The 14-Game Tournament is starting to heat up, but that fire could be put out pretty quickly if Cornell keeps rolling this weekend.
The Big Red’s biggest road tests come this Saturday and next Friday at Princeton and Harvard, respectively, but the latter has become significantly less daunting with the rash of frontcourt injuries that the Crimson has been dealt.
With a road sweep this weekend, Cornell would sit at 8-0 with only a road date at Harvard and a visit from Princeton standing between it and its third-straight Ivy title. While it wouldn’t be impossible for the Tigers to catch the Big Red, especially given that Princeton gets the aforementioned rematch with Cornell in Ithaca, the race would be about as close to over as it can be with three full weekends to go.
Turning to the folks with the fancy predictive models, here are the different scenarios for the weekend with Ken Pomeroy’s odds projections:
Scenario 1: Cornell Sweeps; Princeton Splits; Harvard Sweeps – 41 percent
A quick note about Harvard: The true odds of any games involving the Crimson are probably much less favorable to the men from Cambridge than they outwardly appear, due to Harvard’s loss of Keith Wright, Pat Magnarelli and Andrew Van Nest. Thus, implicitly you could lower the odds of scenarios in which the Crimson sweeps and raise the odds of scenarios in which Harvard gets swept, but for the purposes of this exercise, I’ve gone with Pomeroy’s odds as shown.
Scenario 2: Cornell Splits; Princeton Sweeps; Harvard Sweeps – 22 percent
Cornell beats Penn, but loses at Jadwin for the second-consecutive year. Princeton handles Columbia on Friday night for the first half of its sweep, and the Crimson take both in New Haven and Providence.
Scenario 3: Cornell Sweeps; Princeton Splits; Harvard Splits – 18 percent
Cornell tops both Penn and Princeton. The Tigers take care of Columbia, and Harvard defeats either of Yale or Brown and loses to the other.
Scenario 4: Cornell Splits; Princeton Sweeps; Harvard Splits – 9 percent
Cornell opens the weekend with a win at Penn, but drops the game at Princeton. The Tigers defeat Columbia, and Harvard knocks off one of Yale or Brown.
Scenario 5: Cornell Sweeps; Princeton Swept; Harvard Sweeps – 2 percent
The Big Red takes down Penn and Princeton. The Lions stun the Tigers the night before, and the Crimson sweeps through Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Scenario 6: Cornell Sweeps; Princeton Splits; Harvard Swept – 2 percent
Cornell sweeps the trip to the Southern edge of the Ivies. Princeton gets it done against Columbia, and Harvard drops four of five without enough viable options in the frontcourt.
Team By Team Notes For This Weekend’s Games:
This is a potential turnaround weekend, as the Bears host woeful Dartmouth and reeling Harvard back-to-back.
Brown recorded the best performance by any Ivy team to date against Cornell last Saturday and carries that momentum into the only weekend that it was able to sweep last season. Against the Big Green, defense will be the key, as Dartmouth has twice failed to hit 40 points in league play. The Bears have struggled defensively all season, but have been better during the Ivy season, holding Yale and Penn to under a point per possession. Brown split those two, but came within a controversial tip in at the buzzer of taking both.
The recipe for Harvard should be pretty simple. Keep the pace slow and pound away in the interior. The Bears need to take advantage when the Crimson is forced to go with four guards for stretches during the game.
The Lions have an interesting weekend from a strategic perspective with a daunting contest at Princeton on Friday night and a toss-up game at The Palestra on Saturday.
While one might wonder whether Columbia might play for the split, having Princeton on Friday night mitigates that need, as the Tigers’ slow paced attack probably won’t take as much out of the Lions as running up and down the floor with Cornell or Harvard for 40 minutes. If the Lions get swept, it could be a long way down for Columbia, which currently has three games against Harvard and Princeton among its next six contests.
The weekend will also provide an intriguing matchup of super sophomores, as guard Noruwa Agho will go against Princeton’s Douglas Davis and Penn’s Zack Rosen on consecutive nights.
The Big Red has a shot to end the Ivy race before it starts on Saturday in Princeton.
Jadwin was a place where Cornell tripped up last year, as the Big Red posted its worst shooting performance of the season en route to a 61-41 loss. That didn’t matter all that much in the long run, as Princeton stumbled into a three-game losing streak shortly after the big home win and Cornell won the league by a comfortable three games. This year, a loss would once again thrust the Tigers into the top spot in the league standings, but unlike last year, Princeton would have just one road trip remaining.
The Big Red needs to knock down its three pointers and it should be fine. Start off cold, though, and there might not be enough possessions in the game to allow Cornell to get hot.
The Big Green just flat out needs to find some offense.
Nothing has worked. The coaching change provided a momentary boost, but Dartmouth is now right back where it started.
By keeping the tempo slow and forcing a ton of turnovers, the Big Green has managed to keep its opponents in the 50s and 60s, but sometimes it can’t even find its way into the 40s, which makes it incredibly difficult to be competitive.
At this point, the Big Green’s home date with Columbia and its visit to Penn are its two best shots at avoiding a winless league season. It’s just hard to imagine how it can find enough offense to take down anyone else.
For the second straight season, the injury bug has hit the Crimson frontcourt, though this year it chose to wait until much later to unleash its full onslaught.
The loss of Keith Wright and Pat Magnarelli, combined with Andrew Van Nest’s two-week absence due to pneumonia, makes Harvard a completely different team. What once was a projected 11-3 finisher now might struggle to scrape together 8 or 9 league wins, depending on how long those forwards are forced to miss. The next two assignments are particularly difficult, as Yale boasts a host of solid frontcourt players and Brown has potentially the league’s best in Matt Mullery.
With Kyle Casey and Doug Miller the last two remaining experienced forwards, both will need to be on the floor for more than 60 minutes each this weekend. Implicitly, that means that Casey cannot get into foul trouble, which has been hard for him to avoid this season.
After a surprising 2-2 start in four road games, the Quakers will likely get brought back down to earth very quickly, as they meet league-leading Cornell on Friday night.
Even if the Big Red is looking past Penn toward its own showdown with Princeton the following night, it’s incredibly unlikely the rapidly improving Quakers will be able to take advantage. Penn hung around with Harvard last Saturday by getting to the line at an impressive clip, but with Cornell at full strength in the interior, expect it to dole out fewer free passes to the stripe than the Crimson granted last weekend.
The Quakers have an interesting game with Columbia on Saturday night that could almost guarantee that Penn will stay closer to the middle of the pack than the bottom. If the Quakers can pull out the tightly contested battle, Penn will sit at no worse than 3-4 at the veritable halfway point with more home dates in the second half than it had in the first.
Harvard’s misfortune has been Princeton’s gain.
The Tigers were in the right place at the right time to pick up a crucial road win in Boston last Friday and now have taken on the role of the leader of the chase pack, attempting to run down Cornell.
Princeton has what shouldn’t amount to more than a tune up on Friday night against Columbia before getting its shot at the league-leading Big Red. If the Tigers hope to spring the upset, they need to do exactly what they did last year – shoot well and limit turnovers while forcing the exact opposite from Cornell. The problem is that the Big Red is deeper with more weapons than last year, making it extremely improbable that Cornell will post an EFG% in the 30s again. While Princeton certainly has a good chance in the contest, the Big Red is just too good this year for a 20-point win by the Tigers to be anywhere on the complete spectrum of possible outcomes.
Don’t look now, but the Bulldogs have third place right in front of them.
If Yale can spring the now-mild upset on Harvard and wrap up the weekend by taking care of Dartmouth, the Bulldogs would be alone in third place at 5-3. After a disappointing home opener against Brown, Yale has consistently taken care of games it should win (at Brown, vs. Penn, at Columbia), which has it on pace for a 10th straight .500 or better league season.
Senior guard Alex Zampier has provided the bulk of the production, if not in a terribly efficient manner, and the Bulldogs bigs have added steady play on the interior to keep Yale afloat during what was supposed to be a down year in New Haven. On Friday night, the Bulldogs have a chance to make a large statement around the league and vault themselves back toward the top of the Ivy standings.