The 14-Game Tournament: Cusworth’s last stand

Thanks to splits of the season series between both sets of travel partners, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale all enter this weekend at 1-1 in the league. With Friday and Saturday games looming in Boston and Hanover, there are four losses to go around. Obviously no one can lose more than twice, so at least two teams — and possible all four — are going to find themselves with a dreaded second early Ivy loss.

Ordinarily, we would look at the likelihood of the different scenarios that are possible this weekend, but Dartmouth’s ratings and odds are skewed by the six early games without Pattman and the others. None of the four teams are playing very well of late, so these are all toss-ups. Here’s what this weekend’s four New England games mean to the participants:

The Bears have been up and down all season long, epitomized by an odd sequence in November when they got pounded at Navy, then responded by winning fairly comfortably at Providence four days later. Brown fans don’t really know what to expect when this team takes the court, as it has played three games at 70-plus possessions, and nine other contests have featured fewer than 60. Just when it looks like it is in trouble, Craig Robinson’s team has come up with some big performances, such as last weekend’s comeback win at Yale.

With a depleted roster and a missing-in-action frontcourt, Brown is a longshot to make the top half of the league this season. But as we’ve discussed a number of times, the Bears are a threat to win on any given night when they’re getting to the line and their perimeter guys are hitting their shots. Given the coaching change and defections, reasonable goals for this season would be five league wins and staying out of the basement. A road win this weekend would put Brown in decent shape to do that.

The breaks that went the Big Green’s way in Dunn’s first season all seemed to go against it last year, but the signs of progress are evident this season. Behind Leon Pattman and a promising sophomore class, the talent is there for a middle-of-the-pack finish in a very competitive Ivy League. The loss last weekend at Harvard was a setback, but considering Dartmouth’s lack of an inside presence to contend with Cusworth, it’s hard to get too upset about splitting the series with the Crimson. Think Terry Dunn was excited to play two games against Cusworth while most of the league avoids him altogether and only two other schools will face him at all? All the Harvard big man did in two games against the Big Green was rack up 45 points and 32 rebounds.

In his career at Dartmouth, Dunn is 10-5 in Hanover against the rest of the league, so these next four games at home are very big. After the five-game homestand ends, the Big Green plays six of its final eight on the road, and the only home games during that stretch are against Penn and Princeton. A sweep this weekend would leave Dartmouth at 3-1 with Cornell and Columbia coming to town next. Splitting the weekend wouldn’t be the end of the world in a league where a fair number of teams are going to have two or more losses already, but the Big Green can’t afford to drop both at home.

Brian Cusworth’s unique circumstances have been thoroughly documented, detailed, and debated, but all that really matters is that one of the better talents in the league won’t be playing — at least in the Ivy League — after this weekend. He’ll reach the 1,000-point mark for his career and go out in front of what promise to be sparse audiences and some pro scouts at Lavietes Pavilion. Harvard figures to struggle the rest of the way without Cusworth, who’ll leave a gaping hole the middle. How much does the Crimson rely on him offensively? Among Ivy players, only Louis Dale (27.8 percent) uses up a higher percentage of his team’s possessions than Cusworth’s 27.0 percent.

The Crimson wasn’t going to win that elusive first Ivy title this season, even with Cusworth playing all 28 games. But that doesn’t mean Harvard isn’t going to have an impact on the Ivy standings. It has already knocked off a hot Dartmouth team, dealing the Big Green a blow to its hopes of finishing in the top half of the league. So what’s at stake this weekend for the Crimson? Mainly a chance to pick up a pair of league wins before things get much, much tougher with three remaining road weekends and the two toughest home weekends — all without their big man. An upper-division finish will be very difficult, but after all the speculation a year ago about Frank Sullivan’s future, every win is important to him and his players this season.

Just when things seemed to be going well for the Bulldogs, a disastrous second half last Saturday cost them a game against a team they had beaten handily on the road seven days earlier. Now Yale has to do something that has proven nearly impossible for the program over the past four Ivy seasons: win on the road. James Jones is just 6-16 in opposing Ivy venues since 2002-03 and 2-4 on the Dartmouth-Harvard road trip over that period. If Yale wants to end a trend of mediocre Ivy records, it starts with a strong showing this weekend.

The Bulldogs have the talent to finish near the top of the league, but they haven’t shown it on the court this season. Just like prior years, just when it looks like they’re putting it together to make a run, they find a way to dump a game they should win. A potentially huge home weekend looms next week when the Ps come calling on Lee Amphitheater. However, after dumping one home game already, Yale needs to sweep Harvard and Dartmouth and bring a 3-1 league mark into February. Should it drop a game on the trip north, the odds of giving Penn a run get very long. Going winless on the weekend would put the Bulldogs in a major hole, forcing them to go 7-3 the rest of the way to finish over .500 in the league for the first time since 2002-03.

Jake Wilson

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Basketball U.

Jake Wilson wrote 754 posts

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