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At first glance, the men's basketball race in the Ivy League seems very familar. Penn (9-6, 5-0 Ivy) is unbeaten and in its customary position atop the conference, while Columbia (4-14, 0-6 Ivy) is comfortably entrenched in the cellar, winless against Ancient Eight opponents.
Perennial contenders Princeton (12-5, 4-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (12-6, 5-1 Ivy) are in hot pursuit of the leaders, and Yale's (5-11, 1-5 Ivy) prospects for a title seem rather dim.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you will find one unexpected contender for the league crown. As improbable as it may seem, Harvard (12-6, 4-2 Ivy) is poised for a run at the conference title.
The Crimson, just a year removed from a dismal 6-20 finish, had won seven straight games before falling in double overtime at Brown Saturday night.
Led by Ivy League Rookie of the Week Tim Hill, the Crimson kept its longest winning streak in 11 years alive with Tuesday's 66-61 win at UNH and Friday's 62-47 thrashing of Yale. Hill had 28 points, seven assists and three steals in the victories.
Hill did not act alone, however. Junior forward Chris Grancio equalled his career-high with 15 points in the Yale game--including four three-pointers--while junior Kyle Snowden, the league's top rebounder, extended his streak of consecutive-game scoring in double figures to 32.
If Harvard hopes to compete with elite programs such as Penn and Princeton, however, it will have to pull out tough games such as Saturday's heartbreaker.
Unable to shut down Brown's backcourt trio of Eric Blackiston (19 points), Steve Silas (14 points, eight rebounds) and Aaron Butler (12 points), the Crimson squandered a superb effort from Hill (15 points, seven assists) and an opportunity to keep pace with the Tigers and Big Green heading into a crucial weekend of competition.
Instead, Harvard finds itself a game and a half out of second place as it prepares to host Princeton on Friday night and Penn on Saturday.
Princeton enters the contest on a five-game winning streak, most recently disposing of Columbia and Cornell with a combination of stifling defense and timely scoring from freshmen Brian Earl and Gabe Lewullis. The Tigers boast the league's stingiest defense, allowing opponents an average of just 52.4 points per game.
By contrast, Penn brings the league's second-most productive offense into Cambridge. The Quakers average 68.8 points per game, due in no small part to forward Ira Bowman (16.3 ppg) and Ivy League Player of the Week Tim Krug (15.5 ppg). The one-two punch has prolonged Penn's league winning streak to 48 straight games.
And Krug is riding a hot streak of his own, after pouring in 56 points, grabbing 21 rebounds, dishing out 11 assists and blocking 11 shots to take league honors for the second time this season. His big week helped Penn to three victories by an average of nearly 19 points.
Dartmouth will face these same two opponents, coming off road wins at Brown and Yale last weekend. Junior Sea Lonergan demonstrated why he was a preseason All-Ivy selection, lighting up the Bears for 18 points and the Elis for 24 more.
The Big Green hopes to outdo its last great season, 1988-89, when it finished second in the league with a 10-4 mark. To accomplish this feat, Dartmouth must record at least one win against Penn or Princeton at home.
Elsewhere in the league, Cornell (2-4, 6-11) is reeling after back-to-back losses to Penn and Princeton. The Big Red, despite sparkling individual performances by forward Eddie Samuel (25 points, 13 rebounds against Penn) and guard Alex Compton (21 points against Princeton), dropped its third game in its last four outings.
Yale and Columbia continue to struggle, though the Elis have had one bright spot this season. Junior Daniel Okonkwo is the league's second leading rebounder, averaging 8.7 boards per game and is among the leaders in steals as well, with 30 in 16 games. Otherwise, Yale has been atrocious on defense, surrendering a league high 70.9 points per contest.
Columbia has not fared any better, though its problems have been on offense. The Lions rank last in scoring, tallying just 58 points per night.
Fortunately for both these teams, they still have two games against each other remaining.
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