November 21, 2003

Climbing Ivy

Print More

The next generation of Ivy League stars will take center stage this season after a highly talented Class of 2003 departed last season. Gone are Ugonna Onyekwe, Koko Archibong, Earl Hunt, Alai Nuualiitia, Chris Leanza, and Brady Merchant. Here to take their places, though, are the likes of Jeff Schiffner, Judson Wallace, Ka’Ron Barnes, and Matt Minoff. The Ancient Eight could be in for one of its most exciting seasons yet in 2003-04.

Pennsylvania Quakers

(22-6, 14-0 Ivy; 1st)

There is no question that losing the dominant pair of Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong will hurt the Quakers, but make no mistake, Fran Dunphy’s squad remains the favorite to win its third straight Ivy title. Unanimous All-Ivy first teamer Jeff Schiffner takes the reins as Penn’s go-to guy this season, and will be joined by Tim Begley to form the Ancient Eight’s most formidable back court.

Schiffner was one of three unanimous All-Ivy selections last season (the others were Onyekwe and Brown’s Earl Hunt) and has the most accurate outside shot in the nation. He shot 49.3 percent from 3-point range, but will need to do a better job getting shots from short range this season.

Adam Chubb and Jan Fikiel comprise an inexperienced frontcourt, and will look to provide more of a defensive presence than contribute on offense.

The Quakers’ greatest strength, though, will be their deep bench. A highly touted recruiting class as well as veterans Patrick Lang and Conor Tolan will provide much-needed support to Penn’s retooled starting five.

In addition, a talented freshman class will help Dunphy continue his traditionally consistent program. Three skilled frontcourters join the team this season, all of whom have been very impressive in the preseason. These include 6-9 Ryan Pettinella, 6-8 Steve Danley, and 6-6 Mark Zoller.

Yale Bulldogs

(14-13, 8-6; 4th)

Head coach James Jones’ first recruiting class comes of age this season for the Bulldogs, as the coach’s original five recruits will all graduate at year’s end. There is added urgency, then to perform this season. Yale graduated three of the key ingredients to the squad’s first back-to-back winning seasons in over 10 years. However, the starting backcourt will return Edwin Draughan and 2002 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gamboa, who will reclaim the starting point guard role after sitting in favor of a healthy Chris Leanza last year.

Gamboa will look to return to his freshman season form to help lead the Bulldogs in their quest for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Gamboa is an excellent scorer, but will have to adjust his game, as he has been termed as a predictable player by some opponents who note his tendency to favor his right hand.

Draughan is also a highly skilled player, though one who had a tendency to be a bit too passive last season. With his increased scoring responsibilities this year, the junior will have to improve his mental toughness to be the threat Yale needs him to be.

In the front court, Paul Vitelli and a bulked-up Matt Minoff return for their senior seasons, and will look to remain healthy and demonstrate more consistency than they did last season. Vitelli enters the season healthy after suffering through a series of injuries over the past two years. He will need to stay that way in order for the Bulldogs to emerge as the type of offensive player he could be.

In the middle, the Elis will feature Dominick Martin, a 6-10 transfer from Princeton. Since his last Ivy action two years ago, Martin has added about 15 pounds of muscle and a lot more skill to his game. While his offensive talent was evident during his go-round in New Jersey, his defense was then and remains now a question mark. Martin replaces All-Ivy honorable mention T.J. McHugh, who had adeptly anchored the Eli frontcourt for the previous three years.

The Bulldogs also boast a strong bench, led by senior Scott Gaffield and juniors Josh Hill and Mark Lovett.

Cornell Big Red

(9-18, 4-10; T-5th)

Steve Donahue’s Red is among the most experienced teams in the Ancient Eight. After several seasons of cellar-dwelling, Cornell appears to be primed for a breakout year. At least that’s what Street and Smith’s, the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, Athlon, and Lindy’s says…

Princeton Tigers

(16-11, 10-4; 3rd)

Head coach John Thompson III sees several similarities between this Tiger squad and the one that won the Ivy League championship in 2000-01. A lot will have to go right at Old Nassau for this prophesy to come true. Led by Ed Persia and Will Venable, Princeton boasts a strong back court, and center Judson Wallace is one of the league’s more versatile inside presences. However, the Tigers will play a very challenging schedule, including road games against Duke, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.

In addition, Princeton will be forced to overcome some off-court distractions that have seem to become commonplace over the last several months. After forward Spencer Gloger was forced to leave the team in February due to falling below academic standards and a plethora of transfer rumors surrounding Andre Logan, the team learned on Oct. 17 that Logan would be out for at least two months after tearing several ligaments in his hand in an incident on campus.

However, the Tigers are a strong, athletic, dangerous team, so to count them out of the title hunt would not be wise.

Brown Bears

(17-12, 12-2; 2nd)

One season after advancing to the NIT, the Bears will be hard pressed to make a repeat appearance. While Brown does return the Ivy League’s most electrifying guard in junior Jason Forte, the losses of guard Earl Hunt and forward Alai Nuualiitia — two of Brown’s top three all-time scorers — will be too difficult to overcome. This deficiency was made all the more glaring last week, when junior G.J. King left the team. The 6-7 guard was not so much an impact player as an experienced, knowledgeable presence in the frontcourt.

Much of the responsibility for compensating for the absence of Hunt will fall on senior guard Patrick Powers, who is an excellent shooter with a propensity to produce big scoring games. Powers will join Forte and senior Mike Martin in a revamped backcourt. Powers is a talented shooter, but will need to overcome last season’s inconsistency if he is to make an impact. Martin is expected to return in late December following an extremely rapid recovery from an ACL tear he suffered last February.

Senior Jaime Kilburn will look to make up for Nuualiitia’s scoring in the low post. Kilburn averaged 7.3 points per game in limited time on the floor, as he shot a sparkling 66.2 percent from the floor. Despite giving up several inches to many of his counterparts at center, Kilburn is a tough, aggressive player whom head coach Glen Miller will depend upon.

Kilburn is joined in the frontcourt by Luke Ruscoe, a 6-8 Australian who has extraordinary athletic ability. The sophomore was thrust into the starting lineup by the unexpected departure of King from the team last week. Ruscoe showed his talent last season, but will need to improve on his outside shooting, which was at best inconsistent and at worst anemic.

Dartmouth Big Green

(8-19, 4-10; T-5th)

Years of sharing occupancy in the Ivy cellar could be near the end for Dartmouth, which has slowly worked to develop a deep, experienced roster. Of the Green’s nine juniors and sophomores, several already have substantial playing experienc
e, including the starting front court of Steve Callahan, Mike Lang, and Mike McLaren. The trio of returners should account for much of the Green’s offense this coming season. Callahan is a solid shooter and a fundamentally sound playmaker. Both Lang and McLaren are regarded as hardworkers in basketball circles throughout the Ancient Eight.

In addition, senior center Scott Klingbeil provides a solid presence down low and has already shown a propensity to deliver when the pressure is on, as evidenced by his clutch late-game free throws against Columbia last season.

A serious challenge for the Green to overcome though, will be the inevitable distraction provided by the very public discussion of head coach Dave Faucher’s future in Hanover. While the coach ultimately did stay with the team, it remains to be seen what the effect on morale will be.

Harvard Crimson

(12-15, 4-10; T-5th)

The Crimson turns over 80 percent of its starting lineup. ‘Nough said. Among the team’s losses are the Ivy League’s all-time assist leader (Elliott Prasse-Freeman), the league-leading rebounder of last season (Sam Winter), and Harvard’s 12th leading all-time scorer (Patrick Harvey). Expected to step up for the Crimson will be junior captain Jason Norman and sophomore center Brian Cusworth, each of whom saw significant time down the stretch last year.

Cusworth came into his own late in the season and appears to be on the verge of blossoming into one of the league’s true stars. He is a legitimate seven-footer — a true rarity in the Ivy League — and possesses good shooting skills, though he can stand a lot of improvement in his consistency.

As head coach Frank Sullivan works to develop many of the squad’s undoubtedly talented younger players, many question marks remain, and some growing pains are inevitable.

Columbia Lions

(2-25, 0-14; 8th)

After a season in which everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong, Columbia will start anew this season, as head coach Joe Jones — the younger brother of Yale head man James Jones — begins his tenure on Morningside Heights. Fortunately for Jones, he inherited a young, athletic team from his predecessor, Armond Hill.

Twelve players return for the Lions, including guards Tito Hill, who played in all 27 of Columbia’s games last season, and leading returning scorer Jeremiah Boswell. Jones also brings in five newcomers, two of whom are walk-ons.

However, though a repeat of last season’s dismal 2-25 record is highly unlikely, so is a substantial improvement in the team’s fortunes. The Lions simply lack skilled players at several positions. The graduation of Chris Widemann and Marco McCottry severely limits Columbia’s offensive threat and inside defensive presence.

Nevertheless, it should be fun to watch Jones’ young troops this year, as they begin the building process that many at Columbia hope will culminate in a consistently competitive program.

Archived article by Owen Bochner