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Hide your kids. Hide your wife. And hide your husband, because the Ivy League is getting fratricidal this weekend. Judgment Week has come for the Ancient Eight.
Three teams—three-and-a-half if you count Dartmouth—have a shot at killing the dreams of a title hopeful. Penn has a crack at Harvard tonight and Princeton next Tuesday, and the Tigers and the Crimson throw down tomorrow evening, likely for the top spot in the conference (the Big Green also has a statistically insignificant chance at beating Princeton tonight).
Without getting too technical, Harvard must pick up a half-game in the standings to catch the Tigers. A sweep this weekend would ensure that outcome and force, at the very least, a neutral-site playoff to determine the Ivy’s Tourney team. Any Crimson loss, however, would necessitate help from Dartmouth (yikes) and/or the Quakers to keep Harvard’s banner dreams alive.
In the simplest terms, both Princeton and the Crimson control their own destinies. If either team wins out (including a potential playoff), that squad will join the Madness.
So while its 70-69 loss to Yale last Saturday was crushing, Harvard is still very much alive. If, at the beginning of the season, the basketball gods had offered me this situation—two, potentially three, straight wins to end the season would earn a ticket to the Dance—I would have taken it in a heartbeat. In that sense, the Crimson is right where it needs to be, playing at home, no less, where it has won 15 in a row.
But make no mistake; the pressure is on. Tonight is the latest “biggest game in Harvard men’s basketball history.” Then it will quickly be supplanted by tomorrow’s game against Princeton.
Win or lose, Lavietes will be a glass case of emotion this weekend. Personally, I’m all-in on this team. This is my last tour Around the Ivies, and to come so close and fall short of history would be devastating. It’s the burden of being a fan. You follow a team through its ups and downs, and then one day you realize that your heart is on the line.
When that day comes, you’re rooting for more than just the game. You’re rooting for all your loyalty to pay off, for a sign that the universe still rewards faith, care, and hope. That’s why the student section doesn’t just chant, “We will win.” The chorus that’s become so familiar to Lavietes starts with one person saying, “I…I believe…”
Belief alone won’t hang a banner, but I do believe that we’ll win out.
PENN (12-13, 6-5 Ivy) at HARVARD (21-5, 10-2 Ivy)
Poor Penn has the toughest conclusion to its season, with games against the Crimson and the Tigers still left on its slate. The flip side of that scheduling is that the Quakers are still relevant. Sure, this class of Penn seniors is the first since the early 1990s to not win a league title, but at least it can spoil the dreams of either Harvard or Princeton.
The first matchup between these two teams was one of the most electric sporting events I’ve ever been to. The Crimson actually won the game three times—once at the end of regulation when the referees inexplicably waved off a foul, once at the end of the first overtime when the buzzer sounded before Zack Rosen’s game-tying shot, and finally for real at the end of the second extra period. I think Harvard will beat Penn for the fourth time this season to set the stage for a showdown with the Tigers.
Pick: Harvard 74, Penn 66
PRINCETON (22-5, 10-1 Ivy) at DARTMOUTH (5-21, 1-11 Ivy)
I hate having Dartmouth as a travel partner. To be fair, last Saturday was the first time all season that the Crimson lost while playing the same team a night after the Big Green did, but situations like tonight make me wish that a stronger squad was batting ahead of us in the lineup.
Opposing teams just don’t have to worry about Dartmouth. Friday games versus the Big Green are just foreplay to Saturday night against Harvard. I expect Princeton will be ready for the Crimson tomorrow.
Pick: Princeton 70, Dartmouth 57
YALE (14-12, 7-5 Ivy) at COLUMBIA (14-12, 5-7 Ivy)
With two games left, it’s time to kick off the Ivy League Player of the Year discussion. It has to start with Bulldogs big man Greg Mangano, right? He’s arguably the best scorer in the conference and definitely the best rebounder and shot blocker. While the Bulldogs won’t finish in the top tier of the league, I don’t think a single player has done more for his team.
A strong finish to the season would do wonders for his candidacy. I think Yale continues its winning streak over Columbia in New York.
Pick: Yale 70, Columbia 68
BROWN (11-15, 4-8 Ivy) at CORNELL (8-18, 4-8 Ivy)
Brown had Harvard on the ropes last weekend until sophomore Andrew McCarthy missed a wide-open layup that would have tied the game with just over three minutes left. Had the end of that contest played out differently, the Bears would be riding the longest winning streak in the league.
I like the way this team is coming together. Tucker Halpern, Sean McGonagill, and company should be able to climb up the Ivy ranks next year, with the squads ahead of them losing seniors from their core. In the meantime, I see Brown picking up its second conference road win.
Pick: Brown 76, Cornell 75
PENN at DARTMOUTH
Aside from Princeton-Harvard, none of the Saturday games will even register on the college basketball Richter scale. If the Quakers beat Dartmouth and nobody is paying any attention, does it still count?
Pick: Penn 69, Dartmouth 58
BROWN at COLUMBIA
By tonight, Columbia will have played the top four teams in the league in succession. Brutal. The Lions are another team that will be on the rise next year, so this Columbia-Brown matchup will be a lot more interesting in 12 months. Tomorrow’s game, however, will be merely a footnote in the 2010-11 Ivy season. I like the Lions at home.
Pick: Columbia 77, Brown 72
YALE at CORNELL
Yale stole one from Cornell back on Feb. 4 when the Bulldogs erased a 10-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining to pull out a 71-70 victory. I think the Big Red enact a measure of revenge and end Yale’s season on a sour note.
Pick: Cornell 71, Yale 69
PRINCETON at HARVARD
Now that Charlie Sheen has told us the secret to winning is tiger blood, I understand Princeton’s success. But, like Sheen, I don’t think the Tigers can keep this up forever. I keep waiting for a spectacular fallout. So far, it’s been a steady climb of excellence for both Princeton and Sheen—I’m not even sure where the peak is anymore—but this has to end horribly, right? Tell me yes, because I don’t want to live in that other world.
I said it already, but I think Harvard has a championship pedigree. I saw it against Colorado, Boston College, George Washington, and Brown, and I think we’ll see it again tonight.
Pick: Harvard 70, Princeton 65
PRINCETON at PENN
The final kink in the Ivy schedule is this quirky game next Tuesday night between the Tigers and Penn. Given a Princeton loss tomorrow, I hope the Quakers win so that I don’t have to rebook my flight for Spring Break in order to cover a playoff game. I don’t think I’m that lucky though.
Pick: Princeton 65, Penn 61
RECORD LAST WEEK: 6-2 (To date: 30-11)
—Staff writer Timothy J. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.
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