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The Ivy League basketball season kicks off in earnest this weekend, as the Crimson cagers journey to Jadwin Gym and to the Palestra for back-to-back games against Princeton and Penn. The road trip against the League's perennial front-runners could prove a baptism by fire for Coach Satch Sanders' slumping quintet, which dropped three in a row over vacation.
Pete Carril's squad is looking to extend an eleven game win streak over Harvard Friday night and is the team to beat in the Ivies.
The Tigers are coming off a win in the Kodak classic over Christmas, their first tourney victory since 1965. After losing bluechippers Armond Hill, Barnes Hauptfuhrer, and Mickey Steurer to graduation, no one expected Princeton to be 7-2 at this stage of the season.
The Tigers have proved their mettle, though, bumping off a bevy of big name hoop powers while holding the opposition to less than 52 points a game. The team journeyed up to Rochester for the annual Kodak shindig, in which Harvard played last year, and proceeded to dispatch Ohio State and St. Bonaventure.
After downing the favored Bonnies 59-55 in the final, leading scorer Frank Sowinski was named the tourney MVP. Bob Slaughter, averaging 12.9 a game and 6 ft. 8 in. Bob Roma were also tapped for the all-tournament team.
The Tigers edged Villanova, a team that has beaten Notre Dame, and then went on to vanquish the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was ranked number two before the upset, so expect Satch to recite the rosary Friday night during timeouts, even if he doesn't actually bring his beads.
Sanders and assistant coaches Mike Jarvis and Buddy O'Neil must feel like Sharrach, Mesach, and Abednego entering the burning, fiery furnace every time they set foot in the Palestra. The Quakers have beaten the Crimson sixteen consecutive times and hold a 73-17 series advantage. Harvard may have its best shot in ages to knock off Chuck Daly's foundering squad on Saturday.
After winning seven Ivy League crowns in eight campaigns, Penn is currently 2-5 and hasn't won a game since December 11. Despite the absence of an injured Mark Lonetto, the Quakers are still strong up front with 6 ft. 11 in. center Henry Johnson, 6 ft. 6 in. sophomore Tomy Price, and Keven McDonald's 21.9 scoring average.
Daly spent Christmas vacation experiencing mental anguish unparalleled since the days of the early Christian martyrs, as the Quakers lost to both Manhattan and Georgetown in the Holiday Festival in New York City. Manhattan, which has been manhandled by both Princeton and Columbia, won in the opening round 68-61. Georgetown took the consolation game 66-61.
Georgetown, rated "Best in the East" by The Sporting News, also spent the holiday down South, trampling the Crimson hoopsters 60-40 in the Carolina Classic. The Hoyas moved north as the pre-tourney favorites at Madison Square Garden, but the Purdue Boilermakers made it two wins in a row for the Big Ten in the Holiday Fest.
Harvard hung tough while losing to highly-touted Holy Cross and South Carolina, but the physical disparity between the hoopsters and Georgetown made David and Goliath seem like an even matchup. The Hoyas' shortest frontline player is 6 ft. 7 in. Craig Shelton.
Even coach John Thompson is huge. Thompson was a 6 ft. 10 in., all-American at Providence and played with Satch Sanders on the Celtics as Bill Russell's understudy during the mid 1960s. Already this season, Thompson has served as an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic team and has taken the Hoyas on a twelve day barnstorming tour of Taiwan.
While Harvard's cagers were faring poorly in Columbia, S.C., the Columbia Lions were also down South playing at nearby Greenville in the Poinsetta Classic. The Lions are for real this year. They beat The Citadel and Furman to take the tourney. Columbia's last victory in a tournament game came on December 30, 1972. Their last tournament championship was the 1967 Holiday Festival, when the current batch of four sophomore starters were in fourth grade and Tom Penders was a high school coach in Connecticut.
The Lions are one of the biggest reasons Satch Sanders thinks the caliber of play in the Ivy League is competitive with any in the nation. Penders recruits as if he were waging holy war and has come up with two of the most exciting young players in the Ivies in sophomore Ricky Free and high flying, 5 ft. 8 in. Alton Byrd.
Byrd was voted MVP in the Poinsetta after scoring 25 points with 13 assists against Furman in the final, while Free carded 29 points. Against The Citadel Bulldogs, soph Kevin Donohue, who shattered all of Bill Bradley's Missouri high school scoring records, hit 11 of 19 shots from the field.
If you think the cagers have a tough schedule this year, playing three of the best teams in the East in Georgetown, Syracuse, and Holy Cross, just remember that their next three Ivy League opponents are Princeton, Penn and--you guessed it--Columbia.
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