Penn Is The Favorite in the Ivy League

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PHILADELPHIA - In a poll of 16 media members, two representing each of the Ancient Eight institutions, the University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team was a unanimous selection to repeat as Ivy League champions.

It is the first time since 2000 that a team has been a unanimous selection to win the Ivy title; that year the team picked to win was also Penn.

"I think it is a positive that people have the respect for us to put us in the top spot," said Penn head coach Fran Dunphy. "However, the reality is we are going to be in for 14 hard Ivy League games this season. I believe we have a league where anyone can beat anyone else on any given night."

Harvard(96 points) finished second in this year's preseason poll. Princeton finished third in the 2005-06 preseason poll with 83 points, followed by Cornell (70), Yale (67), Brown (57), Dartmouth (41) and Columbia (34).

After Penn, the voting was as close as one might expect from a League that produced five teams — Cornell, Dartmouth Harvard, Yale and Princeton — that finished either 8-6, 7-7 or 6-8 last season.

While Penn (20-9 overall, 13-1 Ivy in 2004-05) may be the overwhelming favorite, it must replace the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, Tim Begley. Last year Begley led the League in assists at 4.76 per game, led the Quakers in scoring at 13.9 points per game and was second in rebounding with 5.4 per game.

The Quakers, however, return all four other starters, including jet-quick junior guard Ibrahim Jaaber. Last season Jaaber earned All-Ivy second-team honors by averaging 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a Penn and Ivy League record 85 steals (2.93 per game). He is joined in the starting lineup by junior forwards Mark Zoller (9.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Steve Danley (9.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) -- honorable mention All-Ivy picksa year ago -- as well as senior guard Eric Osmundson (8.3 ppg).

Harvard (12-15, 7-7 in ’04-05) is the media's bet to be Penn’s chief rival in 2005-06. The Crimson must replace all three starters on the perimeter, but are loaded up front with return of 6-foot-8 forward Matt Stehle and 7-foot center Brian Cusworth. Stehle was a first-team all-Ivy performer last season and is one of the leading candidates for Player of the Year this season. He led the Crimson with 13.7 points and led the League with 8.9 rebounds per game last season. Cusworth was right behind him with 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and the two combined for 68 blocks.

Princeton (15-13, 6-8) looks to rebound from a disappointing finish in Joe Scott’s first season as head coach. The Tigers, the 2003-04 champions and last season’s preseason pick to win the Ivy crown, finished under .500 in League play for the first time in 50 years in 2004-05. The Tigers lost all-Ivy performers Judson Wallace and Will Venable, but return three starters and plenty of depth and talent to a team that may be more suited to Scott’s style of play in 2005-06. The Tigers also receive a boost with the return of 6-9 sophomore center Harrison Schaen, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2003-04 before taking a leave of absence from Princeton last season.

If Harvard and Princeton can’t find the answers to their biggest question marks, Cornell (13-14, 8-6) appears poised to make a run at its first League title since 1988 (the last time a school other than Penn or Princeton won the Ivy crown outright). The Big Red was the only team other than Penn to post a winning League record last season, and returns first-team All-Ivy swingman Lenny Collins, who led the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and assists (2.4 apg) last season in addition to averaging 4.9 rebounds per game. He is joined by forward Ryan Rourke, who averaged 8.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2004-05.

Yale (11-16, 7-7) will be without star center Dominick Martin for the early part of the season — Martin has only one semester of eligibility remaining — but the 6-10 senior will return for the Ivy season and will once again make the Bulldogs a threat. Yale needs to replace its backcourt but will be strong up front with Martin, forward Sam Kaplan (8.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and swingman Casey Hughes (7.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

Like Penn, Brown (12-16, 5-9) returns four of five starters but must find a way to replace the production of 2003-04 Player of the Year and three-time first teamer Jason Forte (18.4 ppg last season). At least in the early going, that burden will fall to senior swingman Luke Ruscoe, the team’s second-leading scorer last season at 10.3 points per game and leading rebounder at 5.6 boards per game. Damon Huffman, the 2004-05 Ivy Rookie of the Year, also returns.

Dartmouth (10-17, 7-7) was the surprise team of the Ivy last season, improving from 1-13 to 7-7 under first-year coach Terry Dunn. The Big Green returns three starters from last season’s squad, including seniors Mike Lang, who led the team with 11.8 points per game, and Calvin Arnold, who averaged six points and four rebounds in 2004-05.

Those looking for this season’s Dartmouth might find Cinderella in New York City, where Columbia continues to resuscitate its program under third-year head coach Joe Jones. The Lions return just two starters, but have a promising class of five sophomores led by point guard Brett Loscalzo, who averaged 5.7 points and 2.9 assists per game as a freshman.

The Ivy League season tips off tonight when Cornell takes on St. Francis, Pa., in the first round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Syracuse, N.Y. The Ivy League portion of the schedule starts Jan. 7 when Harvard hosts Dartmouth, and begins in earnest Jan. 13 with three League games.

Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll:
1. Penn, 128 points (16 first-place votes)
2. Harvard, 96
3. Princeton, 83
4. Cornell, 70
5. Yale, 67
6. Brown, 57
7. Dartmouth, 41
8. Columbia, 34