Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Look back, look ahead: Ivy League
By Andy Katz
Harvard is no longer a one-year wonder, a trendy upset pick or a unique story in college basketball.
The Crimson have arrived as a regular.
Tommy Amaker turned down jobs from power conferences to stay at Harvard.
Nothing can be taken for granted in the sport, but the Crimson are suddenly expected to produce winning teams that compete for the Ivy League title, get to the NCAA tournament and, yes, actually win a game once they get there.
The Crimson have won the automatic berth three years in a row, winning a tournament game the past two seasons as a 14-seed and a 12-seed, beating New Mexico and Cincinnati, respectively.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker is in the renaissance of his career. He has transformed the sport on campus. He has made it cool to come to the games, to follow the team and alumni are relishing being able to travel to NCAA tournament games.
Amaker could have left for Boston College. Cal too, if he wanted the job. But the Crimson are working on a new contract and trying to take care of him. Harvard works at a glacial pace at this sort of thing, because it’s not used to competing for coaches the way in which it does for faculty. The commitment, however, is there. There are even plans to upgrade facilities.
And being the coach who put Harvard into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 and kept it there has enchanted Amaker enough to stay in Cambridge for the foreseeable future.
The normalcy of being a double-digit seed that wins has even been overshadowed.
"People forget we were a 14- and a 12-seed," Amaker said. “And it was the first time in 30 years that a team had won games in the NCAA tournament from the Ivy in back-to-back years. I was stunned when I saw that."
But breaking down barriers for Harvard is nothing new on campus and now in the Ivy.
This is the new normal. And Harvard will be the favorite again.
What we saw this season: The Ivy League had its best postseason run in its 58-year history. Five teams went to the postseason with Harvard (NCAA), Princeton (CBI) and Brown, Columbia and Yale (CIT), and the league had eight postseason wins.
Putting multiple teams in the postseason occurred for the fourth time in five years.
The last team to win consecutive NCAA tournament games was Princeton in 1983 and ’84.
Harvard won a school-record 27 games and a school-high 13 games in the Ivy League as well as the first undefeated road record in the Ivy in the school’s history.
Yale made it to the CIT title game before losing to Murray State. It was the first time an Ivy League team played for a postseason title since 1975, when Princeton played for the NIT title.
These tournaments might not resonate nationally, especially the CIT, but the results matter. The Ivy League is showing dramatic improvement, and the stronger it gets, the more its champ gets challenged, giving it a legitimate shot to advance in the NCAAs.
"We're trying to be a top-10 league next year," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "Watch out WCC, Missouri Valley and Horizon.
"We had five postseason teams, an 8-5 postseason record, Kenpom had us as the 13th-best league, Columbia had a buzzer-beater at Valpo, Harvard and Columbia played a double-overtime game at Columbia which was the best game in 2014 and only 3,200 people witnessed."
With Armani Cotton, left, returning, Yale could challenge Harvard for the Ivy League crown.
What to expect next season: Yale coach James Jones said next season could be the best the entire league has ever been. He said five teams could reach 20 wins.
Dismissing Princeton would be a mistake. Tigers coach Mitch Henderson said this team has something to prove, and seven returners, a strong finish to the season and a commitment to defense mean this team has a real shot to be a contender.
Smith said he envisions a bunched-up group in the middle of the pack with any number of teams emerging. Columbia and Brown are the most likely teams to pop out of this group with Alex Rosenberg, Maodo Lo, Cory Osetkowski, Steve Frankoski and Grant Mullins leading the Lions, while Cedric Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia should be the focus for Brown.
Dartmouth, Penn and Cornell are unknowns at this point, but the Quakers rarely stay down for long. The Ivy doesn’t have a postseason tournament, but Amaker has said it's a 14-game tournament with every game counting as much as the next. The chances of getting multiple bids in the NCAA tournament -- which has never happened -- rests solely on whether a second team can win quality nonconference games and push the Crimson to a playoff. It's not crazy to consider.
"Our league will be incredibly balanced and strong next year," Amaker said. "Our league will be very underrated."