November 20, 2002: Sports

Will parity reign in the Ivies?
Men’s basketball faces stronger conference foes

Princeton football on the mend
Harvard loss hurts Ivy title hopes

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Will parity reign in the Ivies?
Men’s basketball faces stronger conference foes

By Matt Henshon ’91


Photo: A healthy Andre Logan ’04 should help keep the Tigers in the Ivy title race. (Beverly Schaefer)

At its highest levels, college basketball has moved toward parity during the last 25 years. No one team has dominated. Since 1977, only Duke has won back-to-back NCAA titles – in 1991 and 1992 – and in the last 10 years, nine different schools have won the national championship.

Why? Television is part of the equation; potential recruits are exposed to more teams on cable. The lure of the professional game also contributes; players regularly leave school early to enter the draft, making dynasties rare.

But the Ivy League has been a college basketball anachronism. Beyond the lack of scholarships and no season-ending conference tournament, Penn and Princeton have dominated the Ivies since the mid-1960s. There have been few surprises or upsets.

In 2001, Yale entered the mix as Ivy cochamp (Penn won the first-ever three-way playoff), and the Bulldogs were invited to the NIT, along with Princeton. When Yale beat Rutgers, it marked the first time in 107 years that it had won a postseason game.

Statistics bear out an improved Ivy League. The league’s combined Rating Percentage Index (RPI) – the NCAA’s impenetrable method of calculating teams’ and leagues’ relative strength – ranked it 13th among the nation’s 31 conferences. With its best finish ever, the Ivy League placed ahead of traditionally strong conferences, such as the Missouri Valley and the Big West.

The 2002—03 Ivy season has the possibility of being even more competitive. On paper, Penn remains at the head of the league, with five starters returning, including Player of the Year and Wooden Award semifinalist Ugonna Onyekwe. Yale also returns five starters and has a chance for its first outright title since 1962.

After an early season win over Providence a year ago, Brown looked as though it could challenge, but faded during the league season; the Bruins bring four starters back, including the Ivy’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, Earl Hunt. Harvard also could compete, as the Crimson is likely to start five seniors. Cornell, Dartmouth, and Columbia appear to have little chance of joining the parity party.

Princeton should be in the thick of the race, with a team that is experienced and flexible. Coach John Thompson III ’88 has seven players returning who have seen significant court time, and can juggle his lineup thanks to a strong group of swingmen.

Ed Persia ’04 and Will Venable ’05 will play mostly in the backcourt. With Dominick Martin ’05 now at Yale, Konrad Wysocki ’04 (7.0 ppg) will play primarily in the pivot, but will move to forward when 6' 10" Mike Stephens ’05 or 6' 8" Judson Wallace ’05 are in the game. Wallace and Stephens did not play much as freshmen, but gained experience this summer during the Tigers’ 12-day exhibition trip to Spain. (Princeton went 6—1 against Spanish club teams, which Thompson equated with “good teams from mid-major conferences” in the States.)

Four key players will be employed at both guard and forward. Thompson will look to Kyle Wente ’03 (6.8 ppg) for outside shooting, and Ray Robins ’03 (6.7 ppg) will play mostly in the frontcourt but may slide back to guard to give Thompson a bigger lineup.

Two familiar faces return who will also swing between guard and forward: Andre Logan ’04 and Spencer Gloger ’04. Logan severely tore a ligament in his left knee last year during the team’s first league game, and the loss of his playmaking and rebounding hurt the Tigers.

Gloger left Princeton after his freshman year in 2000, and transferred to UCLA in his hometown. After sitting out a year (in accordance with NCAA rules), he changed his mind and returned to Princeton. Although NCAA policies prohibited him from participating in organized basketball last year, Thompson believes Gloger is bigger and stronger than when he left Princeton 18 months ago, and “without a doubt, Spencer is eager to start playing again.”

Princeton has two newcomers who may get the chance to contribute. At 5' 11" and a wiry 165 lbs., freshman Scott Greenman will play in the backcourt. Texan Michael Kawalek ’06 (6' 5", 195 lbs.) probably will split time at guard and forward.

After having its best year statistically and its first three-way tie for the title, the Ivy League looks even more balanced this year.

Matt Henshon ’91 practices law in Boston.

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Princeton football on the mend
Harvard loss hurts Ivy title hopes

By Sophia Hollander ’02


Photo: LB Drew Babinecz ’03 and the Tiger defense have kept games within reach. (Beverly Schaefer)

As Princeton prepared to face Cornell November 2 with the wounds still fresh from its loss to Harvard in the team’s biggest game in recent years, Tim Kirby ’04 summed up the stakes succinctly.

“We can come back and get going again,” the defensive end said. “Or we can go down the dumper.”

On a snowy Schoellkopf Field at Cornell, the Tigers did a little of both. After playing poorly at home in the 24—17 loss to Harvard, which snapped a four-game win streak and dimmed Princeton’s Ivy title hopes, the Tigers picked up where they had left off, fumbling three times in the opening half against Cornell. The Big Red sped out to a 25—10 lead entering the fourth quarter. It could have ended right there: the game, the season, the Ivy championship aspirations.

But in the final moments, Cornell proved more inept than Princeton. After the Tigers rallied to tie the game at 25, Princeton lost possession on its 15-yard line when a snap bounced past punter Joe Nardello ’05. With 24 seconds left, a field goal would have sealed the Big Red victory. Instead, Cornell opted to pass, and Jay McCareins ’05 grabbed another fourth-quarter interception to send the game into overtime.

The Tigers (5—2, 3—1 Ivy) escaped with a 32—25 victory over the Big Red (2—5, 1—3), assuring themselves of a .500 season with their first win in Ithaca since 1992. But the two weeks of shoddy play cannot be repeated if Princeton harbors serious hopes of competing for an Ivy title with Penn (6—1, 4—0) and Harvard (5—2, 4—0).

The health of injured quarterback David Splithoff ’04 may be a deciding factor. Matt Verbit ’05 started at quarterback in Ithaca after Splithoff dislocated his right shoulder against Harvard. When doctors examined the injury, they discovered Splithoff previously had dislocated his shoulder without informing the team. “That’s how tough he is,” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said ruefully after the game.

Meanwhile, Atkinson rebounded from a season-low 34 rushing yards against Harvard with 119 yards and a touchdown in Ithaca, becoming the sixth player in Princeton history to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

Some aspects of Princeton’s play got going, others slid down the dumper. The stakes remain the same.


Sophia Hollander ’02 writes regularly for The New York Times sports section.

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