The Ivy League schedule, which until recently had the road-weary Harvard men's basketball team enduring long bus rides to Ithaca, Hanover and Princeton, finally has become kinder and gentler.
The Crimson now can reap the benefits of its early season travels, because it plays six of its next eight league games in the friendly confines of Briggs Cage. If Harvard (7-10 overall, 5-1 Ivy) is to remain in contention for the Ivy title, the Crimson must take advantage of its home court. Harvard faces Brown at Briggs tonight.
Harvard is currently one game behind league-leading Princeton (13-2, 4-0). This weekend the Tigers are on the road, where they will meet Cornell (3-3 Ivy) and Columbia (3-3 Ivy). It is unlikely that nationally-ranked Princeton will drop a league game before its March 1 visit to Harvard. If the Crimson is to set up a rematch for first place, Harvard must keep up its end of the bargain and win its upcoming games.
"With Princeton so good, we can't be looking to lose a lot of league games whether they're home or away," Harvard coach Peter Roby said. "We don't even have the luxury of a loss on the road. Home games become crucial."
The first crucial home test comes against the Bruins. The Bruins (7-11, 2-4) are led by the backcourt tandem of Rick Lloyd and Chuck Savage. Savage's 15.3 points-per-game is good enough for third in the league scoring race. In last week's games against Cornell and Columbia, the 6'1" Savage tallied 34 points and 19 rebounds. And Lloyd's numbers are nearly as impressive as those of his teammate. He is averaging just under 14 points, and is second in the league (behind Harvard's Tarik Campbell) in assists.
Carlos Williams, a bruising 6'7" center, is the inside complement to the Bruin backcourt. The sophomore Charles Barkley look-alike, who scored 24 points against Columbia, leads the Bruins with 7.1 rebounds per game. Ron Mitchell, who is tops in the Ivies in rebounding, will have to cover Williams.
Roby is depending on an aggressive defense to shut down the Brown backcourt.
"We have to play solid defense this weekend," Roby said. "They have guys inside that can hurt you, and guards that are more than capable on the perimeter. Lloyd and Savage are dangerous. They're good ballplayers. We've got to stay in front of the man, and force them to take shots with pressure."
The Crimson will seek to continue that pressure Saturday night against Yale. The Elis (9-9, 3-3) are led by Ivy League Player of the Week Ed Peterson. The junior guard, who leads the team with 14.5 ppg, contributed 23 points and 11 assists in the Elis' win over Cornell last week. Teammate Dean Campbell also is a dangerous scoring threat. He is averaging over 11 ppg and is leading the Ivies in steals.
The Elis inside game is well-balanced, with Campbell, Travis McCready and Stuart Davies all pulling in over six rebounds per game. Yale, however, is not a deep team. The Elis rely on only seven players consistently, which may hurt Yale against the fast-paced Harvard running game.
"We're not going to be successful if we don't run," Roby said. "We've got to generate our running game off of the defense."
If the Crimson is to be successful in the larger league picture, it must protect its turf. "I don't think it's too dramatic to say that these are must-win games," Roby said.
"These are must-wins from the standpoint of how you anticipate the rest of the league going," Roby added. "The form for gaining success in this league is winning your home games and doing your best on the road."
Harvard has followed that form with an impressive 4-1 league record on the road. Now it's time for the Crimson to establish itself at home.