History enhances the incentive.
If the men's basketball team (15-9, 8-4 Ivy) sweeps Yale and Brown this weekend, its 17 wins would tie the Crimson for second place on the alltime Harvard win list. The 1945-46 NCAA tournament team, which went 19-3, occupies first place. Five Harvard teams have won 16 games, most recently in 1980-81.
"This could be the best team Harvard has had in the last 25 years," captain David Demian said. "Kyle [Snowden] is probably the best player in the league, and Chris Grancio has elevated his game and become a premier player. We've brought the program a long way."
To take it even further, the Crimson will need to guard Yale and Brown to the same degree that it did in earlier Harvard victories against both teams. On Jan. 31, the Crimson defeated Brown, 63-55, and the next day it thumped Yale, 73-59.
The Bulldogs' Dan Okonkwo, who is third in the league in rebounding (8.8 rpg) and fifth in scoring (16.3 ppg), had his worst game of the season versus Harvard, managing just six points and two rebounds that night.
"It was billed as a matchup between him and Kyle, but we guarded Okonkwo quite well," Sullivan said.
Against Yale tonight, the Crimson will target both Oknokwo's outside shot and his inside game.
Harvard will also need to stop Brown's Aaron Butler, who is shooting 38 percent from downtown. Like Okonkwo, Butler (14 ppg) leads his team in scoring.
"He's their go-to guy--he's an explosive perimeter player who can put up big numbers," Snowden said.
While Okonkwo and Butler are the only players in double figures on their respective teams, Harvard has three: Snowden, Grancio, and sophomore guard Tim Hill. Additionally, all three are among the top ten scorers in the league.
"The key is not to let down," Grancio said. "We'll have to attack both teams inside. Brown's interior defense isn't great. Yale is susceptible to the fast break and gives up easy baskets."
Grancio's performance against Princeton and Penn last weekend earned him his first-ever selection as Ivy League Player of the Week. Versus Princeton last Friday, Grancio scored 25 points, a career high--until he torched the Quakers for 26 the next day. Over the two-game span, Grancio had 11 rebounds and three assists, and made 16-of-17 free throws (94 percent).
"I was at the free throw line an awful lot," Grancio said. "I had some good looks and good shot attempts."
Sullivan praised the team's resilience in both games. Harvard lost to Princeton, 66-61, but shaved a 16-point deficit to four in the final 11 minutes.
"Usually, the sentiment is that if you trail Princeton by eight or ten points, forget it," Sullivan said. "With their ball control and significant defense, they will not allow you to get back. To close to within four is commendable. Kyle was outstanding down the stretch in that game."