Much gets made about those special Ivy players that can fill up a stat sheet on the offensive end and help their respective teams put points on the board. Rarely do we take the time, however, to laud the guys holding down the fort at the other end of the floor.
Well, defensive stalwarts, it’s time for your due praise.
As a matter of background, there are no real precise statistical measures for ranking defensive ability. There have been attempts – most notably Dean Oliver’s experiment to score forced missed field goals in WNBA games – but none have yet to yield new, useful columns in a box score. Thus, at this point, defensive caliber is purely measured from the analog of the offensive measures – turnovers (steals), explainable forced misses (blocks) and rebounds. I also deviate slightly from the traditional defensive formulas by adding a marginal deduction for the portion of a player’s fouls that lead to opponents’ free throws.
With that explanation aside, let’s examine the Ivy League’s top defensive players:
The Starting Five:
Jeremy Lin, Harvard, G (91 DRating, 40 Stops, 62% Stop Pct.)
David Rufful, Dartmouth, G (100 DRating, 23 Stops, 64% Stop Pct.)
Ian Hummer, Princeton, F (99 DRating, 22 Stops, 62% Stop Pct.)
Brian Grimes, Columbia, F (96 DRating, 30 Stops, 69% Stop Pct.)
Mike Howlett, Penn, F (112 DRating, 18 Stops, 58% Stop Pct.)
The defensive player of the year to this point would likely be Lin, who is currently first in Defensive Rating, third in Individual Stops and third in Stop Percentage. He’s also fourth in the league in Individual Win Percentage (derived from a player’s Offensive and Defensive Ratings).
With Grimes and Howlett up front, this squad has the Ivy League’s two best defensive rebounders and with Rufful in the backcourt it has the league’s second best pickpocket who himself is an excellent defensive rebounder for a guard.
Hummer provides an all around defensive presence, ranking high in rebounds, steals and blocks.
The Next Five:
Alex Zampier, Yale, G (106 DRating, 42 Stops, 56% Stop Pct.)
Jordan Gibson, Yale, G (108 DRating, 37 Stops, 52% Stop Pct.)
Keith Wright, Harvard, F (94 DRating, 24 Stops, 54% Stop Pct.)
Pat Magnarelli, Harvard, F (92 DRating, 21 Stops, 57% Stop Pct.)
Matt Mullery, Brown, C (105 DRating, 48 Stops, 56% Stop Pct.)
Due to the relative advantages that big men have in the defensive statistics, Gibson gets shifted to guard here to fill out the second team defense.
Zampier is the league’s leader in steal percentage and can provide a bit of a contribution on the glass. Magnarelli is fourth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, which is good because the rest of the big men are surprisingly average (Gibson – 16th, Wright – 20th, Mullery – 22nd) though watch for Wright and Mullery to climb the list as the season moves forward.
One thing opponents won’t be doing is driving the paint. Mullery has 14 blocks on the season and Wright has 10 more. On the perimeter, Gibson adds seven more himself, so there’s really no safe haven to get off a clean shot against this five.
Brandyn Curry, Harvard, G (95 DRating, 22 Stops, 50% Stop Pct.)
Christian Webster, Harvard, G (95 DRating, 17 Stops, 50% Stop Pct.)
Asenso Ampim, Columbia, F (102 DRating, 15 Stops, 53% Stop Pct.)
Matt LaBove, Dartmouth, F (106 DRating, 14 Stops, 50% Stop Pct.)
Jeff Foote, Cornell, C (105 DRating, 37 Stops, 51% Stop Pct.)
This team is full of surprises, including three freshmen and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year. Foote finished last year with a stop percentage in the high 60s, but has been hurt by too many fouls this year and lower block numbers. As the level of competition diminishes, expect Foote to push his stop percentage out of the 50s and back into the 60s.
LaBove and Ampim are fifth and sixth in the league, respectively, in defensive rebounding percentage. Curry and Webster are both in the top 15 in steal percentage, making this a pretty well balanced, but not spectacular defensive unit.
Dangerous Predictions For The Heretofore Unmentioned:
The first three guys below the Stop Percentage cut line of 50 were Cornell’s Louis Dale, Columbia’s Noruwa Agho and Harvard’s Kyle Casey. Dale had a stop percentage of 60 and Agho was at 58 last year, so I expect those two to bump some people off the list as the season progresses. If any Crimson freshman makes the list at the end of the season, Casey would be the most likely, as he’s currently third in the league in defensive rebounding percentage and will be among the leaders in blocks by season’s end.
Last year’s league leader in Stop Percentage, Cornell’s Adam Wire, is currently right behind the three guys mentioned above and next is Dartmouth’s Robby Pride, who finished with a very respectable 53 percent stops last season. This first five out group, despite lacking in size, has the potential to be as good as any of the first three teams defensively.