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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Ivy League Preview: Harvard is still a title threat despite cheating scandal

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Christian Webster will have to play a bigger role next season (Getty Images)

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 16 league, the Ivy League.

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Before a cheating scandal caused senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to withdraw from school a month before the start of practice, Harvard would have been a slight favorite to repeat as Ivy League champs.

Now the Crimson will have to rely heavily on the talented but unproven prospects coach Tommy Amaker has stockpiled recently to have any chance of returning to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.

The most difficult player for Harvard to replace is probably Curry, a pass-first point guard with a knack for making good decisions with the ball in his hands. True freshman point guard Siyani Chambers will likely inherit the position from Curry because the Minnesota native is the lone true point guard left on the roster.

Casey is more well-known than Curry after averaging 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, but the 6-foot-7 forward is actually easier for Harvard to replace. Between gifted but raw Kenyatta Smith, promising reserve Steve Moundou-Missi and a trio of decorated freshmen, the Crimson have a wealth of inexperienced but talented big men ready to take on a greater role.

If Harvard's young players come of age quickly, then it won't be easy for senior-heavy Princeton or up-and-coming Columbia to pry the Ivy League crown away. The Crimson do have plenty of proven firepower at wing with slashing sophomore Wesley Saunders and shooters Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster likely to shoulder much of the scoring burden. No team will be better equipped to capitalize if Harvard slips than Princeton, which brings back four starters from a team that went 10-4 in the Ivy League and appeared in the CBI postseason tournament. The offense will flow through first-team all-league forward Ian Hummer, but he'll need backcourt firepower to emerge  to make the Tigers a complete team.

It's hard to see anyone besides Princeton or Harvard claiming the Ivy League crown, yet improving Columbia can't be counted out. The Lions appear ready to take a big leap up the Ivy League standings thanks to the return of all-league guard Brian Barbour and burly 6-foot-9 center Mark Cisco.

MAKING A LIST
Best shooter: Laurent Rivard, Harvard
Best playmaker: Brian Barbour, Columbia
Best defender: Ian Hummer, Princeton
Coach on the rise: Kyle Smith, Columbia
Coach on the hot seat: none
Three must-see games: 1. Harvard at UMass, Nov. 13 (Fun intrastate clash is part of ESPN's 24-hour marathon); 2. Princeton at Syracuse, Nov. 21 (Can the Tigers solve Syracuse's trademark zone?) 3. Manhattan at Columbia, Dec. 29 (Nice home test against the MAAC favorites for Columbia)

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Mike Martin, Brown (Had been an assistant at Penn)
Regular-season winner last season: Harvard
Tourney winner last season: N/A
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 13th ; 2010-11: 15th, 2009-10: 22nd
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2010, Cornell beat Wisconsin and Temple as a No. 12 seed

More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:

Patriot League (No. 17): C.J. McCollum bypassed the NBA and returned to Lehigh to fulfill a promise to his parents; Expect another spirited two-way battle between Bucknell and Lehigh

MAAC (No. 18): Mitch Buonaguro enters important year optimistic Siena can climb back into contention; Next step in Manhattan's stunning turnaround could be league title

Southern Conference (No. 19): Trading soccer for hoops has paid off for College of Charleston star and Great Britain Olympian Andrew LawrenceDavidson is loaded for another run at a league title, NCAA bid

WAC (No. 20): Will the beleaguered WAC survive as a basketball league beyond next season?; WAC Capsule Preview: Utah State hopes to rebound from frustrating 2011-12 season

Sun Belt League (No. 21): In likely his final season at North Texas, Tony Mitchell wants to leave a legacyMiddle Tennessee State vies for the NCAA bid it narrowly missed last year

Summit League (No. 22): In the small town of Brookings, S.D., Nate Wolters is a reluctant superstar; South Dakota State looks like the clear favorite

NEC (No. 23): Oft-overlooked Shane Gibson hopes to go from hidden gem to stardomNEC Capsule Preview: Three-way battle for league title could hinge on LIU Brooklyn suspensions

Big Sky (No. 24): New stars must emerge for Weber State to succeed without Damian Lillard; Montana remains the favorite despite Will Cherry's injury

Big West (No. 25): With San Diego State on its way, Big West teams are investing in hoops to avoid being left behindRevamped Long Beach State takes aim at another Big West title

Atlantic Sun (No. 26): Humble, unassuming Torrey Craig leads South Carolina Upstate's resurgenceWhich team will capitalize on Belmont's departure?

Big South (No. 27): Unwanted in high school, guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper are now powering Charleston Southern's resurgenceCoastal Carolina hopes home is sweet this March

Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for LamarOral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league

America East (No. 29): Stony Brook basketball draws inspiration from baseball team's College World Series runEarly departures drain league of some of its top talent

MEAC (No. 30): Rush of publicity from Missouri win has long-lasting impact at Norfolk StateSavannah State seeks NCAA bid to cap remarkable turnaround

SWAC (No. 31): Mike Davis prefers challenge of winning at Texas Southern to torture of taking a year offBalanced league will crown new champ this year

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