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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ivy League Basketball Preview

It's time for the SportsProf Ivy hoops preview. I base my preview on everything I've read about all teams, e-mail correspondence, newspaper articles, unmitigated hype by zealous fans, pessimistic meanderings by hopeful partisans, e-mail exchanges with cognoscenti, my own sense of how higher math and the stars align and past history. I'd like to point out that there are some excellent resources to read up on Ivy hoops (see the Ivy Basketball Website and the Princeton Basketball Website; the former is a one-stop shop with all sorts of good tidbits, and the latter is unaffiliated with Princeton University but provides a lot of excellent content), Dave Sez's posts about the ACC and the College Basketball Blog (a must stop for the college hoops fan), and there are many good national publications, with my favorite being the Blue Ribbon Guide (even with its cheesy holiday food add on the back cover; find out more about this publication, not available on newstands, at www.blueribbonguide.com) . As I am always wont to say up-front, all typos, mis-statements, errors in judgment, failures to read the most current editions of campus newspaper sportspages or failure to consult with the local savants about their teams -- are mine.

With all of that by way of introduction, here goes:

1. Princeton Tigers. After last season, it was easy to predict that Princeton would repeat for the Ivy title. There were many reasons to go out on this limb. First, the Tigers would be returning two first-team all-Ivy players, center Judson Wallace and guard Will Venable. Second, they lost only one player to graduation, guard Ed Persia, a short 2G who really did not improve much from his freshman year. Third, their archrival Penn Quakers lost three starters to graduation, underachieving center (albeit very athletic) Adam Chubb, guard Charlie Copp (never a favorite of the Penn fans) and 2G Jeff Schiffner, an all-Ivy player who gave it everything he had (but who proved not to be as good when he was thrust into the role of the first option as he was when he was the third or fourth option his junior year). Fourth, neither Penn nor Princeton appeared to have an all-world recruiting year, which, translated, means that neither school would have what would appear to be a serious impact player coming in to tilt the balance.

But there are other variables. First, Penn does have one first-team all-Ivy player returning in SF Tim Begley, ironically perhaps the most Princeton-like player in the league, a player who can shoot the three very well and who always knows what to do with the basketball, and two sophs who were strong contenders for the Ivy Rookie of the Year, 2G Ibby Jaaber, he of the great first step, and F Mark Zoller, he of the funky hair and unbelievably good basketball instincts. Jaaber will start for the Quakers, and Zoller will get significant playing time. Second, Princeton's coach, John Thompson III, bolted for Georgetown, being replaced by former Princeton assistant and Air Force head coach Joe Scott. There is a difference in style between those two coaches, and the Princeton players will have to make an adjustment. Third, Princeton's top reserve inside player, Harrison Schaen, decided to take a year off from school. Fourth, snakebitten Princeton PF Andre Logan tweaked his knee again, and he'll miss 3-6 weeks, giving the Tigers a shorter lineup to start the season.

Now, taking all of the above together, the Tigers have a winner of a coach in Scott, who performed one of college hoops' coaching miracles of the last half century last year at Air Force, winning the Mountain West's regular season after the Falcons had been perennial doormats up until the time Scott got to Colorado Springs four years ago. Scott's more of a taskmaster than Thompson, and the result will be that the Tigers will turn the ball over much less than they did last year. They'll also be more focused on offense, and they'll have very few sets where they run 42 seconds off the shot clock and then scramble for a shot before the time clock goes off. They'll probably shoot the three better too. All that said, Wallace and Venable benefited from Thompson's system, which was a less pure version of the Princeton offense than Scott no doubt will run and which gave them more freedom to operate than the traditional Princeton offense does. How their freelancing styles (and Logan's, upon his return) will fare remains a big question for the Tigers. It may be easily answered in the positive, which is what most fans expect, but it still remains a key question.

As does rebounding. Last year, frosh Schaen was a demon on the defensive end, grabbing almost every rebound in sight and playing intimidating defense. The Tigers outrebounded their opponents last year for the first time since Dr. Naismith put up the peachbasket during the winter time at Springfield College, and the reason was Schaen. With him gone, senior backup C Mike Stephens must continue where he left off last year, although Stephens played much better during the first half of the season than the second, when Schaen supplanted him. Last year, the Tigers were 4 deep at the 4 and 5 spots; this year, they go into the season only 2 deep. That is, unless 6'8" soph Patrick Ekeruo or 6'10" soph John Reynolds show that they can contribute. Neither played that much last season, but both might get the chance to show what they can do this season. And, early on, too.

Those are the questions, but there are plenty of answers, too, starting with Wallace and Venable. Wallace did amazing things on the court last season, had several double-doubles, and at times took over the court and dominated in a way that no Princeton big man has done in a long time. Venable was the engine that refused to let the Tigers lose, a great defender who came up big in game after game. Jason Forte of Brown won the Ivy Player of the Year Award, and he's a fine player, but had Venable won the award few could have squawked. He is a gamer. And Logan will return, presumably healthy, and he has some moves on offense and an ability to rebound the basketball, although he can tend to overdo it on offense on occasion and turn the ball over. He also has to show more consistency, as some nights he can score eighteen and the next night score four. With Schaen absent, Logan will have to elevate his game.

Right now, one question for the Tigers is who will start alongside Wallace, Venable and 5'9" Scott Greenman. Greenman has a decent shooting stroke, plays good defense and is an able passer, but he hasn't been able to shoot the three with consistency. And, without better three-point shooting, the Tigers could have some bad nights. That said, Greenman had some great games during the last half of the Ivy season last year, and if he builds on them, he could take his game to another level. Of course, it remains to be seen whether at 5'9" he'll remain, at times, a defensive liability for the Tigers. Penn has had success over the past several years of working the matchups well against Princeton, and creating distinct size advantages against both Greenman and the since-graduated Ed Persia. If Penn tries to do that again against the Tigers this year, Greenman might not be on the floor at all times, especially if and when Logan returns. But for now, look for him to get 30 plus minutes a game.

Another Tiger who figures to be in the mix is 6'1" soph guard Max Schafer, who came to Old Nassau with huge promise that has yet to be fulfilled. Tigers fans caught glimpses of Schafer's ballhandling and defense during the last half of last season, but he hasn't shown overall that he's a good offensive player. Yes, he had his moments last year shooting the three, but the Tigers would get a solid boost if he can come in (or start) and shoot the ball with regularity. Look for him to start alongside the upperclassmen guards.

The big question mark on offense is the 3 (which, with Logan's injury, really is the 4), where the Tigers have been wont to put a guard, but where the Tigers probably will need to put a forward. What makes this situation more complicated is that now 6'7" Luke Owings, who has returned from the summer in great shape and has looked improved to Tiger fans, might have to move to the 4 while Logan is out. He's a shooter, and he'll need to show that he can shoot the ball consistently. Word is that 6'6" freshman forward Kyle Koncz from suburban Cleveland might figure into the mix.

There are others, of course, such as 6'7" soph Mike Rudoy, frosh forwards Noah Savage and Zach Woolridge (son of NBA great Orlando) and frosh guard Matt Sargeant, as well as 6'4" soph guard Edwin Buffmire, who can get overlooked but who showed great energy in key moments in key games last year. Look for Buffmire to sneak into the mix the same way Kyle Wente did over much more heralded recruits several years ago. Sargent hasn't received a ton of attention because of the Tigers' deep roster, but he was one of the Ivies' top recruits and should be heard from.

So why the optimism?

Penn might have more talent, but that talent right now isn't as well developed, and the Princeton nucleus is about as good as it gets. Plus, the pure Princeton-system coaches have won with smaller lineups, and Joe Scott will coach up a storm in Tigertown. Edge to the Tigers, but not as great an edge as if Harrison Schaen had returned to school.

I've written this over the past couple of days, and tonight the Tigers beat Patriot League favorite, Bucknell, 61-48 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Both Judson Wallace and Will Venable were held to single digits, but Luke Owings scored 21. The Tigers were out-rebounded 27-20, but they shot 8-18 from behind the arc and turned the ball over only 9 times. Frosh Noah Savage started in place of the injured Andre Logan, and frosh Kyle Koncz and Matt Sargent saw time off the bench, as did reserve C Mike Stephens, who scored 11 points, and G Max Schafer.

2. Penn Quakers.

This is a team that lost three starters and that almost lost its beloved and excellent coach in the off-season. While losing three starters is never easy, that loss will be easier to stomach for the Quaker hoops program and the Quaker fans than the loss of Fran Dunphy, the dean of Ivy League coaches.

Okay, so how can you lose 3 starters and perhaps have a better chance to win the Ivy title, what, with Princeton returning two first-team all-Ivy players? That's a good question, but here's why. First, guard Charlie Copp, a 6' tweener guard who was a bring-it-up-and-shoot-it guard in HS for a small HS near Reading, PA, only to have to play the point. He couldn't penetrate worth a lick, could shoot the three a bit, and played surprisingly good defense. Still, he was a limited player, not the caliber of guard that Penn fans had grown accustomed to seeing. Penn coach Fran Dunphy loves players like Copp, perhaps because he sees a bit of himself in them, but he can do better with his current cast. Center Adam Chubb was an enigma, an all-airport team type of player who looked better in the warm-ups than in the game. When he harnessed his talents, he could be unstoppable. Problem was, he couldn't do it often enough. There are two hungry sophs who are eager to fill the gap that he left, and it would appear that Penn will get more consistent play out of either of them.

And that leaves last year's captain Jeff Schiffner, a gutsy player at the 2G who got everything out of his ability. But Schiffner peaked as a junior, couldn't carry a team that needed carrying as a senior, and, as sometimes is the case, was blocking a more talented player in soph Ibby Jaaber, who will get the lion's share of minutes at the 2G. In short, while they'll miss Schiffner, Penn's overall basketball talent level (as opposed to athletic ability level) probably is higher. That's a tough comment to make, given Schiffner's contributions, but Penn fans think that Jaaber has a very high upside.

Outside of Jaaber and Begley, it isn't clear who will start at PG, PF or C for the Quakers.

Sophs Steve Danley, Ryan Pettinella and Mark Zoller will get the lion's share of minutes at the 4 and 5 spots, with senior Jan Fikiel right behind. You'll recall Fikiel as a promising frosh who had turned down non-Ivies to go to Penn, only to come up with a case of stone hands on the blocks his sophomore and junior year.

As for the other three, Zoller made the biggest impact last year, dazzling everyone with his basketball smarts, really an off-the-charts hoops IQ, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He faded a bit at the end, as the back-to-back Friday- and Saturday-night games take their toll, but he's a force to be reckoned with. He's only 6'6", but he's reallly a 4, although he can shoot the three and it wouldn't surprise me if they got him on the jump rope at turned him into a 3 once Tim Begley graduates. He's undersized at the 4, but that probably won't hurt him in the Ivies. It might hurt the Quakers elsewhere, though, as his athletic ability is limited.

Danley played more than Pettinella, who came in more highly touted. Danley played for DeMatha and was a key contributor inside for Penn last year. He doesn't have that much range as a shooter, but he's a tough defender, well-schooled, and should show improvement this year. That said, he's nothing close to Judson Wallace. As for Pettinella, there as a bunch of hype about him when he came to Penn, got stuck in the queue at the 4 and the 5, had a few good games, but he didn't see the action that Danley did. For Penn to contend, Pettinella needs to produce. Penn fans will argue that Fran Dunphy isn't that good at working in his freshmen, so one shouldn't write off any sophomore, while those less zealous are still waiting for now-senior Frederick Ebede to blossom as the next Ugonna Onyekwe. Personally, I think that the truth is somewhere toward the end of the spectrum that says Pettinella still can be a very good player.

First-team all-Ivy SF Tim Begley returns for the Quakers, and he is a very good player, always knowing where to be on the floor, a great passer and a good three-point shooter. Begley disappointed as the #2 option for Penn last year, as the Quakers couldn't seem to take advantage of double-teams on Schiffner. The difference this year is that unlike Schiffner last year, Begley won't have to be the #1 option, and he'll have a more dynamic player to play the #2 option for, two guard Ibby Jaaber.

Jaaber was perhaps the most spectacular frosh in the Ivies last year (although Princeton zealots will contend that Harrison Schaen fit that bill, and Dartmouth's Leon Pattman did win the league's rookie of the year award, although he got a lot of PT for a bad team). Jaaber had many good games for the Quakers down the stretch, and it says here that if he isn't a first-team all-Ivy player this season, he'll be close to it. He'll enter the season as Penn's #1 offensive option, and he has as quick a first step as anyone in the Ivies not named Will Venable. Look for him to lead Penn in scoring. That's the good news for the Penn backcourt.

The other news is that the rest of Penn's guards ain't done it yet, and PG historically has been a key position for a Dunphy-coached team. Have a PG who can penetrate and create off the dribble, and then who can pull back and hit the 3, and the Quakers win the Ivies. Jerome Allen, Michael Jordan and Andy Toole all fit that bill for Dunphy. Others have not, most recently Dave Klatsky (who was a fine reserve guard) and Copp. This year's PG candidate is junior Eric Osmundsen, a 6'5" junior who was a reserve last year after transferring from Utah. He showed some ability in the game at Princeton (where Penn buried the Tigers), hitting two key threes in the first half. But Oz, as he is called, always seems to play at a nervous full throttle and can be out of control. He will probably miss Penn's season opener with a mouth injury. If he can harness his ability, the Quakers could well win the Ivies. If he can't, then the Quakers' options are Jaaber at point (and it's not clear that will work), or frosh Michael Kach (whom Dunphy thinks is a very good player) or David Whitehurst (who is a very good athlete who might need more development as a hoopster than Kach). Dunphy recently said that if Kach is the starter, then Penn will have a PG by committee. That's not a great sign for Penn fans. The Penn zealots believe this is the deepest the Quakers' backcourt has been in years. Other observers think that going into the season, PG is a big question mark for Penn. If the Quakers can answer it, the title might just be theirs.

3. Cornell Big Red. No, this is not a misprint, and it's not a men's ice hockey preview, either, it's the Ivy men's hoops preview, and, yes, I think the Cornell Big Red will crash into the first division this year, and leap over both Yale and Brown. The reasons are a little complicated, and there is some parallel to the Penn situation, albeit a small one. Also, while no one will come out and say it, this season marks Coach Steve Donahue's fifth year at Cornell. I have no clue whether his job is in danger, but his overall record at Ithaca is 32-76. He needs a good year, especially after the Big Red crashed and burned in the League after a 6-0 start (i.e., before they played Penn or Princeton).

First, the good news. The Big Red are big, they have a hot xfer (from Air Force, of all places, by way of a JC) named Ryan Rourke, their promising C, Chris Vandenburg, is 6'10" and back from a season missed because of injury, and Eric Taylor, their 6'8" PF, also returns (he had a better year as a soph than he did as a junior last season, when he averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest), as does 6'6" Lenny Collins, a SF who averated 10.3 ppg last year. Big up front, quality big people, the Big Red will bang and they will give even Penn and Princeton fits inside.

They also have a good 2G in Cody Toppert, who had a nice season last year, and they have some other guards in the mix. Their backcourt isn't as strong as their frontcourt, however.

Second, the bad news. They lost all-Ivy PG Ka'Ron Barnes to graduation, and they are counting on 6'3" frosh Khaliq Grant, their top recruit, and 6' soph Graham Dow, to fill the bill. It's always hard to replace a four-year starter at PG, and if Grant and Dow cannot do it the Big Red will have some long nights. Hard to win the Ivies, with sometimes grueling games in bandbox arenas on back-to-back nights, without very solid ballhandling. If Cornell can establish a pass-first PG with all of their trees inside, they could be very dangerous. As it is, they'll finish in the first division of the Ivies.

4. Yale Bulldogs. Three years ago, the mantra was James Jones, James Jones, look what he's done for Yale hoops, and the mantra chanters were correct. The Elis played hard-nosed basketball, flaunted their depth, banged inside and ended up in a three-way tie with Penn and Princeton for the Ivy title, only to lose to Penn in a playoff to see who went to the Big Dance. It was in that game that the Bulldogs got reminded how tough it is to ascend to the top of the Ivies, but that was then.

Since then, the Bulldogs have been a mystery, sometimes playing hoops like ice hockey, throwing the ball toward the goal and then chasing it. They won 21 games three seasons ago, 14 two years ago and 12 last season. It's as though the spell that Jones had put on the program has worn off and the Elis have elected at times to revert to their old tricks. They were a woeful three-point shooting team last year, didn't shoot the trey that often, ididn't shoot fouls well, had bad chemistry, and, well, were a disappointment despite their depth, their athletes, and two freshmen who came in highly touted, Sam Kaplan (a top-150 player) and Casey Hughes. Their two guards, PG Alex Gamboa and 2G Edwin Draughan, also seem to have regressed. Draughan scores in double digits, but his points are about the quietest that seem to get scored. His silky and slender, but he's not really a game changer. He played with Josh Childress (formerly of Stanford and an NBA lottery pick) in HS, and he came to Yale with great promise, as though his exploits would eclipse those of Penn's Onyekwe. So far they haven't.

Not even close.

And neither have Gamboa's, who came to Yale as a feisty PG from Las Vegas who showed well in his early days as an Eli, but who doesn't seem to have progressed that much since his freshman year. Normally, you'd argue in the NCAA as a whole that a team with two veteran guards could go very far, and in Draughan and Gamboa you have two veteran guards. The question is, which Draughan and which Gamboa will show up?

Hughes had his moments last year, and Kaplan really did not, and in the off-season the Elis lost hard-nosed C Josh Hill to a car accident. The Elis also return C Dominick Martin, the former Princeton player who averaged in double figures last year but seemed to play statue-like hoops on the low blocks on offense and even in the middle on defense. Martin probably gets more touches at Yale than he did at Princeton, but not necessarily more minutes, as no player in Jones' rotation seems to get more than 28 minutes a game. Martin also hasn't led the Elis to the title, as Yale fans hoped and Princeton fans feared.

The coaching style of Jones is an issue, and I'm still intrigued by it. I like the fact that he goes deep into his bench and plays a lot of players, but I'm not sure he has the algorithm right as to who should play when. Part of Yale's chemistry problem had to result from the frequent substitutions, and given the number of media timeouts, you really can play only 7 guys a ton of minutes because they're young and in good shape and because they do get ample time for rest during the game. Jones has a good idea, but he needs to fine tune it.

Best case is that the guards really blossom in their senior year, Martin gets better integrated into the offense, and Hughes develops into a first option. If that happens, Yale might contend for the title. But if the chemistry doesn't improve (as well as the trey and foul shooting), look for the Elis to finish in the middle of the pack.

5. Brown Bears. Close but no cigar, have the Brown Bears been, and the reason they haven't smoked a Red Auerbach-like stogie is that while their offense might sell tickets and bring people into their gym, as well as earn three Bears (Earl Hunt, Ala Nuatialiaa and Jason Forte) first-team all-Ivy honors two years ago (and Forte the Ivy Player of the Year award last year), they haven't played enough defense to win the title. Hunt and Nuatiliaa graduated two years ago, and three starters graduated after last year. Which means, to a certain degree, that the cupboard needs restocking.

Except somehow, in the small universe that is the Ivies, the Bears seem to re-load before they have to re-build. And, especially this year, that premise will be put to the test. In Forte they have the best guard in the Ivies (no apologies needed for Will Venable and Ibby Jaaber), but they really don't have much else besides him and 6'7" shooting guard Luke Ruscoe, a tough kid who can shoot the three and who must develop into Brown's second option for the Bruins to have a good year.

Outside of those two, Brown will look to find its starters from six sophomores and six freshmen.
Soph forward Sam Mahanga figures to start; he came into the league as a heralded frosh a year ago, but he seemed not to have a position and he didn't play all that well. Coach Glenn Miller is high on 6'2" frosh guard Damon Huffman, whose brother, Trevor, starred for Kent State in 2001 and helped lead them to the Elite 8.

Best case for the Bruins is that Forte gets so heavily guarded that he finds very open teammates who can hit the three and who can improve rapidly within the season, that the sophs can deliver and the frosh also can contribute. That best case puts the Bruins in the Ivies' top four, perhaps as high as third. Worst case is that no one else develops or Forte steps on the shoe of a defender and gets a high ankle sprain he can't shake, or that the Bruins still have not figured out to play enough defense. If a combination of those factors comes to fruition, the Bears, despite having Forte, won't win more than 7 of their 14 Ivy games. Bottom line is that Forte and Ruscoe should make the Bruins competitive, but Miller will have to do one amazing coaching job to lead the Bruins to the promised land.

6. Columbia Lions. Every year there's a team in a league that people say, "watch out for, they've been dormant, but they'll come charging ahead." This year, some of the prognosticators are pointing to Joe Jones' Columbia squad, if for no other reason than with not many new players last season Jones reversed the 2-25 debacle that was Armond Hill's last year on Morningside Heights and led the Lions to a respectable record of 10-17. He has a few solid players coming back, including SF Matt Preston and 6'8" PF Dragutin Kravic, who is currently injured, as well as a bevy of average upperclass guards and 6 recruits who have received some good hype. The question is, whether that's across-the-board good hype or simply relative hype, which means that they're very good recruits for players who weren't recruited by Penn or Princeton. That remains to be seen, although one of them, 6'9" Benedict Nwachukwu, played for South Jersey power St. Augustine and apparently was a lock for Penn before deciding to ink with Joe Jones at Columbia. The same way James Jones' got the Yale Bulldogs into the hunt for an Ivy title, his younger brother Joe will get his Lions into the first division at some point.

But not this year. There's too much turnaround required of this Lions' squad, and with all of the players on his roster, Coach Jones will have to make some key decisions and figure out which 8 are the right eight. And his club still will have to play Penn and Princeton on back-to-back nights at home and on the road, as well as Cornell and Yale.

Best case is that Coach Jones settles on a solid rotation of eight players, that some of the freshmen can play, that Preston performs at a first-team all-Ivy level. If all of this happens, look for the Lions to go 8-6 in the league. Worst case is that Coach Jones plays too many players, there is a chemistry issue, he still hasn't been able to establish solid guard play, and the frosh don't deliver what's needed. In that case, Columbia wins only 2 or 3 games in the league. The bet here is that the finish is somewhere in between.

7. Harvard Crimson. The Crimson have become the Ivies' version of a football school, as the Cantabs battle Penn in Philadelphia this weekend for the Ivy title in football. It's had to imagine that you can make the distinction in as genteel a conference as the Ivies, but the Crimson just don't seem to put the emphasis on hoops. Coach Frank Sullivan's teams are always gritty and scrappy, but they never seem to have enough players. Up until last year they were good at staying in the middle of the Ivy pack, always good for an upset or two over the top teams, but last year they were 4-22 overall and 3-11 in the Ivies. Overall, Sullivan has been at Harvard for 14 years with a record of 141-199, and unless the Cantabs are really content with winning about 13 games a season (they've won 12, 14, 14, 12 and 4 games over the past 5 seasons), the members of the 2004-2005 squad might be playing for their coach's job (ironically, I believe that when the job opened in 1990, Harvard could have hired Northwestern's Bill Carmody, who went on to succeed Pete Carril at Princeton, but passed).

Depending on how you look at it, the good news is that the Crimson lost no starter to graduation after last season. Alternatively, given the 4-22 record, the bad news is that the Crimson have everyone back. Whether that group, plus one returning frontcourter who missed last season, has enough talent and has improved in the off-season to turn the Crimson into a better team, is a huge question.

The strength for Harvard is inside, where they return 6'8" PF Matt Stehle, who averaged 13.6 points and 7 rebounds per game last year, and who blocked a lot of shots on defense last year. The problem for the Crimson last year was that Stehle really was their only option inside. This year, they get a break, as 7' center Brian Cusworth returns after a year's absence. Cusworth averaged 6.2 points and 3.7 boards per game two seasons ago, and his return should give the Crimson a solid presence inside.

The Crimson also return a trio of veteran 2 guards and swingmen in Kevin Rogus, Jason Norman and Michael Beal, who combined to average about 30 ppg last year. The problem is that they couldn't find a replacement to former PG Elliott Prasse-Freeman last season, and it looks like they'll be relying on a frosh or two this year to run the show for them.

The best case for the Crimson is that the veteran backcourt scorers play good defense and have stepped up their game, while Stehle turns into a first-team all-Ivy player, Cusworth returns to form in the middle and a frosh (Tyler Klunick) steps up and plays a mean PG. If all of those things happen, the Crimson could be the surprise team in the Ivies this season. The worst case is that Stehle doesn't improve, Cusworth is mediocre, the swingmen turn out to be gunners and no one emerges at point. Bottom line is that not all of the conditions for a good season will be fulfilled, and the Crimson will have a hard time winning more than 10 games.

8. Dartmouth Big Green. The Big Green fired their long-time coach, Dave Faucher, a decent recruiter and x's and o's man (you can read his book on coaching children's hoops), after last season, when they started 3-7 and finished at 3-25, and after a string of seasons where the Big Green only seemed to have regressed (having won 9, 8, 9, 8 and 3 games in the past 5 years). Ouch! Double ouch! This team is the LaSalle Explorers without the Code of Conduct and criminal issues surrounding the program, and they can't go anywhere but up.

They had an opportunity to hire Penn's Gil Jackson, Fran Dunphy's long-time right-hand man and ace recruiter, but opted instead for long-time Colorado assistant Terry Dunn, who is about 12 years younger than Jackson, who is about 56. (Dunn is the brother of former Penn State coach Jerry Dunn, who led the Nittany Lions to a Sweet 16 appearance four years ago). Whether Dunn was the right hire remains to be seen, but I do believe that Dartmouth missed out on a very solid hire in Gil Jackson, and usually it's a good move to hire the top aides of the league's legendary coaches.

Dunn has a further disability going into the season, as none of his recruits are his, they were all Faucher's, but Faucher didn't leave the cupboard bare. PG Steve Callahan is a very solid guard, and he has shown solid improvement over the past several years, and 2G Leon Pattman was the Ivies' rookie of the year last year. Together, they form a very solid backcourt. Critics will argue that there were other frosh in the Ivies who were just as good if not better than Pattman, and it's hard to measure how good Pattman really is because he logged a lot of minutes for a plum awful hoops team. This season should tell us whether his Rookie of the Year award was based purely on activity, or whether there was solid achievement in his rookie season.

The problem is inside, where for whatever reason the Big Green haven't been able to establish solid play inside since Sean Gee graduated over 5 years ago. Gee was a jumping jack from Nebraska who played very well, and the Big Green have tended to field unathletic centers in recent years. 6'9" Calvin Arnold and 6'5" Jason Meyer return, but they don't really scare opponents.

Best case is that the inside players can show some solid life, that they can take pressure off the guards, and that Callahan and Pattman, along with 6'4" highly touted frosh swingman Jonathan Ball, can give opponents fits, and that there's some depth beyond the starting lineup. Worst case is that the inside players aren't very good, that the Big Green sees lots of 3-2 zones, and that they can't muster much offense or defense from inside. If this team gets any meaningful inside play, it could escape the Ivies' cellar. A good season for Coach Dunn will be if he can pull his Big Green out of the Ivies' cellar and manage to win in double digits. Anything else would be pure gravy.

It should be a very fun, competitive season, and, while some things in the world change rapidly, those who aren't that fond of evolution or change should be pleased to note that in the Ivies, as has been the case for many, many years, it all boils down to Penn and Princeton.

Make that Princeton and Penn.

3 Comments:

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