November 5, 2004

Same Ole, Same Ole

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Every year, teams and players throughout the Ivy League enter the season with the knowledge that expecting the unexpected is simply part of the job. This year is no different. Sure, there are the favorites — the teams and players everyone anticipates will step up and shine as the season goes on — but there will also undoubtedly be the surprises. And in the Ancient Eight, the last remaining Division I conference to not hold a conference tournament, the so-called surprises can make all the difference.

Princeton Tigers
2003-04: (20-8, 13-1)

The Good: Princeton is stacked with talent. A season ago, the Tigers pretty much rolled to a conference championship on the backs of first-team All-Ivy players such as center Judson Wallace and guard Will Venable. Both will return. In fact, the vast majority of the Princeton roster will be back (the only losses are the graduated Ed Persia, and Harrison Schaen, who left the team for academic reasons), providing some stability to the beginning of new coach Joe Scott’s tenure.

The Bad: Once again, Princeton’s non-conference schedule is loaded. The Tigers will open the season early at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, in which they could possibly face off against Syracuse in the second round. They will also visit Temple and Duke before the start of league play. If there is a point in the season when the Tigers could unravel under the pressure of learning a new coach’s system, this is the time.

The Ugly: Schaen becomes the second notable academic casualty in three years within the Princeton program. At a school known to have a “summer camp” type atmosphere for varsity athletes, this cannot bode well.

Pennsylvania Quakers
2003-04: (17-10, 10-4)

The Good: For 10 long days in August, the Penn basketball community sweated it out as Philadelphia rival La Salle courted long-time head coach Fran Dunphy to take over a La Salle program rocked by scandal. The bated breath ended on Aug. 18, though, when Dunphy announced that his decision was to remain with his employer of 15 years rather than return to his alma mater. Dunphy is the most respected coach in the Ivy League, and he might just rank up there with the most firmly-entrenched names in the country.

The Bad: The Quakers have witnessed a slow but steady defection of talent over the past two years. First, the high-flying trio of Ugonna Onekywe, Koko Archibong, and Andrew Toole graduated. Then the dynamic scoring pair of Jeff Schiffner and Adam Chubb took their turn walking across the stage. This year’s Penn team is left with only two starters from last season. Although the team returns seven seniors, the only one with significant experience is starting point guard Tim Begley.

The Ugly: Begley is very good, a two-time All-Ivy selection, in fact. But he is clearly Penn’s go-to guy, and will certainly draw the majority of opponents’ defensive attention, especially with top scorers such as Schiffner and Chubb lost to graduation.

Brown Bears
2003-04: (14-13, 10-4)

The Good: Jason Forte is arguably the best league-game player in Ivy League history. Last year’s Ivy player of the year as a junior, Forte became the first player in the history of the conference to lead it in points and assists the same season. In addition to putting up gaudy numbers though, Forte is known for his tremendous court vision and passing ability. Last season he proved that he can change the complexion of a game on any given night. One more year of experience makes him all the more dangerous.

The Bad: Brown’s only other returning starter is Luke Ruscoe, a 6-7 junior guard. Ruscoe was the Bears’ fifth-leading scorer last year, but never quite made a case for himself as a reliable option. He averaged only 8.1 points per game, but does have some long range ability, as he shot 41 percent from beyond the arc last year.

The Ugly: The Bears have made a legitimate push to become a perennial contender in the league standings over the past several seasons. However, this is the youngest and most inexperienced Brown squad in quite some time. With 13 of the 15 players on the roster underclassmen, this season can quickly turn into a disaster for the Bears.

Cornell Big Red
2003-04: (11-16, 6-8)

The Good: The Red returns a very strong frontcourt, anchored by senior Eric Taylor, junior Lenny Collins and junior transfer Ryan Rourke. Rourke also anchors what is hands-down the best recruiting class in the Ivy League this year.

The Bad: With unanimous All-Ivy first teamer Ka’Ron Barnes ’04 departed, Cornell will struggle to fill in the gaps at point guard.

The Ugly: In close games last year, Cornell just couldn’t cut it, collapsing in overtime on a couple of occasions, and losing six games by five points or less. There was also that 5-0 league start that quickly devolved into a 6-8 finish.

Yale Bulldogs
2003-04: (12-15, 7-7)

The Good: Yale brought in an excellent recruiting class this year, led by twins Nick and Caleb Holmes from Springfield, Mo. The brothers led their high school team to a 67-5 record over the past three years, and as versatile 6-6 swingmen, add immediate depth to the Eli bench. Additionally, freshman Eric Flato joined Caleb Holmes as a McDonalds All-America nominee.

The Bad: How quickly the mighty have fallen. In 2001-02, the Bulldogs were the Cinderella story of the Ivy League. After seemingly coming from nowhere to win a share of the Ivy League title and the first postseason victory in school history, it’s all been downhill for James Jones’ squad. Last season, the Bulldogs dropped down below .500 overall on the season, as well as a disappointing 7-7 in conference play, including embarrassing losses to Harvard and Columbia. Only two players remain from the 2002 championship team — Alex Gamboa and Edwin Draughan.

The Ugly: Fundamentals often eluded Yale last season. The Bulldogs only shot 67 percent from the free-throw line, which played a big role in the team’s three overtime losses and two others by five points or less.

Columbia Lions
2003-04: (10-17, 6-8)

The Good: It took Joe Jones all of 13 games last year to double 2002-03’s win total. Though very little was expected of the Lions during the Ivy season, they apparently didn’t get the memo, and turned an awful 0-14 record into a highly respectable 6-8 finish. The pressure will be on the Lions to continue that monumental turnaround this season, and behind All-Ivy candidate Matt Preston, Columbia seems up to the challenge.

The Bad: The Armond Hill era in Mourningside Heights left the program in shambles. While Jones attempts to pick up the pieces and build something respectable, he still has a very long road ahead. While the team has a lot of size and some experience, there are very few impact players, something that Jones and his staff are continuing to address.

The Ugly: Light blue? Please.

Harvard Crimson
2003-04: (4-23, 3-11)

The Good: The Crimson has a couple of high-caliber players up front in Brian Cusworth and Matt Stehle. Cusworth, a 7-0 center, returns after missing all of last season due to injury. He showed during his 2002-03 freshman season that he could be a legitimate threat in the post, averaging 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Stehle was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last year after leading the team in rebounds, blocks, steals, and field goal percentage.

The Bad: Harvard went from being the most experienced team in the league in 2002-03 to its least last year. Its youth and greenness showed in its record. While there are significantly more miles on the Crimson’s legs this season, this is still an incredibly unproven team that will have to fight hard for everything it gets this season.

The Ugly: Head coach Frank Sullivan doesn’t seem too interested in challenging the team too much during the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Crimson’s toughest opponents will be Notre Dame, Boston University and Lehigh, none of whom are particularly world-beaters.

Dartmouth Big Green
2003-04: (3-25, 1-13)

The Good
: Ivy League rookie of the year Leon Pattman was about the lone bright spot on the Dartmouth roster last season. With a year of experience under his belt and the opportunity to take a leadership role as new head coach Terry Dunn attempts to lead the team on a resurgence, Pattman can prove himself as one of the more exciting players in the league.

The Bad: Just about everything that could have gone poorly for the Green last year did. Dartmouth did begin its conference season undefeated — it snuck past Harvard in the league opener for both teams — but then everything just stopped working. The Green was hit particularly hard by the injury bug. Senior guard Steve Callahan alone has endured three knee surgeries. Juniors Calvin Arnold, Jason Meyer, and Mike Lang, and sophomore Paul Bode all missed significant time last year due to injuries.

The Ugly: Former head coach Dave Faucher was fired in mid-February last season, making him a lame-duck head coach for the season’s final six games. The Green then spent a lot of off-season time ironing out the issues that accompany that turn of events.

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor