the floor at the same time makes Dartmouth a very small team. Other possibilities include 6'4 freshman Miles Wright, who was recruited at a higher level to be a college quarterback than basketball player but is a lockdown defender, and 6'1 Cam Smith, who brings more of an offensive game to Hanover.

Cormier has been recruiting at a high enough level that it's hard to bet against one of those freshmen contributing in a significant way, but only Jvonte Brooks was able to eat an above average percentage of possessions while posting a (marginally) above average offensive rating as a rookie, so something between replacement level and average seems reasonable for the remaining backcourt minutes.

The good news is that Cormier will have 14 pre-Ivy games to give every possible combination a try, as he waits for his all-league center to recover fully from his torn ACL.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (102 ORAT, 106 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3858, Rank - 209)

PENNSYLVANIA (2013-14: 8-20, 5-9 Ivy)

Returning Minutes: 53.8%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 36.7%

Before we start with what is going to be a painful section, it is important to note that there is talent remaining on this Quakers roster. 

At the same time, history is very, very against good things happening to teams that lose over 60 percent of their minutes.

Some recent comps include 2002-03 Columbia, 2003-04 Harvard, 2007-08 Penn, 2010-11 Cornell and 2012-13 Harvard - all of which dropped at least .1670 in the Pomeroy's Pythagorean Win Percentage, and two of which (Cornell and Penn) tumbled over 0.4000. We can guarantee the latter won't happen to Penn, but only because its end of season Pythag from 2013-14 was just 0.2864.

The light at the end of the tunnel might be 2008-09 Princeton, which lost 59 percent of its minutes, but managed to rebound by about 0.1300 from what was arguably the worst Tigers squad in the program's history. That Princeton team managed to go 13-14 and 8-6 in league play - records Quaker faithful would gladly take at this point - but it did so against a league that was one of the worst of the modern era. Yale 2010-11 made even a stronger push after losing 53 percent of its minutes, rising from 260th nationally to 183rd, while finishing third in a much tougher Ivy League.

Yale wasn't all that much of a surprise, however, as it had a bevy of lightly used rotation options who had all performed well in their limited minutes (Reggie Willhite, Greg Mangano and Austin Morgan). At the same time, the 2008-09 Tigers were so bad the year prior (315th in Pomeroy) that it would have been hard for what was a highly-rated freshman class (Douglas Davis and Patrick Saunders) not to outperform.

For all the heartburn among Penn fans, the Quakers weren't bad enough last season that we'd expect that they could easily replace their losses with decent bench players (which they didn't have) or impact freshmen (which the ratings don't indicate).

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (98 ORAT, 107 DRAT; Pythag - 0.2864, Rank - 266)

For Penn, the offensive luck factors should take care of themselves. None of the Quakers' four best shooters of two-point jumpers (Fran Dougherty, Miles Cartwright, Henry Brooks and Tony Bagtas) are with the team for the 2014-15 campaign, leaving just guard Tony Hicks and center Darien Nelson-Henry - both of whom connected at about average rates.

Penn's new wave of personnel will likely have a whole new shot selection pattern making projecting based on last year difficult, but any adjustment to the squad's baseline offensive performance would be marginal and in the slight downward direction.

Defensively, the luck factors are a wash. The Quakers held opponents to well-below the national average in two-point jumper conversion percentage (30.6 percent vs. 35-36 percent), but at the same time yielded 38.3 percent shooting from three. It is unlikely that Penn will be as bad at defending the three or as good at forcing misses on two-point jumpers.


There are two ways to look at the fact that Hicks and Nelson-Henry are the only two returning players who have logged more than 20 minutes per game in their Penn careers, and they revolve around your knowledge of the performance of the Quakers bench last season.

Outside of the big four of Miles Jackson-Cartwright, Dougherty, Hicks and Nelson-Henry, nine Penn players got between 10 and 42 percent of the teams minutes last year. None of those players used 20 percent of team possessions and none posted an offensive rating over 100. In fact, seven of the nine posted efficiency marks that were below Ivy replacement level (considered to be an offensive rating of about 90).

From arguably the worst bench in the modern era of the Ivy League, three Quakers players return joined by three seniors who quizzically played less than 10 percent of team minutes last season after playing between 30-40 percent of minutes during Penn's marginally better 2012-13 campaign.

So, prior to diving into the Penn rookies, this is your 2014-15 Quakers team: a high variance All-Ivy caliber guard, a nearly unstoppable All-Ivy caliber center when he's actually healthy and can play 70 percent of team minutes, three players that couldn't distinguish themselves in one of the worst rotations in league history and then three players that couldn't crack one of the worst rotations in league history.

How about those freshmen?

It's not unheard of for an Ivy team to get meaningful, productive minutes from multiple players in one freshman class. Dartmouth managed the feat with Maldunas, Golden and Jvonte Brooks combining for roughly 80 minutes a game in 2011-12. Harvard got roughly the same percentage of total minutes from Kyle Casey, Christian Webster, Brandyn Curry and Dee Giger in 2009-10, after having done basically the same thing with Keith Wright, Oliver McNally, Peter Boehm and Max Kenyi the year prior.

Dartmouth 2011-12 only crept up to 304th after having been 321st the year before, while Harvard's first solid freshman class only moved it from 282nd to 243rd. Stacking two solid freshman classes back-to-back - and the explosion of an NBA-level talent in Jeremy Lin - was what it ultimately took for the Crimson to see the progress that Penn fans ultimately want, as the 2009-10 Harvard team jumped from 243rd to 112th.

New Hampton school product Mike Auger is the most highly heralded rookie in Penn's 2014 class, and he has an opportunity to see a lot of minutes with the departures of Brooks and Dougherty. That would still leave a healthy amount of minutes for either returning forwards Dylan Jones and Greg Louis to share or for rookies Sam Jones and Dan Dwyer to step in and nab.

The backcourt presents some opportunities as well, though Penn conceivably has more of a chance to fill those slots with players already in house. Hicks has one of the off-ball guard slots wrapped up, leaving room for a point guard, a wing and a few rotation players. 

The returning point guard options are Jamal Lewis, who has turned the ball over on roughly one out of every three possessions in his career, and Cam Crocker, who has turned the ball over on a little more than two out of every five possessions in his career. That leaves a ton of opportunity for freshmen Antonio Woods or Darnell Foreman to have a shot at a lot of playing time, if they can make smarter decisions than the incumbents.

The wing spot is Matt Howard's to lose without much of a clear picture as to whom he could even lose it. With the departures of Julian Harrell and Dau Jok, Penn now only has two of seven guards competing for time in the rotation who are taller than 6'2.

What Does It All Mean?

The Quakers are going to spend their third-consecutive year (and sixth in the last eight seasons) outside the Top 200 nationally.

The bigger question is whether Penn finds itself outside the Top 300 for the first time in the Ivy era.

Even if Hicks has a first team All-Ivy year, playing 30 minutes a game, and Nelson-Henry is fully healthy and can chip in 25-30, this Quakers team needs to get all the breaks just to build a replacement-level squad around those two. Since we don't consider injury risk here, those minute totals are what we'll work off of, but given that Nelson-Henry sat out Penn's scrimmage, there's already some concern that he's not going to be able to hit such an ambitious playing time target.

That leaves roughly 90 backcourt minutes and 50-55 frontcourt minutes a game. And it's not even that simple.

Hicks and Nelson-Henry are the only two returning players to use an above-average percent of possessions - something which could allow Penn's other players to maintain their light usage rates without stressing the offense. However, if they only play 30 minutes a game, that likely means about 20-25 minutes a game with both on the floor, 5-10 minutes with one of the two on the floor and potentially another five minutes with neither out there.

That puts a premium on finding another option that can handle a high usage rate with decent efficiency. Failing that, the Quakers are going to have somewhere between 15-20 minutes a game of an absolute struggle offensively.

Given that the options are clear at all, all we can do is to fall back on placeholders bounded by historical averages. We'll put in 50-55 replacement-level minutes in the frontcourt and 90 replacement-level minutes in the backcourt. Penn fans might argue that it drastically underestimates the talent on this roster, but keep in mind that last year the Quakers failed to find even replacement-level options with which to flank its big four.

Defensively, it's hard to see things getting better either. Penn lost its best defensive rebounder off a team that was already 300th nationally in that category. It lost two of its better shot blockers. Finally, it lost two of its best foul-avoiding defenders from a squad that finished 317th in free-throw rate allowed. It could be a very long year for the Quakers on that end of the floor.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (97 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.1963, Rank - 301)

CORNELL (2013-14: 2-26, 1-13 Ivy)

Returning Minutes: 72.2%
Adjusted Returning Minutes: 78.5%

The only question is how far Cornell will rise this season.

That's the good news for a program that finally hit rock bottom last year, after a slow decline from the heights of its Sweet 16 appearance to the depths of finishing 2013-14 as the 11th-worst team in college basketball.

Actually, rock bottom might really have occurred just after the season ended with All-Ivy guard Nolan Cressler departing Ithaca to transfer to Vanderbilt and starting forward Dwight Tarwater opting to take his post-grad year at Cal.

How can a team that was as bad as Cornell lose two players to BCS schools and somehow improve?

The answer to that question is Shonn Miller. Miller was an All-Ivy forward in 2012-13 before missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. The 6'7 junior would be a very high-profile BCS target himself, if he ultimately decides to graduate from Cornell after this season and spend his final year of eligibility as a post-grad, much like Tarwater and Errick Peck did before him.

Also returning along with Miller is electric point guard Galal Cancer, who took a year off from the team last season, but showed flashes of dominant play during the 2012-13 campaign.

While Cressler's production will be extremely difficult to replace, Cornell could see a boost from a fit perspective. Bill Courtney loves to play a high-pressure, gambling defense which could benefit more from having a quick point guard and an impressive shot blocker than it might from having two options who were much more valuable on the offensive end.

2013-14 Pomeroy Ratings: (100 ORAT, 121 DRAT; Pythag - 0.1006, Rank - 341)

For a team that was as terribly as Cornell was, it's often hard to distinguish between what was unlucky and what was just a function of being bad.

Nothing went right defensively for the Big Red, as opposing teams made a living scoring at the rim, from three and from the stripe. Cornell opponents shot 54 percent from two (bottom 25 nationally), as the Big Red blocked just 7.7 percent of opponent shots (bottom 100 nationally). Cornell allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent from long range - second-worst nationally - and sent opponents to the line at rate that ranked among the 50 highest last season. Once there, opponents shot 73 percent, which made Cornell's "free-throw defense" among the 50 worst in the nation as well. The Big Red forced a well-below-average percent of two-point jumpers - not a surprise given that opponents could score so easily from other areas of the floor.

No matter how bad the Big Red's defense is this season, it would be hard to repeat that futility merely from a luck perspective. There could be as many as five points per 100 possessions wrapped up in an average free-throw conversion rate and a more reasonable three-point shooting percent allowed.

Offensively, though, the return of Cancer and Miller in place of high volume three point shooters Tarwater and Cressler could lead to a shift to more two-point jumpers, which would hurt Cornell's baseline offensive efficiency from the start.


Let's start by properly framing the value of adding Miller to the lineup. It's important to note that the 6'7 junior probably won't play more than 30 percent of team minutes and hasn't historically used more than 22 percent of team possessions.

First of all, that leaves 50 frontcourt minutes unaccounted for and second, it means that replacing Cressler with Miller star-for-star leaves a lot of possessions unaccounted for on the offensive end.

That's important because it dictates who you can pair with Miller in the frontcourt. For instance, a Miller-Onuorah pairing might look like a defensive dream but with Onuorah using just 12 percent of the team's possessions offensively, that would put a ton of stress on the guards to produce.

Deion Giddens and Braxston Bunce are even lower usage guys, leaving just Ned Tomic as a returning forward who has ever displayed the ability to eat an average percent of offensive possessions.

This is where a dynamic freshman like Jordan Abdur-Raoof could help, if he is ready to bear that kind of offensive burden. Failing that, Cornell's scoring looks like it will need to be heavily guard driven.

The Big Red does have some decent options there, as Robert Hatter wasn't shy about using a bulk load of possessions with above replacement-level efficiency while Devin Cherry did the same at a slightly lower but still well-above-average usage rate. Throw Cancer into the mix and you have a trio of guards who could use nearly 70 percent of team possessions while on the floor together, allowing Miller to play with a low-usage frontcourt counterpart.

The two problems are 1) that Cherry-Hatter-Cancer won't play 100 percent of team minutes, and the other guard options all have much lower usage rates and 2) Cherry-Hatter-Cancer aren't incredibly efficient meaning that while they *can* eat a ton of possessions, it's unclear that you would want them to do so.

Again, there is a real possibility that a freshman could come in and provide efficient offensive production. It's unlikely, though, that such production will be paired with a high usage rate - the part of the equation that Cornell is most desperate to solve.

What Does It All Mean?

It really hard to have such a high percentage of adjusted returning minutes and to have as different a team as Cornell will have this season.

Miller immediately adds 25-30 minutes a game of a dominant interior presence that the Big Red struggled to find on a consistent basis. The frontrunner to join him on the interior is Onuorah, who should get a bulk of the minutes assuming that the offense can handle his light usage rate. Between Cornell's freshmen and its existing frontcourt depth, it should be able to muster replacement-level or better minutes to round out the rotation.

The three backcourt spots are the much bigger wildcard, due to the offensive production they will be required to replace. Cressler was the anchor that could bail out the offense when it struggled. Hatter proved he was willing to consume the level of possessions that Cressler did, but not as efficiently as Cressler could. Hatter's performance in 2014-15 will be the key to how easily the Big Red can overcome the loss of Cressler to Vandy.

Cherry will join Hatter on the wings, as the 6'2 slashing guard has the ability to beat any perimeter defender off the dribble and at times can be a deadly finisher.

Despite his season-long break from the team, Cancer is easily Cornell's best returning option as a pure point guard. While Hatter and Cherry can both handle the ball if needed, Cancer has proven himself as a dynamic playmaker who is best suited to directing the offense. Whether or not he can provide steady production remains to be seen, but Cancer can provide enough moments of brilliance to deserve a lot of the team's minutes at the point.

Even assuming 70-75 percent of team minutes per player, that still leaves about 70-75 percent more that need to be claimed. What's more is that they need to come from a "high usage" guard, lest they put stress on the low-usage frontcourt.

Given Cornell's lack of high-usage returning players, penciling in the remainder of the minutes at replacement level is the safest call.

2014-15 Projected Pomeroy Ratings: (102 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3095, Rank - 255)


Once we have a reasonable estimate of each team’s Pomeroy Ratings, based on an analysis of the likely lineups and production, we can use those predictions as an input to a predictive model that will ultimately simulate thousands of seasons to provide us with the expected “fair” odds for total number of victories, final place within the league and chance of winning the Ivy title.

To recap the Pomeroy Ratings predictions:

1.      Harvard - 110 ORAT, 96 DRAT; Pythag - 0.8068, Rank – 38
2.      Princeton - 103 ORAT, 99 DRAT; Pythag - 0.6174, Rank - 107
3.      Yale - 105 ORAT, 101 DRAT; Pythag - 0.6552, Rank – 109
4.      Columbia - 109 ORAT, 106 DRAT; Pythag - 0.5835, Rank – 126
5.      Brown - 101 ORAT, 103 DRAT; Pythag - 0.4410, Rank – 182
6.      Dartmouth - 102 ORAT, 106 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3858, Rank – 209
7.      Cornell – 102 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.3095, Rank - 255
8.      Penn - 97 ORAT, 109 DRAT; Pythag - 0.1963, Rank - 301

IVY LEAGUE OVERALL: .4880, 14th of 32 Division I leagues

Here are the expected average Ivy wins by team (with 95% confidence intervals – the range of wins within which 95 percent of simulations fell):

Harvard - 11.6 (9 - 14)
Yale - 8.5 (5 – 12)
Princeton - 8.5 (5 – 12)
Columbia - 8.1 (5 – 11)
Brown - 6.3 (3 – 10)
Dartmouth - 5.6 (2 – 9)
Cornell - 4.4 (1 – 8)
Penn - 3.0 (0 – 6)

Finally, here are the odds of each team finishing in first with ties and without:

Harvard - 87.9% (with ties) / 74.5% (solo)
Yale - 10.4% / 4.2%
Princeton - 10.2% / 4.0%
Columbia - 7.0% / 2.5%
Brown - 1.0% / 0.2%
Dartmouth - 0.3% / 0.0%
Penn - 0.0% / 0.0%
Cornell - 0.0% / 0.0%

While Harvard is a huge favorite in the race, it’s important to note that 1-in-4 times it failed to win the title outright. In fact, overall, the model predicts a playoff in roughly 1-in-7 simulations.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the more Ivy challengers that suffer significant injuries, the more of a boost the Crimson gets as the prohibitive favorite, especially in terms of solo titles. For instance, if Columbia loses Rosenberg for the season and looks like more of a 200ish team than a 100ish team, Harvard’s solo title odds could rise all the way to about 80 percent. The reason is that while none of Yale, Princeton or Columbia is likely to catch the Crimson on its own, the odds that any one of the three will be able to track down Harvard are much higher. Losing one of those potential challengers means one fewer team that could get hot and chase down the Crimson. 


  1. Terrific article! Thanks for the thorough and detailed analysis. Looking forward to a great Ivy League basketball season. #GoCrimson and hoping for #2BidIvy

  2. It's going to be fun, but it would be a lot more fun if the stars could stay healthy. Looks like #2BidIvy is already a long shot, as the league's talent is dropping like flies.

  3. Thanks Mike .............. very enjoyable.