Ivy Hoops Draws Notice
The Ivy League has gone mainstream. This week alone, it’s reached the pages of The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated.
Most of the attention has swirled around the league’s budding rivalry between Cornell and Harvard, but even the bottom-dwelling Ivies are making news.
Two weeks ago, Denzel Washington talked Penn basketball on the Late Show with David Letterman (the actor’s son, Malcolm Washington, is a freshman guard on the team), and Dartmouth has earned headlines this month first for an alleged player mutiny and later player arrests (testing PT Barnum’s belief that all publicity is good publicity).
For the most part, this coverage is sound and fury signifying nothing. It won’t translate into wins and losses, and no amount of speculation will actually result in the Ivy League earning two NCAA tournament bids. Nevertheless, this unprecedented exposure captures, and even contributes to, the excitement and unique spirit of this season.
For the first time, the Ivy League has two teams that can compete on the national level. The Big Red has taken a championship-caliber team—Kansas—down to the wire, and the Crimson has pushed powerhouses Georgetown and UConn to the limit.
While celebrated Ivy teams of the past have figured on the national stage, they’ve done so with a cerebral style of play befitting their school’s reputation. This season, Cornell and Harvard have shown the ability to match their opponents’ skill and athleticism (search “Kyle Casey from Oliver McNally” or “Errick Peck Bucknell” on YouTube). They’ve defied the stereotypes that have defined Ivy basketball and, in so doing, captured the media’s attention and made stars out of several players.
The result is a storybook season in the making. The attention the Ivy League is receiving isn’t beyond anyone’s wildest dream; it’s what each player has always dreamed of since he started dribbling in his driveway, counting down the seconds to another imaginary buzzer-beater.
Of course the season is still in its infancy. As Crimson coach Tommy Amaker has said, “It’s a long horse race.” The difference this season though, unlike years past, is that everyone is watching.
HARVARD (13-3, 2-0 Ivy) at COLUMBIA (6-10, 0-2)
Although many fans have heralded Saturday’s matchup against the Big Red as the biggest of the season, Friday’s game against the Lions is arguably just as important to Harvard. Given Cornell’s strength, the Crimson cannot afford to lose to an inferior team, since doing so would likely mean having to beat the Big Red twice for a shot at the Ivy title.
Columbia’s Noruwa Agho is an All-Ivy caliber guard capable of carrying a team, but the biggest threat to Harvard is its ability to stay focused. The Crimson must improve on its poor shooting performance at Dartmouth, get over the thrill of Sports Illustrated, and push Saturday’s game against the Big Red out of its mind. Harvard has stayed focused so far this season and will do so again.
Pick: Harvard 74, Columbia 67.
PENN (1-13, 0-0 Ivy) at YALE (7-12, 1-1)
After splitting its season series with Brown, the Elis play host to a Penn team that has struggled all season. The Quakers’ sole win came against the equally hapless University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers. Expect Yale guard Alex Zampier, the league’s leading scorer, to light up the league’s worst defense.
Pick: Yale 79, Penn 63.