Ivy League 2007-08 Preview
As the 2007-08 season approaches, there is a sense that this season could be different in the Ivy League. Prognosticators and even coaches are all saying that this just might be the year that someone other than Penn or Princeton breaks through at the top. It could be the first time in 19 years that someone other than Penn or Princeton represented the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament.
They aren’t without their reasons. Princeton finished dead last in the league in 2006-07 and has a new head coach. Penn won another title last year, Glenn Miller’s first at the helm, but the Quakers lost three starters and with them much more than just numbers. Ibby Jaaber and Mark Zoller were veterans who made that team win games, while Steve Danley was a solid role player alongside Zoller. The Quakers enter this season with some good talent, especially on the perimeter, but not looking like as good a bet to win as they have been in some other seasons.
Who could emerge in their place? Three teams look like good contenders, two of whom are coached by brothers. Yale has an experienced team led by guard Eric Flato and classmates Caleb and Nick Holmes, while junior Ross Morin anchors the frontcourt. James Jones’ finished second last season and showed signs that they may be ready to make the next step this year. Columbia, led by James’ younger brother Joe, brings back a senior-laden team with his first recruiting class and some sophomores who gave the team a good boost last season. The third team in the mix, Cornell, has plenty of offensive potential and quietly led the league in field goal percentage defense last season. Last season’s team looked like a young team at times, but this season’s team should improve in intangible areas.
Two schools changed coaches after the end of last season. Harvard no longer has the longest-tenured coach in the league, as former Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker takes over for Frank Sullivan. Princeton saw Joe Scott head back to Colorado for the vacancy at Denver, replacing him with Sydney Johnson, an alum who most recently was an assistant at Georgetown. With those changes, six of the league’s eight head coaches are now African-American.
Player of the Year: Eric Flato, Yale
Top Newcomer: Collin Robinson, Cornell
Top Freshman: Harrison Gaines, Penn
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Pinick, Yale
Best NBA Prospect: Ryan Wittman, Cornell
John Baumann, Sr. F, Columbia
Eric Flato, Sr. G, Yale
Brian Grandieri, Sr. G, Pennsylvania
Mark McAndrew, Sr. G, Brown
Ryan Wittman, So. G-F, Cornell
Yale Bulldogs (14-13, 10-4 Ivy, second place)
Sr. G Eric Flato (15.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.9 spg)
Sr. G Caleb Holmes (8.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg)
Jr. G-F Travis Pinick (6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Jr. F Ross Morin (8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Sr. C Matt Kyle (5.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A very challenging non-conference slate will test the Bulldogs to prepare them for Ivy League play. It opens with Northeast contender Sacred Heart at home, then has four straight road games that include Stanford and UCLA. Later, they welcome America East favorites Vermont and Boston University and head to Kansas. In Ivy League play, they begin February with four straight home games after their home-and-home with Brown, which will give them a chance to build some early momentum and especially with fellow contenders Columbia and Cornell coming to New Haven on the first weekend.
Outlook: In recent years, the Bulldogs have often performed opposite of what many have predicted, having good years when the projection is that they’re down and so-so years when projected to contend. That means this could be the kiss of death, but we won’t bet on it as they return a solid group of upperclassmen led by Flato, who has led this team since his sophomore year. Holmes and twin Nick Holmes can be dangerous on the perimeter, while Pinick is a solid defender and role player. Chris Andrews, who missed all of last season with an injury, backs up Flato and may occasionally play alongside him, and sophomore Alex Zampier will be another option at the shooting guard spot. The frontcourt is has good starters in Morin and Kyle, but there isn’t much proven depth. More will be needed from sophomore Paul Nelson, and it wouldn’t hurt if freshmen Garrett Fiddler or Michael Sands chipped in right away. The Bulldogs had more turnovers than assists, so taking care of the ball will be a key area for improvement if they are to come out on top.
Cornell Big Red (16-12, 9-5 Ivy, third place)
So. G Louis Dale (13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg)
Jr. G Adam Gore (12.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg in 2005-06)
So. G-F Ryan Wittman (15.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Jr. F Brian Kreefer (5.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Sr. F Jason Hartford (7.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg in 2005-06)
Schedule Highlights: The Big Red’s non-conference slate features something rare for teams at this level: a slew of early home games. Of the six non-conference home games on tap, five come in the first six games, including MAAC contender Siena. After four straight home games, they go on the road for five straight, including Patriot League contender Bucknell, Syracuse and Duke. The Ivy League slate is favorable in that they don’t have a prolonged road stretch, although they do have three straight after playing Columbia at home in January. Towards the end of February, they play four straight at home before finishing with the tough Penn/Princeton weekend.
Outlook: The Big Red would be an equally worthy choice to win the conference this season, as they have the firepower on offense and were a solid defensive team last season. With Dale, Wittman and the return of Gore, there is plenty of scoring ability on the perimeter. USC transfer Collin Robinson adds to it, and wings Geoff Reeves and Jason Battle are capable reserves. The big questions are in the frontcourt with the departure of Andrew Naeve, as there isn’t much experience beyond Hartford and Kreefer. St. Bonaventure transfer Jeff Foote, who is eligible in December, brings good size since he’s a seven-footer. If some help can emerge there, the Big Red may have enough to complement the perimeter offense. The only other big question revolves around the team’s experience, as two sophomores and a junior who has only played one year project to start. At times last season the Big Red looked like a young team in making mistakes that are often erased with experience, and if they eliminate those mistakes, they could come out on top.
Penn Quakers (22-9, 13-1 Ivy, first place)
Fr. G Harrison Gaines
Sr. G Brian Grandieri (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. G Darren Smith (4.2 ppg)
Jr. F Tommy McMahon (5.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Jr. F Brennan Votel (2.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: As usual, the non-conference slate is challenging, featuring seven home games. Early on, they will play four games in the Philly Classic, including at MAAC contender Loyola (Md.) and at the Palestra against Virginia and either Seton Hall or Navy. The home slate is highlighted by North Carolina, while Saint Joseph’s and La Salle are also on the home slate as part of the Big Five. Road games include dates at Villanova and Temple in the Big Five, as well as Miami. In Ivy League play, the Quakers start with Harvard and Dartmouth at home before getting tested on the road at Columbia and Cornell. February ends with a four-game road stretch.
Outlook: Even with the personnel questions they face, the Quakers can’t be written off. They will be very green overall, but there is certainly talent. Grandieri will anchor the team as the top overall talent and team leader, and he’s a good one to start with. He’s been on winning teams and can be a go-to guy. Smith is a capable shooter who should get better with a bigger role, as he showed some flashes last season. Gaines comes with a good reputation and appears to be the best candidate to start at the point, although Grandieri can handle the ball as well. The big question personnel-wise is in the frontcourt, where everyone is relatively unproven at best because Mark Zoller and Steve Danley meant so much to last season’s team. Juniors McMahon, Votel and Justin Reilly, among others, need to improve quickly since they’re the most experienced players there. The Quakers aren’t likely to lead the league in scoring again, and forcing the most turnovers will be a challenge with Jaaber gone. Still, this team can’t be counted out, as the Quakers have entered a season looking far from invincible before and have still be right there on top or competing for the title at the end.
Columbia Lions (16-12, 7-7 Ivy, fourth place)
Sr. G Brett Loscalzo (4.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.5 apg)
So. G Niko Scott (6.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Sr. G Justin Armstrong (3.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. F John Baumann (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Sr. F Ben Nwachukwu (8.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: After opening the season against Fordham at home, the Lions head to Columbus for the NIT Season Tip-Off, where they first play Delaware State. Five straight games on the road follow, notably at America East contender Albany and NEC favorite Sacred Heart, and they later play at Villanova. All told, the non-conference schedule has six home games. The Ivy League schedule is favorable in terms of home and road swings, as they don’t have a road stretch longer than two games and play four straight at home near the end of February.
Outlook: Joe Jones’ first recruiting class has made it to their senior year, and this could be their big breakthrough year as it’s an experienced bunch that has made some strides over the past three seasons. Four senior starters who have been through plenty together lead the way, with Loscalzo running the show and defending while Baumann and Nwachukwu form a solid interior tandem that helped the Lions lead the league in rebounding margin last season. Baumann, who had a good season on the baseball team last spring, is the league’s top returning rebounder. Nagging injuries limited Armstrong last season, but he had a good sophomore year and figures to close out his career on a good note if he stays healthy. K.J. Matsui is another senior who can contribute, mainly through his long range stroke. Sophomores Patrick Foley and Scott injected some good talent onto this team last year, and with a year in the system and playing with the seniors should only be better. Foley will get plenty of minutes even if he doesn’t start, and he might be their best offensive threat. The Lions have as much experience as anyone and have developed together, so they have the pieces to challenge for the title.
Brown Bears (11-18, 6-8 Ivy, fifth place)
Sr. G Mark McAndrew (15.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.2 apg)
Sr. G Damon Huffman (14.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.6 spg)
Jr. F Chris Skrelja (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.1 spg)
Jr. F Scott Friske (5.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
Sr. F-C Mark McDonald (6.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg in 16 games)
Schedule Highlights: The Bears open the season with three of the first four games on the road in the Midwest, at Eastern Michigan, nearby Michigan and then Northwestern. Other road games on the slate include Providence and Notre Dame during a four-game road stretch and Baylor to conclude the non-conference portion. In-state rival Rhode Island is the highlight of five home non-conference games. In Ivy League action, they have a chance to build some early momentum with five straight home games after opening up at Yale, with four straight road games following that stretch.
Outlook: If there is a true dark horse, it’s Craig Robinson’s team, which at times looked like it was in for a long season last year but played well later in the season. The Bears return four starters, including a solid senior backcourt with McAndrew, the top returning scorer, and Huffman, an excellent shooter. Together, they will make the Bears deadly from long range. Neither is a true point guard, which could pose a problem, but that doesn’t figure to be the biggest concern. That should come in the frontcourt, where the Bears were out-rebounded. Scott Friske didn’t have the smoothest adjustment to a new role after showing plenty of promise as a freshman; that should change now that he has a year under Robinson. Skrelja played better as the season went along, and McDonald is the best of a mediocre group of holdovers on the post. The Bears will look for a couple of their seven freshmen, such as 6’8″ Jelani Floyd and Chris Taylor and 6’9″ Kelly Morgan, to help in this area right away. Sophomore Matt Mullery, who started nine games last season, is another option.
Harvard Crimson (12-16, 5-9 Ivy, sixth place)
So. G Jeremy Lin (4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Jr. G Drew Housman (13.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.6 spg)
Jr. G Andrew Pusar (5.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Jr. F Evan Harris (10.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. F Brad Unger (6.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Crimson will open the season in the BTI Classic, taking on host Stanford, Big West favorite UC Santa Barbara and one of the Southland favorites in Northwestern State. After that, six home games dot the non-conference slate, highlighted by Michigan coming to town on December 1 in a homecoming for Wolverine forward Kendric Price. They also welcome one of the America East favorites in Vermont, while road games include Holy Cross, Providence, America East favorite Boston University and a Northeast contender in Sacred Heart. The Ivy League slate is not kind to them early, as they play five consecutive road games after opening with Dartmouth at home.
Outlook: Tommy Amaker’s first season in Cambridge doesn’t figure to be easy, although the Crimson have a few good parts returning. A real key could be if Lin is able to take over the point guard spot, as it would enable Housman, who can score but has been turnover-prone in his first two seasons. Pusar has shown some flashes of his potential but not consistently. In the frontcourt, Harris showed some good strides last year and will continue to get to the line often. He will need to continue to improve on the boards now that he has to anchor the frontcourt. Unger, the senior captain, is good facing the basket. The Crimson have very little in the way of proven depth, with sophomore forward Pat Magnarelli having played the most of the other holdovers after logging 76 minutes in nine games last year.
Dartmouth Big Green (9-18, 4-10 Ivy, seventh place)
Jr. G Marlon Sanders (3.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Jr. G DeVon Mosley (8.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.3 spg)
Jr. G-F Alex Barnett (11.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.4 bpg)
Sr. F Johnathan Ball (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.2 apg)
So. C Elgin Fitzgerald (2.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Five home games are on tap in non-conference play, which starts off with two games in Colorado against Air Force and either Northern Colorado or VMI. The home slate is highlighted by America East contender Vermont, while the most notable road game is at Rutgers. The Big Green will close out 2007 with three straight road games. In Ivy League play, they have a tough early stretch with four straight on the road after they open with their home-and-home with Harvard. Four straight home games follow that stretch.
Outlook: The Big Green hasn’t been lacking in talent during Terry Dunn’s tenure, and this season doesn’t look to be any different. They won’t be as experienced as several others, as Ball and point guard Michael Giovacchini are the only seniors on the squad. Indeed, it is the three juniors on the perimeter, Sanders, Mosley and the streaky Barnett, who will lead the way. Barnett rebounds well from the wing and is the second-leading returning rebounder in the league, and he’s a capable shooter from long range but his shot selection can be questionable. Mosley has worked out better off the ball after playing the point earlier in his career, and Sanders should get better as the full-time starter. The duo helped the Big Green turn the ball over less than any team in the league last year. The big question mark is inside, as the Big Green was out-rebounded by five per game and has unproven options in Fitzgerald and juniors Kurt Graeber and Jarrett Mathis among the holdovers. That means freshmen like John Marciano and Clive Weeden could get some opportunities right away. With their relative youth and the experience many other teams in the league have, this year might be a difficult one for the Big Green.
Princeton Tigers (11-17, 2-12 Ivy, eighth place)
So. G Marcus Schroeder (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.8 spg)
So. G Lincoln Gunn (6.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Sr. F Noah Savage (5.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg)
Sr. F Kyle Koncz (8.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
So. C Zach Finley (3.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A trip west for the Maui Invitational, where they will face Duke and either Arizona State or Illinois in the first two games, is sandwiched around three home games to start the season. The home slate is highlighted by Seton Hall and Manhattan. Other road games in non-conference, six of which come in a seven-game stretch, include Rutgers, Penn State and Marshall. In Ivy League play, the Tigers have a tough three-game road stretch in early February at Cornell and Columbia, then at Penn three days later. They also have a four-game road stretch at the end of the month before finishing with three straight at home.
Outlook: New head coach Sydney Johnson is a good choice to lead this program, but he’s not going to get them back to the top right away. The Tigers return four players who started 14 or more games last season, a season where they struggled mightily in Ivy League play and weren’t much better outside of it. The Tigers were out-rebounded by almost five per night and were near the bottom of several categories. Even one key statistic, where they tied for the fewest turnovers in the league, is deceiving because the Tigers played at the slowest pace in college basketball. Schroeder and Gunn will be the main perimeter players to ride or die with, while seniors Savage and Koncz seek to end their careers on a good note. Koncz is capable of being an All-Ivy player. Finley has some potential as well and should get more of a chance to show it this year. Forward Kareem Maddox and guard Dan Mavraides, both from California, should get some minutes right away as freshmen. Give Johnson some time to turn this program around, as it isn’t going to happen this year.
This is the year fans of many teams in the league have waited for: one where Penn and Princeton look vulnerable and someone else could emerge at the top. The Tigers are a couple of years away from contending, but the Quakers are still dangerous if their newcomers have an impact right away and the holdovers adjust to new roles successfully. If that doesn’t happen, Yale, Cornell and Columbia look best positioned to knock them off and grab the crown. Brown can’t be counted out entirely with their backcourt, but they lack the frontcourt to be seen as a serious contender in the preseason.
Come March, we could be talking about a new champion and one whose name doesn’t begin with a ‘P’. Or we could be talking about how the names and faces may change, but the name at the top of the league doesn’t.