Ivy League Preview
by Phil Kasiecki
Even in this day of rising mid-major programs in college basketball, the Ivy League in 2001-02 has to stand out. It went from being rated 28th in the conference RPI ratings the previous season to 13th last season. Three teams saw postseason play after a three-way tie forced its first ever mini-tournament, where Pennsylvania defeated Yale to take the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Yale won in the first round of the NIT for the first postseason victory in 100 years, an impressive win at Rutgers where the Scarlet Knights lost just twice all last season. In addition, Pennsylvania won the Big 5, an annual series of games between five Philadelphia Division 1 schools (the other four are LaSalle, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova).
The Ivy League has not peaked, however. Much of the league’s talent returns this season for an encore performance, which means it would not be a surprise to see three teams in postseason play once again. Most teams should be better this season than last, even if it might mean a drop in their place in the standings from other teams improving or a team playing better than expected last season. Although there is a clear favorite, no team is unbeatable; one thing that made the Ivy League strong last season is that several teams were in strong contention for the title.
All five of last season’s first-team All Ivy League players return this season, headlining an excellent group of individual talents that underscore the collective team talents in the league. Last season’s rookie crop was the best that the Ivy League has welcomed in many years, deepening the talent of the league. Yale point guard Alex Gamboa was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, but he beat out several in a strong class for the honor, notably teammate Edwin Draughan, Brown point guard Jason Forte and Pennsylvania forward Tim Begley. This year’s incoming class does not rate favorably with last year’s at present, but how they ultimately compare remains to be seen.
There were no coaching changes in the Ivy League during the offseason, not an uncommon occurrence in this conference of schools known much more for academics than athletic prowess. Half of the league’s coaches enter their third or fourth seasons as head coach, while Pennsylvania’s Fran Dunphy is the dean of Ivy League coaches as he enters his 14th season.
Ivy League Honor Roll
Koko Archibong, Sr. F, Pennsylvania
Patrick Harvey, Sr. G, Harvard
Earl Hunt, Sr. G-F, Brown
Ugonna Onyekwe, Sr. F, Pennsylvania
Andrew Toole, Sr. G, Pennsylvania
Alex Gamboa, So. G, Yale
Spencer Gloger, Jr. G, Princeton
Alai Nuualiitia, Sr. F, Brown
Paul Vitelli, Jr. F, Yale
Kyle Wente, Sr. G, Princeton
Edwin Draughan, So. G-F, Yale
Jason Forte, So. G, Brown
T.J. McHugh, Sr. F, Yale
Jeff Schiffner, Jr. G-F, Pennsylvania
Chris Wiedemann, Sr. C, Columbia
Player of the Year: Ugonna Onyekwe, Pennsylvania
Newcomer of the Year: Casey Gibbons, Cornell
Best Defensive Player: Patrick Harvey, Harvard
Best NBA Prospect: Koko Archibong, Pennsylvania
Coach on the Hot Seat: Glen Miller, Brown
1. Pennsylvania (25-7, 11-3, T1st)
2. Yale (21-11, 11-3, T1st)
3. Brown (17-10, 8-6, 4th)
4. Princeton (16-12, 11-3, T1st)
5. Harvard (14-12, 7-7, 5th)
6. Columbia (11-17, 4-10, 6th)
7. Cornell (5-22, 2-12, T7th)
8. Dartmouth (9-18, 2-12, T7th)
In this year’s strong Ivy League, Pennsylvania (25-7, 11-3) is once again the team to beat. But the Quakers, who return five starters that include three first team All-Ivy League players, have more than just the Ivy League on their radar this season, as they figure to be among the nation’s top teams. Ugonna Onyekwe is the league’s most talented player, though his defense leaves something to be desired at times and he is not the toughest player in the world. His other bookend up front, Koko Archibong, is an athletic combo forward who blossomed nicely last season. Andrew Toole runs the show and knocks down three-pointers as well as anyone, with David Klatsky being a very capable reserve who takes good care of the ball. Jeff Schiffner is solid on the wing, playing both spots there with his good size, and Tim Begley had a nice freshman season. The Quakers were the Ivy League’s best shooting team by far, led the league in assist/turnover ratio, and were among the nation’s best teams in assists. They need to improve on the glass if they are to take the next step and be a national power, as the Quakers were outrebounded last season, and Onyekwe is certainly capable of hauling down more than 6 rebounds per game like he had last season.
James Jones has wasted little time in making Yale (21-11, 11-3) a contender, and the well-balanced Bulldogs return every letter winner from last season’s NIT team. Sophomores Alex Gamboa and Edwin Draughan key the perimeter attack, as both can get to the basket and score on the move. The backcourt also has former All-Ivy guard Chris Leanza in reserve. Paul Vitelli keys a frontcourt that isn’t afraid to mix it up underneath, with good support from T.J. McHugh and Josh Hill. Senior captain Ime Archibong, who played very well in a preseason trip to Italy, also returns in the starting lineup. Matt Minoff will also give them quality minutes off the bench. The Bulldogs had the best rebounding margin in the league by far last season, but only two Ivy League teams turned the ball over more last season.
Brown (17-10, 8-6) has a veteran team capable of contending this season. This athletic bunch started fast last season, including a non-league win at crosstown rival Providence, but couldn’t keep it going during Ivy League play. The Bears are led by senior wing Earl Hunt, who led the Ivy League in scoring for the second time in three seasons last year. Hunt scores and rebounds from the wing, with an improving jump shot making him more of a threat. Jason Forte will have the point guard position all to himself after splitting time as a freshman with the departed Omari Ware. Senior Alai Nuualiitia is an excellent post scorer, while junior forward Jamie Kilburn is seemingly always around the ball and scores plenty of garbage points. Junior Mike Martin is one of several good perimeter threats. Freshman Ben Logan should get some minutes on the post, standing 6’11”. Don’t be surprised if the Bears lead the Ivy League in scoring again, but defense will be what to watch since the Bears won several early games on the strength of good defense before finishing last in the Ivy League in scoring defense and next-to-last in field goal percentage defense. Only Pennsylvania forced more turnovers than Brown. Now is the time for this team, with Hunt and Nuualiitia being seniors and the Bears having already disappointed in past seasons under Miller.
Although they don’t have the talent of the top three teams, Princeton (16-12, 11-3) can never be counted out. The Tigers were second in the nation (behind Ivy rival Columbia) in scoring defense and always play a tough non-league schedule to tune up for Ivy League play. Headlining this season’s team is junior guard Spencer Gloger, who has seemingly been going between Princeton and UCLA forever. Gloger gives them another solid shooter alongside seniors Kyle Wente and Ray Robins. Junior point guard Ed Persia will see plenty of minutes, as will sophomore Will Venable. Freshman Scott Greenman can play either guard position and can shoot it as well. The frontcourt features promising sophomore center Dominick Martin and two good junior veterans in Konrad Wysocki and Andre Logan. The Tigers defense kept them in many games last season, and they were also third in the Ivy League in field goal percentage while only two teams had fewer turnovers.
Harvard (14-12, 7-7) started out well last season before fading down the stretch, but should still figure in the race for the top this season. Frank Sullivan’s teams are always well-coached, and this season’s team should be no different. Scrappy senior Patrick Harvey, one of the Ivy League’s top scorers and one of the nation’s best defenders, teams with fellow senior Elliott Prasse-Freeman in an excellent backcourt. Prasse-Freeman is one of the best point guards in the conference. Senior Brady Merchant may move into the starting lineup on the perimeter as well, with sophomore Jason Norman being the primary reserve. The frontcourt will miss Tim Coleman, but should still be solid with senior Sam Winter returning and junior 7-footer Brian Sigafoos ready to blossom. The Crimson’s recruiting class features frontcourt players, notably forward Zach Martin and two players 6’10” or taller, giving them good size. The Crimson finished around the middle in most statistical categories last season, though their keys to victory were good rebounding, taking care of the ball (they had more turnovers than assists) and shooting the ball well.
With several seniors gone from the nation’s top team in scoring defense, Columbia (11-17, 4-10) has to rebuild this season. The trouble for the Lions, who also led the Ivy League in field goal percentage defense, was offense, as Morris Brown was the only team in the nation to score less than Columbia. With Craig Austin leading four seniors that depart, Armond Hill has to start again and build around big senior Chris Wiedemann. Wiedemann led the Ivy in blocked shots by far and was third in rebounding, but has always looked like he could be better; this season he may break out since he will be counted on for more. Senior Marco McCottry returns at one forward, with the remaining frontcourt players to come from a recruiting class that Hill really likes. Dodson Worthington gives them good size at 6’9″, and Chris Owens should see plenty of minutes right away as well. Junior Maurice Murphy is the primary backcourt holdover, and he will be joined by freshmen Peter Nelson and Dalen Cuff. Part of the Lions’ offensive troubles last season was shooting the ball, as only Cornell shot the ball worse in the Ivy League, but they also did not take care of the ball in posting the worst turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio in the league.
A young Cornell (5-22, 2-12) team should make baby steps in the right direction this season. They lose top scorer Wallace Prather from last season, but sophomore guard Cody Toppert and junior guard Ka’Ron Barnes are good building blocks. Freshman Casey Gibbons, an excellent shooter, may start right away as well. Senior Jacques Vigneault is a capable reserve. Sophomore Eric Taylor has potential and should be a full-time starter this season, and returning starters Randy Gabler and Gabe Stephenson have some size up front. The Big Red’s biggest area for improvement is at the offensive end, as they were among the nation’s worst teams in scoring and field goal percentage.
Once a rising team in the league, Dartmouth (9-18, 2-12) looks to be the team bringing up the rear this season after losing one of the league’s top scorers. Flinder Boyd, the league’s fifth-leading scorer last season, has departed. That leaves senior guard Charles Harris as the team’s top offensive threat. He is joined on the perimeter by Mike McLaren, who had a nice freshman season hidden from the more high-profile newcomers. Sophomore Steve Callahan could move into the starting lineup, with senior Greg Friel being among the first off the bench. The Big Green have some size up front, but they are young and were not productive on the boards last season as only two teams in the nation had worse rebounding margins. Junior Brendan Herbert is the best of the bunch, with 6’11” junior Scott Klingbeil and 6’10” sophomore David Gardner joining him. Freshman Calvin Arnold brings size as well, and may compete for minutes. Amidst the gloom, the Big Green was one of the Ivy League’s top three-point shooting teams last season, but that was not enough to make up for the many areas of deficiency.
The Outlook, In a Nutshell
The Ivy League looks to be Penn’s to lose, but don’t be surprised if another of the top teams knocks off the Quakers somewhere along the way. The Ivy League is ready for another excellent season of basketball, and three teams may be postseason-bound again. Look for Ivy League teams to get their share of notable non-conference wins just like last season, perhaps more this time around, and when March rolls around, no team will want to play an Ivy League team in the NCAA Tournament or NIT.