February has arrived, and with it, the first full weekend of the 14-game tournament that is the Ivy League basketball season.
With each team in the Ancient Eight having played at least two league games, things are shaping up, not surprisingly, as Penn and the Seven Dwarfs. The Quakers have the two best players in the league, and won their first pair of league road games by an average of 22 points.
Beyond the top rung, as Harvard coach Frank Sullivan has attested, the parity is greater than ever. That means it’s harder than ever to pick any game that doesn’t involve the Philadelphians.
So keep in mind that selecting from a hat would arguably produce better results than using rational analysis to try to crack the Ivies’ unique Friday-Saturday code. We’ll be testing that hypothesis as the month unfolds.
The envelope, please…
PENN (11-7, 2-0) at BROWN (6-13, 1-3)
Starting off with the easiest of the batch. Brown, without emergent talent Keenan Jeppesen, who jumped ship after seven games, might be the worst team in the league. And the Pizzatola Center is one of the arenas rivaling Lavietes for worst home court advantage. Set the over/under for fans in attendance at the number of points Penn will score—86—in easily slaying the Bears.
PRINCETON (9-7, 0-2) at YALE (7-10, 3-1)
The ship looks to be sinking for Tigers coach Joe Scott. He suffered through a brutal first season before rebounding nicely last year, but with another bad start to the league slate, the rumblings have begun afresh.
Website Ivygate.com reports that it’s Scott’s grating personality that is rubbing the sheen off the Tigers’ illustrious program, and the multiple defections from the roster this season bear that out.
This isn’t a team that is following a leader right now, and that means it isn’t a team that’s winning at Yale, in the tough New Haven environment the Elis have set up. The Bulldogs by eight.
CORNELL (10-8, 3-1) at DARTMOUTH (7-10, 2-2)
Here’s where it gets interesting. Cornell lost its best player (sophomore sharpshooter Adam Gore) in the first game of the season. But two stellar freshmen in Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, plus improved play from senior center Andrew Naeve, have the Big Red running point for the non-P’s.
Dartmouth has showed a lot after starting the year 0-6.
Do the Cornell rookies have what it takes to win on the road? Frankly, I have no idea, but Cornell is hot, having won seven of eight. Count on the Big Red to keep rolling, besting their color nemesis by three.
COLUMBIA (10-8, 1-3) at HARVARD (9-9, 2-2)
People were excited about Columbia before the season, and then they got more excited when the Lions opened the year 9-5 in the non-league. (What people? Give me a break, it’s a figure of speech.) I didn’t really see it.
Harvard will come out determined to show it can play without departed seven-footer Brian Cusworth, and that it’s not going to lay down and die without the big man, and will hang another collar on the Lions. The Crimson by four.
PENN at YALE
Yale is extremely tough to beat in the insane atmosphere of the John J. Lee Amphitheater, and the students will be especially fired up after a win over Princeton.
Last year, the Bulldogs lost 57-55 to Penn at home. In 2005, Yale beat the Quakers by 18, and Yale also won in 2004, 54-52, which ended Penn’s 23-game league winnig streak. If the Quakers have a house of horrors in the Ivy League, it’s John J. Lee.
A couple big threes from Caleb Holmes, a strong game from Casey Hughes, and suddenly, there’s a three-team race for the Ivy title. Yale takes it by four.
PRINCETON at BROWN
The Tigers are down, but they aren’t out yet, and last year they bounced back from a horrendous non-league start to finish 10-4 in the Ivies. They won’t begin the year 0-4 in league play—there’s still plenty of pride to go around in Princeton. Brown plays the doormat in another home loss, but at least they’ll keep it under 10 this time.
COLUMBIA at DARTMOUTH
Can Columbia salvage its weekend with a victory over the once-hapless Greenies? In a word, no. The Big Green by six.
CORNELL at HARVARD
Harvard owes Cornell a good whupping.
After ripping the Crimson’s heart out earlier in the season up in the wilds of the Northland, the Big Red provided the low point to Harvard’s disappointing 2005-06 campaign, dishing out a 71-44 embarrassment at Lavietes on the season’s penultimate night.
In 2005, Ryan Rourke memorably scored 27 points in leading Cornell to a come-from-behind 67-63 win in Cambridge.
Those losses stung, and don’t think Sullivan and captain Jim Goffredo have forgotten them. But the three-point shooting of Wittman and Dale will prove too much for the defensively-challenged Crimson, which is last in the Ivies in field-goal percentage defense. Cornell by five, as the Big Red join the title hunt in earnest.
Let the games begin…
-Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.