November 3, 2006

Ivy League Preview: Quakers Seek Three-peat

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Coming off its second straight Ivy championship, Penn again heads the pack in the race for an NCAA tournament birth. Yet, in a league where the outcome of every game is in question — as evidenced by Penn’s loss last season to Columbia, one of the two teams at the bottom of the standings — there will be no shortage of challengers for the Ancient Eight’s top spot.

Pennsylvania Quakers
2005-06: 20-8, 12-2 Ivy

Last year’s Ivy champs enter the season with a new head coach but the same expectation of success. Although the Quakers will miss former head coach Fran Dunphy and his 10 Ivy League titles, they will have leading scorer and 2005-06 Ivy League Player of the Year, senior Ibrahim Jaaber, to ease the pain. Jaaber returns to lead Penn on its quest for a third-consecutive NCAA tournament birth.Also returning with Jaaber are two dangerous members of a versatile Quaker frontcourt. While each can score, 6-7 senior Mark Zoller led Penn in rebounding last season and his partner, 6-8 senior Steve Danley, led the team in assists and blocks.

The biggest weakness of this team is the lack of depth, as Miller has little to choose from to fill in for graduated 3-point threat Eric Osmundson and academically-ineligible junior David Whitehurst.

The consensus pick to win the league, Penn should be aided this season by a grueling non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Villanova and St. Joe’s.

Cornell Big Red
2005-06: 13-15, 8-6

See other Supplement articles for an in-depth preview of the 2006-07 men’s basketball team.

Princeton Tigers
2005-06: 12-15, 10-4

Coming off a second-place finish in the league and a season-ending overtime victory against Ivy champ Penn, the Tigers enter the season loaded with confidence and experience.

Nine out of 10 Tigers who averaged 15 minutes per game last season return.

One of those players is junior captain Justin Conway, whose emergence helped the Tigers turn around a dismal non-conference season. The 6-4 walk-on center’s ability to distribute the ball should continue to create matchup problems that will open up shots for junior Noah Savage — the team’s leading scorer a year ago — along with sharp-shooters junior Kyle Koncz and senior Luke Owings. If the Tigers can rebound and take care of the ball, they will be a tough test for any Ivy foe.

Columbia Lions
2005-06: 11-16, 4-10

Last year’s Lions were a testament to the mercurial nature of Ivy League basketball, as they were able to complete a February weekend sweep of Penn and Princeton — the league’s best two teams last season — while also surrendering a season series to fellow cellar dwellers Dartmouth.

This season, Columbia returns a young but experienced team almost completely intact. The Lions also boast one of the best frontcourts in the league consisting of juniors Ben Nwachuku (10.5 ppg) and John Baumann (13.7 ppg).

Columbia’s big men are complemented by last year’s Ivy assists leader, junior Brett Loscalzo, as well as junior Justin Armstrong, who hit three game-winning shots in 2005-06.

If the Lions can avoid injuries and take care of the ball — they had the best turnover margin in the Ivies last year — they could be the team poised to make the biggest jump in the standings.

Brown Bears
2005-06: 10-17, 6-8

While the Bears enter the season with an intact starting lineup, they are without seven-year head coach Glenn Miller, who headed across state lines to take over the reins at Penn.

Fortunately for Brown, junior Keenan Jeppesen, its leading scorer last season, was deprived of the opportunity to follow Miller when his transfer request was denied. He therefore will return to lead a deep Bears frontcourt that includes six returning players.

Returning to the Brown’s backcourt is former Ivy League Rookie of the Year and second-leading scorer junior Damon Huffman, who had 10.8 points per game last season. So too is senior point guard Marcus Becker, who isyet to miss a game in three seasons.

Under new head coach Craig Robinson, the Bears should be able to improve upon its league-worst 59.7 points per game last season and make a run at a .500 record.

Yale Bulldogs
2005-06: 15-14, 7-7

In one of the most unpredictable leagues in the nation, Yale is a mark of reliability, having attained a league record of .500 or better in each of the last six seasons. The team’s consistency should carry over into the 2006-2007 season as the Bulldogs return four starters and seven players who averaged at least 16 minutes per game last season.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, those numbers do not count graduated All-Ivy center Dominick Martin, who led the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game and rebounding with 7.1 boards per outing last season.

Without teams drawn to Martin in the post, Yale will have to rely on a host of athletic big men, led by 6-7 senior captain Sam Kaplan, as well as junior guard Eric Flato, to inject athleticism into the Bulldogs’ motion offense.

Harvard Crimson
2005-06: 13-14, 5-9

After getting off to a 10-5 start last season and winning four out of its first five games against Ivy League opponents, the Crimson hit an eight-game losing streak that sent it to the bottom-half of the Ivy standings.

This season does not seem any more promising for the Crimson, as it lost first-team All-Ivy forward Matt Stehle to graduation and will be without senior Brian Cusworth for its conference play as the 7-0 center will use his last semester of eligibility this fall.

In order to stay competitive, Harvard will depend on its veteran starting backcourt — including last year’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, senior Jim Goffredo — to anchor an otherwise inexperienced group that has only four players who averaged more than six minutes per game.

If Harvard can take care of the ball — the Crimson averaged a league-worst 0.68 assist-to-turnover ratio last season — it may be able to reach .500 in Ivy play. But the Crimson won’t compete for the top spot.

Dartmouth Big Green
2005-06: 4-10, 6-21

Last year’s bottom dwellers don’t seem to be poised to make an enormous leap up the league standings, as the Green may have actually become weaker than the team that lost 13 of its first 15 games last season. Dartmouth — a team that already had difficulty rebounding and putting points on the board — lost its leading rebounder when junior forward Chuck Flynn quit the team during the summer as well as its high scorer, Mike Lang ’06.

As a result, the Green will look to former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, senior Leon Pattman, to carry the offensive load for a team that features question marks at nearly every position.

However, if sophomore Marlon Sanders can return from his year-long suspension to command the floor at point guard and freshman Elgin Fitzgerald can use his 6-9 frame to provide a tough inside presence, the Green could surprise many opponents and possibly finish in the middle of the league standings.