Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Dec. 15

What Happened Last Week: Nearly half of the Ivy League’s nine games came against major-conference foes, and most of those were interesting: Brown upset Providence, Columbia scared No. 1 Kentucky, Princeton did the same to California, and Yale lost at Florida. (More on those games below.) The Ancient Eight was 3-2 in its other games, including wins by Harvard, Penn and Dartmouth.

Three Four Thoughts:

1. Don’t be surprised if Providence wants a break from scheduling cross-town rival Brown. After the Bears won at home in 2012 and were tied in the final minute last season, they upset the Friars again on Monday, 77-67. This was the Brown team that many of us expected to challenge for top three in the Ivy League, combining balanced scoring (boosted by 10-for-23 three-point shooting) with strong all-around defense.

Brown battled Providence from the 9:15 local tip, exchanging runs to end the first half all square. After Providence went on a 6-0 run to tie the game again at 44-all midway through the second half, it felt like the Friars would continue pull away — but Cedric Kuakumensah and Leland King banged back-to-back threes, and Providence never led again. Steven Spieth was terrific down the stretch, scoring on pivotal drives and securing all his free throws. After avoiding turnovers (their chief flaw this season) for most of the game, the Bears made things interesting with late giveaways and silly fouls, but they held on.

For perspective: UConn was an eight-point favorite in its supposedly “embarrassing” loss to Yale. Providence was favored by twice that (15.5 points) against the struggling Bears.

2. Double-digit defeats don’t get much better than Columbia’s 56-46 loss at Kentucky on Wednesday. The Lions opened with an 11-0 run and led for the first 26 minutes, ultimately finishing with the closest score of Kentucky’s 11 opponents to date (including Kansas, Texas and North Carolina). The top-ranked Wildcats took over with a 19-5 run in the second half — rebounding all nine of their missed field goals in that nine-minute stretch — but not before getting a serious scare from the Lions, much as then-No. 2 Michigan State did last year.

Columbia naturally plays at a slow pace and shoots a lot of three-pointers, but Kyle Smith and the Lions took those tactics to the extreme with a textbook high-variance gameplan. Against the nation’s best shot-blockers, the visitors took more than half of their shots from behind the arc, making a higher percentage of threes (10-for-23) than layups (6-for-15). On defense, Columbia was aggressive with rotations and help defense, challenging the Wildcats to beat them with patience and extra passes. Above all, the Lions kept the pace to a Joe Scott-like crawl, minimizing Kentucky’s ability to pull away; the game clocked in at 51 possessions, five fewer than the next-slowest Ivy contest this year.

After the game, ESPN2 ran a two-minute segment on the Ivy League, including a graphic of “Notable Ivy Wins.” This isn’t your older cousin’s Ancient Eight.

3. Princeton used a similar formula on Saturday at Cal, making eight first-half threes en route to a 37-28 lead. But the Tigers’ outside shooting dried up after halftime, as they made just two of 11 triples thereafter. That drought contributed to a nine-minute scoreless streak, in which Cal took its first and only lead with a 13-0 run; more than half the hosts’ points in that stretch came off turnovers, as Princeton gave the ball away with overeager passes on backdoor cuts and post entries. A power-conference victory could have been a defining statement for the Tigers, on the heels of a loss to St. Peter’s; instead, they fell to 3-8, with clear potential but still few victories.

4. Nothing went right for Yale in its 85-47 loss at Florida on Monday. In a dramatic departure from their game at UConn, the Bulldogs failed to protect the rim and allowed a 50% offensive rebound rate; meanwhile, they shot just 34 percent from the floor. But on the Gators’ hottest shooting night of the season (10-for-19 from three), even a perfect game from Yale might not have been enough.

One Chart:


Data via Hoop-Math.com

NCAA shot location data isn’t perfect — in particular, the distinction between “layup” and “jumper” is subjective and prone to bias — but it’s useful as a directional guide. Just as they did last year, Princeton and Columbia are taking nearly half of their shots from three-point range, along with very few two-point jumpers. Meanwhile, Harvard (45%) and Penn (42%) are the league leaders in shots at the rim. One-third of Brown and Dartmouth’s shots have been two-point jumpers, while Yale and Cornell are also near that mark.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth — After playing his way back into shape from last year’s ACL injury, Maldunas appears to be back in form as Dartmouth’s go-to player. The senior posted double-doubles in both games this weekend, going for 13 points and 10 rebounds (plus five blocks) at UMass Lowell before adding 27 and 10 at Jacksonville State.

Rookie of the Week: Sam Jones, Penn — Jones became the latest Penn freshman to step up, knocking down five of six three-pointers en route to a game-high 19 points against Marist. After a slow opening game, Jones has made 14 of his last 25 treys, flashing a solid assist rate as well.

Looking Ahead: The schedule remains light, featuring only eight games as most Ivies finish exams. The headliner comes on Sunday, when Harvard visits 9-0 Virginia, which is ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 3 in KenPom. The other top contenders face interesting mid-major tests, with Yale visiting Vermont and Columbia hosting Hofstra.

Power Rankings:

  1. Harvard — What would the Harvard narrative be like if one more shot had fallen against Holy Cross? The Crimson could be 8-0 and still nationally ranked heading into Sunday’s game at Virginia, which would be a much bigger deal on the national landscape. One shot would be a tiny change in Harvard’s 500-possession body of work, and yet it would have had enormous implications. (Side note: Harvard was particularly unlucky that Agunwa Okolie missed that game, one of the few times Harvard has needed to play four guards.)
  2. Yale — The Bulldogs’ upset last week inspired a final exam question in a UConn probability course, which just happened to be taught by a Yale alumnus. Hopefully, no basketball players took the class.
  3. Columbia — Cory Osetkowski had a few nice-looking possessions at Kentucky: He shot 3-for-4 with six rebounds and two assists against the nation’s most intimidating frontcourt, adding three assists.
  4. Cornell — The Big Red was idle this week, returning to action at Radford on Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy Cornell hockey fans trying to throw a 10-foot teddy bear onto the rink.
  5. Princeton — Of Princeton’s current rotation players, only Clay Wilson, a low-usage shooter off the bench, is a senior; starting forward Hans Brase is a junior, and the remainder are underclassmen. Even if the Tigers’ fortunes don’t turn around this year, they’ll be a factor in the league going forward.
  6. Brown — There may not be a Rhode Island college basketball tournament, but the Bears are doing their best to play one anyway, facing all three Ocean State foes this month. After beating Bryant and Providence, Brown can complete the sweep at Rhode Island on the 31st.
  7. Penn — The Quakers have won three straight games, but they probably can’t count on future opponents shooting 21%, as Marist did on Tuesday.
  8. Dartmouth — The Big Green’s last five games have come against teams ranked below 250 in KenPom, and they are 2-3 in that stretch. Maldunas had a strong week and Dartmouth looked good at UMass Lowell, but it’s been a rough start overall.

Robert Morris Stuns Kentucky, Wins First Round of NIT

Less than one year ago, John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats were hoisting up the NCAA championship trophy as the best team in all of the land. On Tuesday night, the Wildcats’ season mercifully came to a close in Moon Township, of all places, with the Robert Morris Colonials stunning the defending NCAA champs, 59-57.

After winning the opening tip with 7’0″ center Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky failed to use their overwhelming length and athleticism to their advantage against the undersized, yet tenacious Colonials. Quite simply, Robert Morris out-hustled, out-toughed, and out-fought the bigger and more athletic Wildcats throughout. When it was all over, the Colonial Crazies, Robert Morris’ vociferous and passionate student section, may have become the first group of fans ever to storm the floor after a first round victory in the NIT. But it was well worth it, as Robert Morris gave the Northeast Conference its biggest victory in the history of the league.

Using the feverish crowd to their advantage, the Colonials raced out to a 10-0 lead, thanks in large part to some sharp shooting from the perimeter. (It’s like the Wildcat players forgot the game plan defensively – do not let these Colonials get open looks!) Anthony Myers-Pate, Coron Williams, and Russell Johnson each hit long, open jumpers to kick off the festivities. Eventually, Kentucky would find their bearings and inch their way back into the game, but Andy Toole’s group set the tone early. These Colonials would not be intimidated by a team fortified with top 50 recruits and former McDonald’s All Americans.

After a 10-2 run late in the first half gave the Wildcats their first lead, Robert Morris fought back to lead at halftime, 28-27. Kentucky may have worked their way back, but Calipari was none too pleased as he was walking into the visitor’s locker room for the break. He told the ESPN sideline reporter that his team was shying away from the physical battle Robert Morris had allowed the first half to become. The Wildcat players needed to be hungrier and tougher if they wanted to avoid the monster upset, in the coach’s opinion.

Whatever Calipari told his team at the half didn’t really work. All-NEC first teamer Velton Jones came out determined in the second stanza, rattling off six straight points to guide his Colonials back to a semi-comfortable advantage. If the nation didn’t know about the feisty bulldog of a point guard who hails from Philly, then they surely did now. This kid is something special, but you (as a NEC reader) already knew that.

Ironically, it wasn’t the athletic, yet passive Alex Poythress, or the freakish tall Cauley-Stein, or the versatile Kyle Wiltjer who kept the Wildcats in the game when things were looking bleak for Big Blue Nation. It was the seldom used Jarrod Polson who best matched Robert Morris’ energy on the floor. Calipari rewarded the junior – who had only played 33% of Kentucky’s available minutes this season – with 31 minutes of playing time, easily a season high. Polson finished with 10 points on five shots to go along with three assists versus only one turnover.

Despite Polson’s and Archie Goodwin’s efforts, Robert Morris extended their lead to as much as 13 points in the second half, after a Russell Johnson three-pointer. Suffice it to say, things were looking so promising for Robert Morris that the Colonial Crazies were beginning to plan the best route for court storming. (Heads up, press row!)

Kentucky, however, had one last spurt in them, as they embarked on a 17-4 run to cut the lead to one, 54-53, with only 3:18 remaining. In the midst of Kentucky’s furious rally, Lucky Jones made things a lot more difficult for Toole when he physically assaulted Goodwin on a fast break lay-up attempt. The foolish foul was called a flagrant two, and lead to Jones’ ejection from the game.

With the game once again in question, Velton Jones put his team on his shoulders and refused to let his storied career end on Tuesday night. After a now motivated Goodwin laid the ball in with only 44 seconds left to tie the contest, Jones fed a cutting Russell Johnson underneath the basket. Johnson’s shot was blocked by Cauley-Stein, but Mike McFadden was there for the offensive rebound. He was fouled attempting the put-back, but calmly under intense pressure, drilled both free throws. A wild three by Wiltjer fell short at the buzzer, sending The Chuck into a frenzy.

It was an improbably victory for Robert Morris, who now will await the winner of Providence and Charlotte. Even more improbable was Kentucky’s inability to take full advantage of their size and skill set. Cauley-Stein and Witjer combined to take ten shots (ten shots!), while the Wildcats only outrebounded Robert Morris by four caroms.

It was another balanced scoring effort for the Colonials, who registered 1.12 points per possession in the win. Seven players scored, led by Lucky Jones’ 15 points. Also fitting, Robert Morris was perfect at the line, draining all 14 of their free throw attempts. They surely needed every one of those to make history on Tuesday night.

We have a feeling Andy Toole will be giving a lot more interviews down the road.

For some postgame reaction and reading, we strongly suggest A Sea of Blue’s reaction to the loss, followed by some angry Blue Blue Nation comments.

Kentucky at Robert Morris Preview: A Q&A With A Sea Of Blue

I sat down with Glenn Logan of A Sea With Blue to ask a few questions about John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, who found themselves on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. Ken Pomeroy has them as the fifth best team to miss out on the Big Dance. As a result, Robert Morris will be hosting Kentucky in the first round of the NIT Tournament, since the Rupp Arena couldn’t find enough employees to operate a soda and popcorn machine tonight.

The Colonials will get a once in a lifetime opportunity to host the defending NCAA champions in their little 3,100 seat gym known as The Chuck. It should make for fascinating television on ESPN tonight at 7:30 PM! (For my answers to Glenn’s questions regarding Robert Morris, go here.)

Onto my Q&A with Glenn:

Ryan: With what you’ve seen regarding the team recently, do you expect them to be motivated to play at Robert Morris in a 3,100 seat gym? Will anyone on the team actually care, other than maybe Calipari’s family who may or may not still be in Moon Township?

A Sea of Blue: Honestly, this team is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates made manifest, and on steroids — you never know what you’re gonna get. Calipari doesn’t know, and if he doesn’t, there’s no way your humble correspondent and Kentucky blogger could divine what motivates this bunch. I know it’s a frustrating answer, and the truth is, some of them, and maybe all of them really do care, and will play their hearts out. I just can’t vouch for all of them, and even if they do care, their execution is so incredibly hit-or-miss, it’s just hard to say what will happen.

What I will say is that if an opposing squad is willing to consistently execute sharply and has a modicum of talent, they can beat this Kentucky team. But if you give the Wildcats confidence and let them get on a roll, they can crush almost anyone on a given night. It’s just about as impossible to predict as the weather around here. So you may see a bunch of future NBA players dunking and making shots and looking like the Miami Heat. Or, you might see a group that looks like an eccentric AAU team, throwing  the ball at random into the stands as if it were radioactive. Your guess is as good as mine, and I mean that in all sincerity.

Ryan: In your opinion, what have been the biggest reasons for Kentucky’s downfall late in the season? Obviously, things got worst with Noel’s knee injury, but was this team truly lacking a natural leader? Or do you feel their inconsistent guard play has led to their inconsistency?

A Sea of Blue: The biggest reason is simple — they can’t shoot. This team is incapable of consistently making a shot outside of eight feet.  If Archie Goodwin can’t get to the rim, he can’t score.  Alex Poythress can shoot, but he won’t. Julius Mays can shoot sometimes, but he’s undersized and needs help to get a shot. Kyle Wiltjer is in a season-long slump that shows no sign of abating. Ryan Harrow’s confidence is so fragile that if an opposing player calls him a dirty name, he’s likely to go 2 for 15.

Julius Mays tries to lead, and does a decent job. Unfortunately, the rest of them don’t seem to want to follow, and Julius just can’t be forceful enough to snap them out of their funk. Willie Cauley-Stein will play hard and do good things, but he’s raw and can’t shoot free throws. It’s just a mess.

Noel was such a huge intimidator in the paint. He made several teams so nervous with his shot blocking that they literally gave up, and tried to beat us with midrange shots. He was perhaps the greatest 6’10” athlete ever to stride the planet, and I mean that in all sincerity and with due respect to Dwight Howard. His quickness was not of this Earth. He was #10 in block % and #73 in steals % nationally, something never before seen in college basketball, and he didn’t even get to finish the season. His offensive game was raw, but a better shot blocker has never graced a college court. We would not be in the NIT if he were available. He could make teams quail just by taking the court, he was that threatening, and he played all out, all the time.

Kentucky’s guard play can best be described as follows: A quick, talented point guard with fragile confidence who’s as likely to pass the ball to get rid of it as to any real purpose, and a shooting guard of surpassing athletic talent who can’t shoot and turns the ball over 21% of his touches. The third guard is an undersized 2 guard who shoots it well, but can’t get his own shot.

Ryan: The Colonials lack players with any real size down low, so do you expect Calipari to exploit this mismatch agasinst Robert Morris with a heavy dose of Wiltjer, Poythress, and Cauley-Stein? Is there any way for a small team to counter Kentucky’s size?

A Sea of Blue: Calipari will try to exploit the Colonials size — who wouldn’t? Cauley-Stein is a superb athlete and 7’0″ tall, so we’re going to go to him early and often. Unfortunately, if you have enough fouls, you can just put him on the line, where he shoots under 50%. Alex Poythress is a shrinking violet, although if you don’t intimidate him early, he can lose his mind and go off for 20 and 12. He’s best described by Tubby Smith’s former quip about Kelenna Azibuike:  “Looks like Tarzan.  Plays like Jane.”

Goodwin is the one player that you can’t account for, because if he somehow realizes what you are doing, he can kill you by getting in the paint. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to know how to play under enough control to avoid help charges consistently, so if you can catch him a few times, you can get him in foul trouble. Also, if you don’t break Harrrow’s confidence down early, he can kill you getting into the paint and get on a roll shooting the ball. You don’t want that.

Ryan: Do you have a prediction for the game? Do you feel the Wildcats are in serious danger of getting upset?

A Sea of Blue: Honestly, I have nothing. We could win, or lose, by 20. This team is a mystery even to themselves, and there is simply no way I can predict anything about them.  Even Coach Cal has literally thrown up his hands and accepted the simple fact that he has a better chance of winning the Powerball Lottery than predicting what these guys will produce on a given night.

We beat one of the best teams in the nation the Saturday before last, then turned around six days later and got blown out by a 16-16 team that was even younger than we are, and the game was never close. This Kentucky team could probably confound God himself, and therefore any prediction is far beyond my humble intellect.

Thanks again to Glenn for stopping by and be sure to follow A Sea of Blue on Twitter here. And don’t forget to tune in tonight, in what will be the most important game Robert Morris has ever played on its Moon Township campus. Rocky, meet Apollo Creed!

LIU to play at Kentucky on Black Friday

Did you enjoy watching LIU Brooklyn play Michigan State during the NCAA tournament? Did you wish that you could see the Blackbirds take on eventual national champions Kentucky instead? Well this season you’ll get your chance. In a game that should look at a lot like a 1/16 match-up, LIU is going to head to Rupp Arena to  take on John Calipari’s latest version of super freshmen. The game is on November 23, which conveniently is Black Friday. Can LIU pull the upset if Kentucky is hungover after eating too much turkey? Probably not, but it should be a great challenge for the Blackbirds and a nice part of non-conference schedule that’s shaping up to be an impressive slate.

RSCI Top 100 Cs 2004-2012

I looked at RSCI Top 100 point guards for the past seven years on Sunday. I had so much fun taking a high level look at what was going on I decided to run the numbers for the rest of the positions that are used to classify recruits. Centers are always an interesting case. A lot of players you might think of as a power forward get classified as a center, but this group also includes players like Greg Oden and Dwight Howard. For the sake of complete analysis I’ve included the incoming 2012 class into the data now as well.

Continue reading “RSCI Top 100 Cs 2004-2012”

What do similarity scores say about the top seeds?

When picking a bracket everyone wants to know how good the top seeds are. Which ones should make the Final Four? Go even further? Right now the standard answer seems to be Kentucky. What team though is the one you shouldn’t trust? I used similarity scores to try and determine both the strongest and weakest of the top eight seeds in the tournament this season.

Continue reading “What do similarity scores say about the top seeds?”