In last spring's NCAA tournament, Princeton barely missed its chance for an historical upset, losing 50-49 to powerful Georgetown. This year, the Ivy League opens the new basketball season aware of a new respect for the Ancient Eight.
'That game was a legitimization of our league,' said Harvard Coach Peter Roby. 'It was great for us. In the public's perception, the league gained respect.'
'If you ask people about last year's NCAA tournament, most people would probably mention the championship game first, then the Georgetown-Princeton game,' said Dartmouth Coach Paul Cormier. 'Princeton was such an underdog. And I was like anybody else in front of their television set, yelling and jumping up and down.'
Against the Hoyas, Princeton played a near-perfect slow-down game, taking the shot only when it was available, never challenging Georgetown's superior size or inside game. On the game's final shot, Kit Mueller's long jumper from the right wing was blocked by Alonzo Mourning. Morurning may have also fouled Mueller, but there was no whistle.
Princeton's poise throughout the game was near perfect, and the Tigers start this year with all but one starter returning -- although that player is Bob Scrabis, the league's 1988-89 Player of the Year. Mueller, the 6-foot-5 center is back, along with forward Matt Lapin, point guard Jerry Doyle and 6-8 sophomore Chris Marquardt.
'Most people are picking Princeton this year because of their play last year,' said Roby, 'but losing the player of the year is a big loss, and Scrabis was the real glue to their team.'
Harvard, 11-15 overall last year and 7-7 in the conference, should challenge defending champion Princeton. The Crimson team is as fast-paced as the Tigers are slow and steady. Harvard tries to play the transition game at every opportunity and employs a constantly pressing defense, requiring a lot of rested talent. Roby has recruited effectively and this year he may begin reaping the benefits. Among the freshmen talent are 6-8 Peter Condakes and 6-2 Tchad Robinson. Returning are juniors Ralph Lewis, who had 14.2 points per game, and ballhandler Dana Smith, 4.9 ppg.
In each of the last two years, Dartmouth has been within a game of the league crown, but Cormier may have finally gathered enough talent in Hanover, N.H. to move up to the top. Seven-foot senior Walter Palmer could be the league's most formidable player, both offensively and defensively, but for the same reasons Palmer chose to attend Dartmouth, he is not likely to dominate the league.
'There's a lot more to Walter Palmer than just being the center of the basketball team,' said Cormier. 'He puts his time into so many different things that he hasn't put the time into basketball (needed) to be the dominant player in the league. But he came to Dartmouth so he could flourish in a lot of areas, not just to play basketball.'
Also returning for Dartmouth are 6-foot James Blackwell, 11.4 ppg, and solid 3-point shooter John Mackay. Help is expected from freshman guard Gary Campbell.
After a one-year slump, Cornell is expected to be a force again in the league. The team won the 1987-88 Ivy title but lost seven seniors to graduation. At the start of last season the Big Red lost 13 of their first 17 games but finished the year with victories in six of their last nine games. The frontline will be strong, with 6-9 center Bernard Jackson, 6-9 Nate Grant and 6-8 Paul McRae.
The bottom four teams in the league are likely to be Pennsylvania, Yale, Brown and Columbia. The Quakers, 9-5 in the conference and 13-13 overall have lost Walt Frazier to graduation. Yale, 6-8 and 11-17, has four starters returning, including Ivy League Rookie of the Year Ed Petersen, 16.4 ppg.
Brown, 2-12 and 7-19, must depend upon 6-1 sophomore Chuck Savage. Columbia, 3-11 and 7-19, must hope that a combination of young talent pulls together.