Welcome to the Returns Department.
As your Customer Service representative, I’m here to guide you through the return process, as six teams square off in rematches of their league openers.
Cornell, Harvard and Brown are the lucky three seeking sweeps and an early leg up in the nation’s longest and most complex conference tournament. Meanwhile, Columbia, Dartmouth and Yale are all hoping to avoid that second loss, which would push them into must-win mode before the calendar even flips to February.
For the statistically inclined, Ken Pomeroy has three sweeps as 60 percent likely and sweeps by Cornell and Harvard and a Brown/Yale split as 27 percent likely. The other six scenarios are almost too rare to discuss individually, as their combined likelihood is just 13 percent.
Game 4: Yale at Brown, Pizzitola Sports Center, Providence, RI, Friday, 7:00 p.m.
Could a team that won just four Division I non-conference games start 4-0 in the Ivy League?
Okay, so maybe that’s getting ahead of ourselves. But still, if the ever-mercurial Brown can hold serve at home over the next two weekends, the Bears would find themselves at the top of the Ivy standings through the first full weekend of league play and at least a game up on at least one of the two pre-season favorites.
To some extent, this really wouldn’t be a surprise. Brown is built to win Ivy games. It has the third best offense in the league – over six points per 100 possessions better than the clump of teams in fourth through seventh. Its defense is either atrocious or non-existent depending on how you choose to look at it, but that’s not a huge impediment in a league where five of the eight teams aren’t really built to take advantage of it.
First thing is first, however, as the Bears haven’t swept this travel-partner series since 2005, and they haven’t even had a chance since, losing the opening game each of the past four years. Given that Yale hasn’t beaten a team ranked higher than Brown in the Pomeroy all season, this looks to be the year that the Bears get that elusive sweep. If they do, they’re set up quite nicely to be the story of the first half of Ivy play.
Game 5: Cornell at Columbia, Levien Gymnasium, New York, NY, Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
Has the Big Red become the league’s very own Tiger Woods (well, you know, minus the sordid personal life)?
Everywhere Cornell goes these days, the attention seems to follow. The target on its back extends beyond just the opposition to the fans and media alike. How else can you explain a sellout at Levien Gym for the return of a contest that had Cornell up by 32 midway through the second half just one week prior? Those folks are trekking up the 1 train to see a basketball game in name only. Rather, it’s just a strong desire to see the spectacle that is this edition of Cornell basketball – arguably the most dominant Ivy team since Princeton in 1998.
It’s one part pressure, and one part motivation. People come to see greatness that could manifest itself in a first-round NCAA tourney upset, but they also come to watch the Big Red potentially take a tumble, a story which would be equally as interesting.
Regardless, the sellout is a manifestation of the rebirth of the Ivy League after the progressive fall of Penn and Princeton caused interest to wane and the league’s strength to falter. The Ancient Eight is back, and Cornell is its standard bearer, a burden the Big Red is all too willing to bear.
Game 6: Harvard at Dartmouth, Leede Arena, Hanover, NH, Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
It’s been two weeks since that eminently bizarre night, when Dartmouth coach Terry Dunn abruptly resigned less than 24 hours before the opener of the Ivy season at Harvard.
The Big Green put together a valiant effort for almost 30 minutes under a coach-by-committee system, but ultimately was overpowered by Harvard en route to a 76-47 defeat.
Since that season-transforming weekend, Dartmouth has done more than just stabilize the program. Interim coach Mark Graupe has instituted more of a free-wheeling offensive structure, and the players responded with their third best offensive performance of the season in a thrilling 65-64 win over St. Francis (NY).
That’s not to say Dartmouth has been completely out of the woods since, as freshman Garrett Brown and senior Marlon Sanders were arrested for marijuana possession in Stoneham, MA last weekend. The Big Green still managed to defeat St. Francis in spite of the adversity, however, possibly owing to the fact that losing a couple of rotation players doesn’t seem like much after you’ve gone through the departure of a coach in the middle of the season.
What can be expected of Dartmouth tomorrow night? The Big Green will certainly be different than it was two weeks ago, but whether it will be better remains to be seen. The Terriers were 284th in the Pomeroy ratings, so a buzzer-beating win, while exhilarating, doesn’t indicate much of an abrupt jump in competency or ability. But even hanging around with the Crimson tomorrow night would serve notice that Dartmouth doesn’t plan to roll over and play dead in Ivy League play.