In the beginning, there is Dartmouth.
If you are the Harvard men's basketball team, the journey to an Ivy League title always starts with a December matchup against the Big Green.
Unfortunately the road has never been smooth enough for the Crimson to reach that title dream. In its 65 seasons of Ancient Eight hoops, Harvard has never won an Ivy title. Never.
The enormous task of erasing that "never" begins tonight at Lavietes Pavilion when Harvard (4-2) and Dartmouth (5-1) kick off the Ivy season.
"Everyone's real excited about starting the season," sophomore point guard Tim Hill said. "We have really good team chemistry."
The Crimson have good reason to be hopeful. Last season's 15-11 record represents Harvard's first winning season in 11 years. The turn-around from the dismal season of two years ago, in which the Crimson finished 6-20, is incredible but incomplete without a title.
Harvard's preseason started off strong, with four consecutive wins before the Crimson was upset by Holy Cross. The team has been led all season by the scoring (18.2 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 rebounds per game) of senior Kyle Snowden and the floor leadership of Hill, who is averaging under two turnovers a game to go along with his 6.3 assists.
But Hill has also shot just 28 percent from the floor in the last two games after starting off above 46 percent. Such a turnaround is symptomatic of the entire team's play in the last week. Despite a strong showing to start the season, the team shot just 36 percent from the field in the two losses.
The poor shooting has left much of the burden on the interior play of the big men, Snowden and senior center Chris Grancio.
Harvard led the Ivies in rebounding margin last season, and rebounding is one of the Crimson's strong suits.
Dartmouth has had little to complain about thus far this preseason. The Big Green has the best record in the Ivy League and, like the Crimson, is considered among the favorites for the league title. Its five wins include a 28-point shellacking of Holy Cross, which beat Harvard.
"Dartmouth has a lot of seniors so they have very good leadership on the court," Hill said. "They also have some height and some quickness, and they shoot the ball pretty well."
The man doing much of the shooting for Dartmouth will be senior swingman Sea Lonergan. The explosive scorer was an All-Ivy pick last season and brings three years of experience into the upcoming season. Lonergan is fifth in the Ivies in scoring so far this season at 16.2 ppg.
Along with Lonergan, the Big Green boasts 7'0" center Brain Gilpin, who enters the game second in the Ivies in blocked shots with 1.67 per game. He is also ninth in the league in scoring and is used to having his way in the paint.
"It's going to be a total team effort," Hill said. "Everyone's going to have to help out down low with the seven-footer."
A key part of Harvard's total team effort will be the play at the two spot.
With sophomore Mike Scott back from the flu, the solid play of sophomore Mike Beam in his stead and the Gary Payton-like defense of captain David Demian, Harvard coach Frank Sullivan is left with no choice but to rotate three players at shooting guard.
Harvard lost its Ivy opener to Dartmouth last season, but roared back with a 19-point embarrassment of the Big Green in the second meeting.
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