While the Crimson (15-11, 10-2 Ivy League) is locked into a top two seed in next weekend’s Ivy League Tournament, both of New York’s Ivy League teams have much to play for this weekend. With both clubs sitting at 5-7 in conference play, the four seed in the conference tournament will almost certainly be whichever team fares better against Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend. While the Crimson’s seeding depends on the results of Penn’s games with Yale and Brown, Columbia controls its own destiny and would qualify for the conference tournament with two wins this weekend.
On paper, both the Lions and Big Red seemed poised to split the weekend, with each team expected to beat lowly Dartmouth and fall to Harvard. If that were the case, Columbia would get the bid to the conference tournament by virtue of its win over Harvard back on Feb. 2 (since Columbia and Cornell split their two head-to-head meetings). However, two of the beauties of Ivy League basketball are that the sport is in fact played on hardwood and that anything can happen, especially given the league’s unique scheduling structure, in which teams play games on back-to-back nights.
As in life, there are very few certainties in Ivy League basketball, but being able to beat Dartmouth is usually one of them. However, a painless trip to Hanover is no sure thing for either of these teams. The Big Red edged their Big Green counterparts by one in Ithaca while the Lions’ margin of victory was a mere three. While Dartmouth has lost two straight, both of its conference wins came at home in February—the first on Flannel Night when Princeton was in town on Feb. 10 and then a week later when 767 people were on hand to watch the beloved Big Green top Brown. All kidding aside, just ask Yale coach James Jones how hard it is to win in Hanover a night after topping Harvard.
The Crimson has already seen both Columbia and Cornell once this season. Harvard fell to to Columbia in Morningside Heights for the third straight season, 83-76, on Feb. 2 before topping Cornell in Ithaca, 76-73, the following night. Despite the teams’ identical conference records and notorious sideshows—the Columbia University Marching Band and the Big Red Cheerleaders—the Lions and Big Red are two very different teams.
Cornell is ultimately a two-man show and that reality was evident when it faced off with the Crimson last month. Guard Matt Morgan and forward Stone Gettings make Cornell go and are largely the only two reasons why the Big Red has anything to play for this weekend.
Cornell averages 76.5 points per game (over 10 points more than Harvard scores per contest) but is dead last in the Ivy League in opponents’ points per game. Perhaps what is more interesting about the defensive inefficiency is that the Big Red is in the middle of the pack when it comes to opponents’ field goal percentage but is the worst team in the conference at defensive rebounding.
In Cornell’s first meeting with the Crimson, Morgan and Gettings did their damage as the rest of their team largely watched. The pair accounted for nearly 66 percent of Cornell’s points against Harvard in a season in which the juniors have combined for over 52 percent of their team’s scoring. Gettings has gone for 20 or more points nine times this season while Morgan has accomplished that feat on 17 different occasions. Needless to say, the matchup on Saturday will largely come down to how good of a job the Crimson does on stopping the Big Red’s dynamic duo. On the offensive side, Harvard will need more production out of its role players. Sophomore forwards Seth Towns and Chris Lewis combined for 13 field goals in Ithaca while the rest of the team had just 12.
Like Cornell, Columbia is near the top of the Ivy League on the offensive end. However, the Lions rely on their balance and are the more experienced of the two teams. Columbia coach Jim Engles has six players averaging over six points per game and 10 players logging over 10 minutes per contest. While sophomore guard Mike Smith is the team’s leading scorer (fourth in the Ivy with 17 points per game), he is far from the only scoring option for the Lions. Junior guard Quinton Adlesh led Columbia with 20 points in his team’s first meeting with Harvard while senior guard Kyle Castlin and junior forward Lukas Meisner chipped in 16 points apiece.
Columbia is the second-best three-point shooting team in the conference and has the second-lowest turnover rate in the Ancient Eight. In its first matchup with the Crimson, the Lions were able to capitalize on the skill of their imposing frontcourt. Sophomore Patrick Tape, Columbia’s starting center, is one of the few Ivy League centers who has a height advantage on Lewis while Meisner, who averages almost 12 points a game, has an inch on Towns. Although Towns went for a career-high 31 points against the Lions back in February, Columbia was able to hold the rest of Harvard’s roster to 15-of-42 shooting from the field. Lewis was particularly quiet, finishing with just seven points, his second-lowest output in a conference game this season, and the Crimson relied heavily on its three-point shooting.
Not for nothing, the Lions are pitiful on the road. Columbia is winless in six Ivy League away games and its only road victory this season came against Longwood, which finished the year in tenth place in the Big South after posting a 7-25 record.
The two keys for Harvard on Saturday will be whether it can get more production out of its frontcourt and whether it can neutralize Columbia’s potent backcourt. The Crimson has done an impressive job of containing Smith in its three matchups with the sophomore but has lost two of those largely because it has allowed other guards to beat it. Harvard will need to keep Adlesh, Castlin, and company in check as well if it wants to send its seniors out in style.
Now to the picks:
Princeton at Brown
This will be the last time we make these picks—and we intend to go out in a burning and fiery blaze of glory.