Two weeks are left in Ivy League play, which means a couple of things. At Harvard, we are stuck in the romantic abyss between Valentine’s Day and the Owl lawn party, with midterms rising as spring break waits—like a bright Cancun beach—on the horizon. For Princeton and Penn, ’tis the season for championship runs. In a single 40-year run, one or the other won the league 37 times, making the Yale-Harvard football rivalry (with just three similar finishes) a footnote by comparison. Every year, the two face off in the final game of the Ivy League season, with a championship often on the line.
But, for all the hype, Penn and Princeton’s championship hopes have become a lot like River Run. Both were once great, but sterling Harvard youth have put an end to these shenanigans. With its sweep of the pair last weekend, the Crimson moved to 4-0 on the year against its two main rivals.
Not only did the Crimson sweep both teams for the first time in Harvard history, but it moved just one win away from making the final game of the season irrelevant once again. Princeton has already been eliminated from playoff contention; Penn and its 1-10 road record are just a loss away.
For Harvard, the key challengers down the stretch will be Yale, Columbia, and Brown. To put that in context, the three schools have combined for one top-two Ivy League finish in the last five years. Columbia in particular hasn’t done so yet this century, a putrid run that included a 2-25 2002-2003 team that lost its final 18 games. But at least there’s football.
The two-week mark means something else: Senior Night. Seniors at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Penn will be playing their final games in front of their home crowds on Saturday (Princeton hosts Penn in two weeks, so its seniors have time).
I’d like to take a moment to salute the seniors: Harvard’s Brandyn Curry, Laurent Rivard, Kyle Casey, Dee Giger, and Tom Hamel; Dartmouth’s Tyler Melville; and Penn’s Miles Jackson-Cartwright, Fran Dougherty, Dao Jok, Cameron Gunter, and Steve Rennard. College basketball in the Ivy League is not the sensationalized ESPN product the mainstream sport has become. Mandatory cliché: the league is one of the only NCAA outposts where student-athlete remains an appropriate term.
Judging by the track record of Ivy League basketball players—Jeremy Lin ’10 and Bill Bradley excluded—most of these athletes will never play at the next level. The only pre-professional part of their lives is in the classroom—or Vertias Financial Group. That statement is anything but representative of the major programs the Ivy champ plays in the NCAA Tournament. Six of the seven Kentucky players that took the court against Princeton in 2011 have had an NBA shot; the Vanderbilt team that Harvard faced the next year had three starters drafted in the top-35.
But this is the time of the season when those issues are—rightfully or not—pushed under the rug. Saturday marks the first day of March and utopia for college basketball fans. Just like last year, Harvard goes into the season’s penultimate weekend with a one-game lead and an HYP rival breathing down its neck. Time to play ball.
On to the games.
YALE V. PRINCETON
The last meeting between these teams, a 66-65 Yale overtime victory, was arguably the best game of the Ivy League season. The Tigers took a double-digit lead into halftime but Yale battled back to force extra minutes behind sophomore Justin Sears. The Elis eked out the win on a Sears putback with 4.4 seconds left to run Yale’s winning streak over Princeton to three. Now Sears and the Bulldogs, who are a game back of Harvard with four to play, control their Ivy League destiny. A loss at Jadwin, where Yale has won just once in the last four years, would put the Bulldogs’ title hopes in serious danger.
A year ago, Princeton came into New Haven in a similar position: win out and go to the Dance. A 71-66 loss cost the Tigers the league lead—a misstep the next night in Providence cost it a playoff. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson hasn’t forgotten what happened, and he will make sure his team hasn’t either.
BROWN V. PENN
Sophomore Bears forward Cedric Kuakumensah had 30 points, 14 rebounds, and seven blocks last week against Cornell to break his own program record for blocked shots in a single season. Against Penn, junior Bears center Rafael Maia and Kuakumensah—who ranked one-two in the conference in rebounds per game last year—will look to dominate a Penn front line with little depth behind sophomore Darien Nelson-Henry.