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What are the chances of the Harvard men's basketball team winning the Ivy League title this year?
Well, not too good.
But, the reason Harvard won't win the Ivy League is not because of any particular lack of talent on the Crimson squad.
Instead, it is the amazing pool of talent that Princeton has assembled.
The Tigers' basketball program is on a roll. Last year, it was ranked in the top 25 nationally as Princeton Coach Pete Carril took his team to a 24-3 record, while going 14-0 in Ivy League play.
This year, Carril returns four out of the five starters from last year's team. The only player missing is center Kit Mueller, 1990-91 Ivy Player of the Year. He will be missed, but freshman recruit Rick Hielschler can fill the void.
Beyond Heilschler, Princeton has guards Sean Jackson and George Leftwich, along with forwards Chris Marquadt and Matt Eastwick. That foursome is the best in the league. No doubt about it.
Barring a terrible highway accident involving the Tigers' team bus, Princeton has the Ivy League locked up.
If at First You Don't Succeed
The race, then, is for second.
Two teams stand out in the race to place: Harvard and Pennsylvania.
The two teams feature diametrically opposite styles of play: the Crimson plays a lumbering inside game, while the Quakers will rely on a speedy three-guard attack.
Penn Coach Fran Dunphy has the second-best backcourt in the league, after Princeton. The Quakers lost leading scorer Paul McMahon (13.8 points per game), but replacing him is Rookie of the Year Will McAlister, who averaged 9.7 points per game as a freshman.
Dunphy has also added freshman point guard Jerome Allen, whom he says is "very, very good." Together with returners Paul Chambers (7.3 ppg) and Ken Graf (10.8 ppg), Dunphy can rotate four men through his three guard positions.
Rounding out the Quakers' squad will be senior Vince Curran (7.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) at forward, and sophomore transfer Andy Baratta at center.
Dunphy has a seemingly strong squad, but its ability to rebound is suspect. Curran is the only player averaging over three rebounds per game.
Furthermore, last year Penn shot just 43 percent as a team, while allowing opponents to score 48 percent of their shots.
Without the rebounding, Dunhay will find it tough to win on nights when his guards are not exactly on target. Penn will be vulnerable to teams with strong inside games, such as Harvard.
While perimeter teams are unpredictable, the Quakers should put together a good run at second place.
But they won't make it, because Penn does not have the muscle inside to beat the Crimson.
Harvard plays to Penn's weaknesses. The frontcourt tandem of Captain Ron Mitchell and Tyler Rullman is too strong for the Quakers to stop.
Harvard and Penn will run neck-and-neck in the standings, but Harvard should win the head-to-head matchups, thereby securing second place.
Pennsylvania will settle for third.
Finishing fourth this year will be Brown. Although the Bears lost star forward Carlos Williams, it still has sharpshooters Chuck Savage (15.5 ppg) and Rick Lloyd (13.3 ppg). But the absence of any inside game whatsoever will pervent them from rising far.
Right behind the Bears will be Columbia, riding the skills of guard Buck Jenkins (14.5 ppg), who is on pace to become the third leading scorer in Lions history. Dane Holmes (10.6 ppg) and Eric Speaker (9.2 ppg) add depth, but there is little else in the Lions' bite.
Yale finished second in the Ivy League last year with a 9-5 record, but they graduated their top two guards. Only Ed Petersen (14.6 ppg) remains to run the show. This year, it's back to the basement.
Falling to seventh will be Cornell. Cornell went 6-8 last year and tied for third, but the Big Red lost its entire frontcourt to graduation. Off-guard Shawn Maharaj (12.2 ppg) will do the best he can, but he will be dragged down by the team's dead weight.
Rounding out the Ancient Eight is last year's cellar-dweller, Dartmouth. The Big Green went 4-10 last year and lost their top two scorers to graduation. This year, Coach Dave Faucher will look to sophomore gunner Gregg Frame to spark his hopeless team.
There they are: Princeton and the Seven Dwarves.
If anybody is going to upset Princeton, it will be Harvard. The Crimson has the strongest inside game in the league.
If the guards come through for Rookie Coach Frank Sullivan, who knows?
Princeton isn't used to losing. Maybe it's time to teach Carril a lesson.
Whatever the result, Princeton, Harvard and Pennsylvania promise to bring some great games to Briggs Cage.
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