Columbia, the perennial doormat of the Ivy League, took an early lead in the first week of the men’s basketball season, reeling off three consecutive victories before falling to Stony Brook. While Columbia garnered attention, Princeton, the favorite to repeat as Ivy League champion, nearly upset both No. 6 Syracuse and the University of Wyoming. The season is now in full swing, although Ivy League teams will not play each other until January.
Columbia opened the season with a three-game winning streak, the team’s best start since 1979-80. Coach Joe Jones successfully turned Columbia around after a wretched 2002-03 campaign, improving the team’s record to 10-17, 6-8 Ivy last year. Columbia returns four starters for this season, including senior forward Matt Preston, a second-team All-Ivy selection in 2003-04. Preston has averaged 17.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game to lead the league’s most potent offence, which has averaged 71.0 ppg. Despite blowing a 12-point second half lead against Stony Brook Saturday en route to a 77-73 loss, the team’s first of the season, Columbia still has the best overall record amongst Ivy League teams.
The Quakers crushed Drexel, 81-50, last Tuesday to even their record at 2-2. Penn began the season by playing three games in five days in three different cities, defeating Quinnipiac in its home opener before badly losing consecutive games to Providence and No. 20 Wisconsin. Penn lost three of its five highest scorers from last year’s 17-10 campaign, but the team retains senior guard Tim Begley, an All-Ivy selection last year, who has averaged 16.3 points in the team’s four games.
The Tigers gutted out a 40-38 victory against Lafayette Saturday to even their record after losing a heartbreaker to Wyoming in double overtime last Monday. Joe Scott began his career as Princeton’s coach with a 61-48 victory over Bucknell. But the defending Ivy League champion Tigers, who were favored to repeat in the annual preseason media poll, soon lost close games to No. 6 Syracuse and then to Wyoming, the leader in the Mountain West Conference, before returning to form in an ugly but successful win over Lafayette. Senior guard Will Venable, an All-Ivy selection last year, leads the team with 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Dartmouth dropped its road opener to Lehigh, 60-50, Saturday when a late comeback run ran out of gas midway through the fourth quarter. New coach Terry Dunn and senior center David Gardner led the Big Green to its first victory in 10 months with an opening day win against Quinnipiac, 66-61, but Dartmouth’s offense petered out against Lehigh and only senior guard Steve Callahan registered double digits.
Harvard withstood a 30-point effort by Northeastern junior guard Jose Juan Barea to win its first game of the season, 85-75, on Saturday. The Crimson, led by 7-foot sophomore center Brian Cusworth, displayed their potential for the new season by nearly upsetting Notre Dame, ranked No. 20 at the time, in a 66-59 loss on opening day. Harvard committed 26 turnovers in a disappointing loss to Holy Cross before Cusworth stepped up with 20 points and 13 rebounds to defeat Northeastern for the team’s first victory of the season.
Despite averaging 69.3 points a game on offense, Cornell lost three in a row against Marist, Northeastern and Colgate to start the season. Junior Lenny Collins and senior Cody Toppert averaged 19.7 and 15.0 ppg respectively, but Cornell’s defense allowed 227 points in three games and could not contain Northeastern’s Barea, who scored 35 points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer, in the Huskies’ 85-83 win over Cornell.
Brown, picked to finish fourth in the Ivy League in the preseason media poll, dropped its first four games of the season. The Bears lost to Missouri, Sam Houston State, University of Rhode Island, and Wright State, losing by at least eight points on every occasion. Freshman point guard Damon Huffman earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors while filling in for suspended senior guard Jason Forte, the 2003-04 Ivy Player of the Year.