Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ivy League Preview


The Ivy League title was never really in question last season, as Pennsylvania won their first seven conference games and ended with a 12-2 record after struggling mightily during non-league play. Princeton was in contention for awhile, but the Tigers faltered somewhat during the middle part of the league season to give the Quakers the title. In the NCAA Tournament, Penn drew #2 seed Texas but gave a valiant effort, leading for part of the second half before succumbing to the Longhorns' superior talent. This season in the Ivy will not look very different than most of the previous years, with Penn and Princeton the top two contenders--again.

Favorite: Pennsylvania, the two-time defending league champions, come into the season as the favorite once again. Ibrahim Jaaber is one of the main reasons why. The Ivy Player of the Year can score from anywhere on the court, either driving to the basket or shooting from the outside. He is nearly unstoppable on the offensive end. Moreover, he creates havoc on defense, locking down opponents. He is also on the verge of breaking the conference record for all-time steals. The Quakers don't end with Jaaber, though. Forward Mark Zoller is another all-conference player, and provides an excellent inside option to take some of the pressure off of Jaaber. Steve Danley is difficult to match-up with on offense. He can score inside and out and also led the conference in assists last season. Brian Grandieri is a nice complement to Jaaber in the backcourt. Tommy McMahon and Kevin Egee are solid role players that will see added minutes this season.

Contenders: Princeton, as they have seemingly have been forever, will be in the running for the conference title. They return four starters, including potential all-conference wing Noah Savage. He is a very solid all-around player that can shoot the ball from deep and perform well in a variety of ways. Justin Conway is a versatile forward who is poised to earn all-league honors this season. He played one career minute halfway through last season, but ended up starting the last 13 games of the season. Luke Owings and Kyle Koncz are two more players that fit well into Princeton's system. Edwin Buffmire will contribute off the bench once again. Moreover, two freshmen are coming in that will make an immediate impact in Marcus Schroeder and Zach Finley. Brown leads a group of teams that are waiting to break into the Penn-Princeton hold on the Ivy crown. They return all five starters, as well as several key reserves from last season. All-conference wing Keenan Jeppesen leads the way. He is a very good all-around player that can score and rebound well, and is also an excellent on-ball defender. Damon Huffman and Marcus Becker join him on the perimeter. Huffman is a double-figure scorer, while Becker is a solid distributor. Up front, Scott Friske and Mark MacDonald anchor the troops. Friske is a decent scorer, while MacDonald is a versatile big man that can pass. Chris Skrelja is a developing forward that will contribute off the bench. Columbia, like the Bears, return all five starters. The Lions went only 4-10 last season and finished tied for last, but there is a lot of depth and talent in the lineup. John Baumann and Ben Nwachukwu form one of the best inside duos in the conference. Baumann is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, and he is a versatile offensive player. Nwachukwu is very tough down low and can become a dominant post player this season. Point guard Brett Loscalzo led the Ivy in assists per game, and returns to distribute the ball to all of Columbia's weapons. K.J. Matsui is a very good three-point shooter, while wing Mack Montgomery is a solid scorer. Justin Armstrong is arguably the league's best sixth man.

Sleepers: Yale has the potential to make some real noise this season in the Ivy, even with the loss of their top scorer from a year ago in center Dominick Martin. Eric Flato leads the way. The 6-1 guard is one of the league's top perimeter players due to his all-around player. He can shoot well from long-range and is also an adept passer and defender. Casey Hughes has a chance to have a breakout season this year on the wing, while the twins Caleb and Nick Holmes are good scorers. Sam Kaplan is a very good inside player and is very efficient scoring the ball. Ross Morin could step into the starting lineup to fill Martin's shoes. Cornell finished third in the conference last season, but could be hard-pressed to repeat that spot in the standings. They return Ivy Rookie of the Year Adam Gore, who is one of the league's best guards. He is an outstanding three-point shooter who can also score and rebound well. Graham Dow runs the point for the Big Red, although freshman Louis Dale III will push for minutes. A very good frontcourt duo also returns. Andrew Naeve has the potential to have an all-league season. He is a very good rebounder and is one of the best shot-blockers in the conference. Jason Hartford is a good scorer and rebounder down low as well.

Rounding Out the Pack: Harvard was expected to push Penn and Princeton last season in the Ivy race but had a disappointing finish to the season, ending in sixth place and below .500 overall. The Crimson return one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference. Jim Goffredo is a likely all-Ivy selection this year at the guard position. He is an ouststanding scorer who can shoot the ball well from the perimeter. On the inside is 7-footer Brian Cusworth. He has the potential to be a dominant big man, but will only play the first 18 games of the season as a result of a leave of absence he took earlier in his career. It's too bad Harvard won't have him for much of the conference season. Evan Harris is going to have to step up in the frontcourt, as will Kenyon Churchwell. Drew Housman is a very steady point guard, finishing fourth in the conference in assists and scoring in double-figures. Jeremy Lin will contribute on the perimeter. Dartmouth finished tied for last in the conference last year and went only 6-21 overall, but they are a young team that is still developing. Three starters return, as do several role players that were key contributors off the bench. Jonathan Ball is an excellent defender that should improve his offensive production this season. Leon Pattman came off the bench last season but averaged in double-figures and will likely start. Michael Giovacchini is another solid player on the perimeter. Devon Mosley and Marlon Sanders provide depth. Up front, Chuck Flynn returns as a starter. He will become a go-to-guy in the frontcourt, and needs to increase his numbers. Freshman Elgin Fitzgerald and JC transfer Kurt Graeber will see immediate time down low.

Prediction: The Ivy League will look very similar this season to the way it did last year. Pennsylvania comes in as the heavy favorite, led by Player of the Year Ibrahim Jaaber and all-conference forward Mark Zoller. They form the league's best inside-outside combo and that is usually more than most teams in the conference can handle. Princeton always gives the Quakers trouble, but they simply don't have the talent and scorers that Penn has heading into the season. Expect Penn to win the automatic bid and receive better than a #15 seed this season.

Player of the Year: Ibrahim Jaaber, PG, Penn

All-Conference Team:
G- Ibrahim Jaaber, Penn
G- Jim Goffredo, Harvard
F- Mark Zoller, Penn
F- John Baumann, Columbia
F- Keenan Jeppesen, Brown

Second Team:
G- Eric Flato, Yale
G- Adam Gore, Cornell
F- Noah Savage, Princeton
C- Ben Nwachukwu, Columbia
C- Steve Danley, Penn

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