If you were to put odds on the league that would have the most off-season drama, I don't know if you would have given the Ivy more than a plodder's chance of taking the title.
But the boys at Harvard came from quite a few lengths back to set this coming season on a different course. After an academic scandal knocked out the top two players on the Crimson, the Ivy has suddenly become wide-open.
Instead, the bottom of the rankings are fluid. I could have chosen from about five different players to fill the ranks, and probably should have looked at choosing at least one player from both Penn and Yale, two teams that didn't land anyone in the top 10.
But after Penn lost Mid-Major Madness favorite Zack Rosen and Yale was left without Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite, there wasn't a lot to choose from on either squad. The cupboards aren't bare (especially so at Yale, which has a bunch of young talent), but no one has distinguished themselves enough for us to pull the trigger.
The odd thing is that there isn't a strong base of talent here. Unlike some of the conferences we have looked at with the HOOPWAR ratings, there isn't a lot of returning value. Yet the conference will begin the season as the 12th best league in the Pomeroy ratings. That is saying something about the potential of the players here.
The Ivy has always been known for its strong older players. But that is changing as we see underclassmen taking the lead at a number of schools -- Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell will all be lead by underclassmen. Could it be that we are in for a renaissance of the hallowed institutions that make up this league?
Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let's remember that these players still have a long way to go before being on par with even the third best player at some of the schools out there. Instead, let's keep it all in perspective. The league is young, but talented, and with the right combination of luck and skill, a team could make a big jump given the strife hitting the Crimson.
And that is exactly where we begin, with two players who lost their leaders in the off-season.
10. Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard
9. Laurent Rivard, Harvard - With Curry and Casey out, the best two players on Harvard were Rivard and Moundou-Missi, two players with almost opposite profiles, but worth about the same amount for the Crimson. Moundou-Missi excelled on the defensive end, turning in a 14.3 DEF100, but was basically average on the offensive side. Rivard was the opposite, excelling in almost every offensive category, including from beyond the 3-point line. Plus he was slightly above average on the defensive side of the ball. Rivard gets the nod here in the close race at the bottom of the rankings because Harvard is going to need him to continue being dead-eye from long range. He hit 41 percent of his 3-point shots last season, and will need to repeat that while keeping up his efficiency with extra possessions. That Harvard could have had four different players that were worth more than a win on the court coming back this year says a lot for why they were so highly favored. Moundou-Missi and Rivard could still lead the Crimson to big accomplishments, but one of the two will have to take a big step forward to fill the holes left by the two captains. That said, Tommy Amaker still landed two players on this list -- a big testament to the change he is making to the makeup of this league.
8. Jvonte Brooks, Dartmouth - Brooks should be celebrated from his free throw shooting alone. The sophomore forward shot 154 free throws during his freshman campaign and attempted just 171 field goals. That was good enough to lead the country in getting to the foul line. He shot almost 79 percent while there, which helped him lead the Big Green in scoring last year. He will be a big part of the offense again, and hopefully for more than just foul shots. Dartmouth is a young squad, but between Brooks and another sophomore on this list, they have the building blocks of a strong inside game. Brooks generated 1.6 wins of the five that Dartmouth recorded last year, but he could be worth almost two times that this year. That bodes well for the Big Green to move up in the standings.
7. Shonn Miller, Cornell - Miller won rookie of the year honors in the Ivy League last season, and a lot of that was based on how much he was asked to do for the Big Red out of the gate. Miller isn't a great shooter, but according to coach Bill Courtney, he is working on it. His biggest talent comes on the defensive side of the ball where he turned in a 19.5 DEF100 score, among the best marks in the league. That is a strong number for any player, let alone a freshman. Plus his 2.2 HW30 made him an easy choice for this list. The Big Red will go as far as Miller can take them -- he is the only positive value player returning for Cornell this season. It remains to be seen what that exactly means given the loss of Chris Wroblewski at guard. Miller's talent though shouldn't be denied.
6. Mack Darrow, Princeton - Darrow was one of the more efficient offensive players in the country last year. That is helpful considering that star Ian Hummer was not. Darrow is the strong second choice inside for the Tigers. He will need to continue his strong shooting to complement what Hummer provides on the defensive side. That will be especially important from long range, even though Darrow is 6-9. If this strong ranking for Darrow is to come true this season (beyond his 2.7 HW30), he will need to do more to improve what was already a strong showing by the junior. He will need to become a strong leader when Hummer is on the bench, and turn that into more quality possessions for the Tigers.
5. Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth - The other sophomore forward for Dartmouth isn't going to win any shooting contests. Even at 6-8, Maldunas shot just 43.6 percent from inside the arc, while taking almost 25 percent of the available shots while on the floor. That crushed him in terms of efficiency. But Maldunas was a strength on the opposite end of the floor, including off the boards. He blocked 5.5 percent of the shots he faced (38 overall). All of that defense and the offense he was able to generate gave him a total of 3.6 on the HOOPWAR scale, which basically had him combining with Brooks for the five wins for the Big Green. If Dartmouth can get any contributions from the rest of the young team, they could possibly get to double digits in wins this season.
4. Mark Cisco, Columbia - Cisco is the inside man for the Lions, and he turned out a lot of great numbers during his junior season. His presence, plus Brian Barbour's outside work, should have Columbia competing for the Ivy crown given the Harvard losses. Cisco was one of the country's best shooters. He was one of the best rebounders. And for good measure, he added a nice set of blocks on the shots that came at him. Cisco's work inside will become more important with without Meiko Lyles on the court as he provided a strong offensive spark from the outside. Now those chances should filter inside to Cisco. He is just the sort of big man that most teams in the Ivy League would kill to have. Cisco scored a 3.24 HW30 for the Lions, and with his final season upcoming, he might be able to push that to 5.0 wins.
3. Sean McGonagill, Brown - If Andrew McCarthy wasn't taking a leave of absence from school, Brown would have one of the best returning duos in the Ivy League. It would have been a great foundation for the Bears, although it probably wouldn't have placed them among the best in the league. It would have made something to watch though. As it is, McGonagill will have to take on the bulk of the work for Brown. He already is a strong distributor of the ball, and he can score, but he isn't the most efficient at putting the ball in the basket. Without McCarthy, he also lacks the effective options that would help him lead the Bear offense. It will be a struggle for him to do it on his own. That said, the talent and numbers are there to make the junior one of the best in the Ivy League, and possibly make him a dark horse for the conference player of the year. A few extra wins could help his cause, but he is already playing at a 4.7 HW30 clip. He should be able to repeat at least that this season, and could set himself up for a strong senior campaign.
2. Brian Barbour, Columbia - I almost went with being the devil's advocate on this pick. Barbour's numbers and performance almost convinced me to put him at the top of the rankings. That would have meant going against almost every pundit out there. It would have meant bucking the trend. It was just that numbers for Hummer were so much stronger. That isn't to take away from Barbour and what it means for him to be the No. 2 player here. His 5.3 HW30 is the second best returning mark in the conference, and was the fifth best in the league all of last season, putting him just about on par with Zack Rosen in terms of value. Rosen walked away with the player of the year award with that value, meaning that Barbour could do the same if he turns in a similar year. I could see Barbour improving enough on the defensive side to push him into the top position by March. His offense is already top notch, especially with his move to point guard, which could have been a struggle. The race between him and Hummer to become the conference stud should come to a head in February when the two teams play their two games in the round robin.
1. Ian Hummer, Princeton - What I am going to say might be sacrilege around Mid-Major Madness (and I run the place). Ian Hummer probably should have been the player of the year in the Ivy League last season. That would have meant taking away the award from Rosen, who definitely was a star for four years at Penn. It was just that Hummer's year was that much better. It was mainly on the defensive side and on the boards where Hummer made the difference. He was among the best at fighting for every ball that missed going in. He was a shot blocker and a steal machine. On the offensive end, he was no slouch, although you could say that his shooting was a little suspect. What Hummer did do was contribute with his passing, and draw contact inside from the overmatched players in the conference. Hummer got to the line by drawing 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes for the Tigers, and then shot 67 percent. If there is anything you can take away from him, it is that he isn't the kind of shooter that you would want from a bigger guy for his conference. He probably takes too many 3-pointers, and you would hope he could shoot a little better from close range. And that is probably why he didn't win last year as Rosen was such a great shooter for the Quakers. But Hummer's overall talent should be the best among the Ivies this season, and it will take just a small amount of improvement on the offensive end to propel the Princeton star not to just a player of the year win, but an outside chance at an NBA opportunity.