PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Welcome to opposite day in Ivy League basketball.
After the first weekend of league play, Brown and Yale, which finished a combined 8-44 (4-24 Ivy) last year and tied for last in the conference, are tied for first today after each swept traveling partners Harvard and Dartmouth.
Last year, both Brown and Yale were true laughingstocks. At season's end, they were ranked No. 315 and No. 318 in the RPI, respectively, making them two of the five worst teams in college basketball. But both have made important moves since then.
Both coaches--Yale's Dick Kuchen and Brown's Happy Dobbs--were canned and replaced with younger go-getters. The Bulldogs got James Jones, who had worked for two years as an assistant at Ohio, while the Bears hired Glen Miller, a former protege of Jim Calhoun at UConn.
Brown landed two superstar freshmen in its recruiting class: swingman Earl Hunt, who is averaging 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and center Alaivaa Nuualiitia, who at an undersized 6'6 scores 15.9 points and adds 6.3 rebounds.
And the Bulldogs are witnessing the maturation of sophomore guard Onaje Woodbine, who averaged 9.5 points per game last season, but had a beautiful coming-out party this weekend.
Woodbine scored 28 points and added seven rebounds in Friday night's 69-61 win over Harvard, and then followed up with 26 points and six rebounds in a 71-69 double-overtime victory over the Big Green on Saturday.
A slippery, lanky 6'2 player with an uncanny ability to create his own shot, Woodbine fought off man coverage from Harvard guards Elliott Prasse-Freeman and Drew Gellert to shoot 8-of-18 from the floor with four assists.
But critical to Woodbine's game was the ability to sink the three. Entering the game, Woodbine had made just 10-of-42 attempts from three-point range, but hit 5-of-8 against the Crimson. Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said his team challenged Woodbine to make his outside shots in the first half, when he scored 17.
Harvard's first indication that the Yale-Brown road trip wouldn't be a cakewalk came Friday afternoon, when a shutdown of I-91 outside Hartford made the Crimson's bus several hours late to New Haven. The game's start was delayed by an hour.
Sullivan and the Crimson got another unpleasant surprise Saturday night at Brown, as the Bears' Hunt exploded for 30 points in the first half, breaking down man coverage and slipping through the cracks when the Crimson switched to zone.
Like Woodbine, Hunt entered the game shooting just 25.9 percent from three-point range, but converted on 4-of-5 in the first half. Brown made 9-of-20 three-pointers on the night.
"This is the first look we've had at Brown, and they're a different team," Sullivan said. "We had seen a lot of them on tape, but we had to see it live."
So did I. Believing that the Bears, whom Harvard beat 112-54 in the last game of the 1997-98 season, were serious took a leap of faith. Earl Hunt and his game-high 39 points helped me make it. After scoring 19 points with nine rebounds and five assists in Brown's 79-63 win over Dartmouth on Friday, Hunt is establishing himself as a real threat.
"We were acutely aware of the variety of aspects to his game," Sullivan said. "Tonight, he was an all-league player."
Something as new as it was disturbing was the way Harvard folded late in both games, on both occasions after mounting a run to make things close.
On Friday, the Crimson trailed Yale 56-46, but closed to 58-55 on the strength of a three-point play by captain Damian Long and treys by Long and Prasse-Freeman.
But Harvard got poor shots down the stretch and, forced to foul, saw Yale make 11-of-14 free throws to close out the game.
Then Saturday at Brown, the scenario repeated itself, as Harvard rallied from a 64-55 deficit with seven straight points from Long, who knocked down a three from the left corner, then made four free throws to pull to 64-62 with 5:18 to play.
But the Crimson managed just two points over the next four minutes. Some of the lowlights included air balls by junior center Tim Coleman on the front end of a one-and-one and on a pull-up jumper from inside the key and a pair of missed treys by Long, who shot just 2-of-8 from behind the arc.
Brown then made 11-of-12 from the stripe--part of a solid 29-of-35 on the night--for the 78-68 final.
After the Brown loss, Sullivan was philosophical:
"I've never seen a player have 30 points at halftime, and I've also never seen a bus late for a game," Sullivan said. "It just goes to show that college basketball is always an interesting game, and those were two firsts for me."
And I'll bet he'd like it if they were two lasts, too.