First Take: Ivy League is Relevant
And your weekend primer…
Hey everyone, sorry for the lack of First Take content yesterday, there were some extenuating circumstances that prevented me from writing. Plus, car trouble in Montana can wreak havoc on one’s morning schedule. Anyway, onto the hoops.
At no point this season did I anticipate that I’d be leading with the Ivy League as the topic of discussion in this column. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about mid-major basketball, but the Ivy’s don’t exactly have an extensive track record of being players on the national scene this early in the season. In fact, thanks to Cornell’s fantastic start (highlighted by Wednesday’s near upset of #1 Kansas) and the stellar play of Harvard’s Jeremy Lin, the Ivy League has both a relevant team and player on the scene for the first time since Bill Bradley was tearing things up at Princeton back in the 1960’s.
Let’s look at the two major events that have taken place in the last 48 hours that really have me paying attention. First there is the Cornell/Kansas game that almost went down as maybe the biggest regular season win for an Ivy team ever. I was glued to my television, I hadn’t been that excited since George Mason beat UConn or when Albany almost beat UConn. If the Big Red hadn’t caught people’s attention with their 12-2 start that included wins over Alabama, UMass, Saint Joe’s and St. John’s, this game surely turned some heads. Considering they were already receiving votes in the AP Poll to begin with, I have a hunch that the newest edition will have several more tallies next to their name. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility either for Cornell to run through the rest of its schedule unbeaten. Aside from its conference schedule (outside of Harvard I don’t see much of a challenge) the team needs to get past South Dakota tonight. With three wins over BCS teams and the close call with Kansas, plus a 28-3 record, you mean to tell me that resume won’t land them in the top 25? Just some food for thought. Cornell also has shown all the makings for breaking a 12-year winless drought in the NCAA Tournament for the Ivy’s depending on whether or not they earn the conference’s automatic bid.
Then there is the case of Jeremy Lin. The mid-season Wooden Award watch list was just released on Wednesday and Lin made the cut for the final 30, when is the last time we saw a player out of the Ivy League getting that much national respect? Ibrahim Jabbar was great at Penn a few years back but he wasn’t the player that Lin is, at least he wasn’t perceived to be on the same level by the media. In fact, it has been 31 years since Penn’s Tony Price received All-American honors, the last player from the Ivy League to do so. Even more groundbreaking is the fact that Lin is being talked about in NBA circles as a guy who at the very least is going to get more than a quick look over from pro teams, meaning he could become the first player since Penn’s Jerome Allen in 1995 to hear his name called by David Stern.
Is the Ivy League suddenly going to witness a meteoric rise to national prominence like the CAA or Missouri Valley Conference? Of course not, there just isn’t the same wealth of talent, but for what it’s worth, it’s great to see that Bill Bradley’s old stomping ground is relevant on the national scene again.
In the rest of college basketball land, Thursday night proved to be a fairly quiet affair. Coastal Carolina snuck by UNC-Asheville to continue its early dominance of the Big South. The Chanticleers (one of the cooler school nicknames around) are 15-2 overall and a perfect 5-0 in conference play so far. Aside from losses to Duke (expected) and Cal-State Northridge (acceptable) the team has been trouncing the opposition, including an 11-point win over College of Charleston, they of the UNC upset.
In the Big Ten, Michigan won on the road at Penn State and is looking like they may be back on the winning track having earned W’s in three of their last four games. It’s still tough to tell with this team though given their inconsistent play. Sunday afternoon’s home game against Northwestern will be a pretty good indication of whether the Wolverines can make a run at the top couple slots in the conference. Having DeShawn Sims settling into a groove is a major plus for this team.
VMI was run out of the building by Winthrop 96-63, otherwise not noteworthy save for the fact that it was the 10th time in 12 games at the Keydets have allowed more than 90 points. They have given up at least 86 in every game this season.
In all it was a quiet night, but there is plenty to be excited about this weekend. Butler and Wright State hook up tonight for an always entertaining Horizon League rivalry game, but that just sets the table for this weekend. Saturday is loaded with important early conference match ups that will go a long way to determining the pecking order as we move through the month.
Purdue visits Wisconsin and Duke travels to Georgia Tech in arguably the two best games of the afternoon, though Connecticut at Georgetown on paper can throw their name in the ring as well. I’m still not high on the Hoyas though, so I expect this to be a route for the Huskies. West Virginia is at Notre Dame where the Fighting Irish have jumped out to a better than expected 13-3 start thanks to another fantastic season from Luke Harangody. The Mountain West has a pivotal match up with UNLV visiting New Mexico, while an in-state battle between Mississippi State and Ole Miss will set the tone for both squads in the SEC. Those games alone make for a great afternoon, but that doesn’t even include a huge early season Missouri Valley Conference contest between preseason favorites Northern Iowa and Illinois State, or the big game in the Ohio Valley Conference between Murray State and Austin Peay. The Governors may have been the dominant program in the OVC in recent memory, but don’t overlook a balanced Racers team that is 4-0 in the conference so far.
If you’re wrapped up and can’t get to the TV until Sunday, there is still plenty of action. Kansas visiting Tennessee loses quite a bit of its luster now that Tyler Smith has been officially dismissed by the Vols following an arrest on gun/drug charges, but Tennessee still has some players to match up with the Jayhawks. Temple visiting Rhode Island is your best bet for an evenly matched game to round out the weekend though.
Hope you all have a great weekend, I’ll be back on East Coast time starting on Monday, so the First Take will be running bright an early once again.