Last week was “shopping week” for Harvard undergrads, who got to try out their classes and see what they thought before committing to taking them. In a way, last weekend was likewise a shopping week for Ivy basketball fans, who got a little taste of each of the teams in a head-to-head format and were able to make some early judgments.
But unlike work in classes you don’t end up taking, these games actually mattered. And though we didn’t learn anything we didn’t really already know—Harvard is really good, Dartmouth is really bad, and everyone else falls somewhere in between—we did discover some worthwhile information about the Ivy hoops scene.
After struggling in games at Fordham, Monmouth, and Vermont earlier this year, the Crimson was surprisingly dominant in what should have been a much tougher road environment in New Haven last Friday. Harvard’s offense executed on all cylinders, finding the open man time and time again, while its defense held Yale to fewer points than the Crimson football team scored in The Game.
Harvard currently ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, though that’s a mostly useless stat because it doesn’t take into account pace or adjust for opponent.
Still, the Crimson has nonetheless proven to be an outstanding defensive team, and—thanks to a quartet of freshmen that keeps getting better every week—a much deeper, more balanced offensive one than last season’s. Whether it’s Steve Moundou-Missi’s energy, Corbin Miller’s shooting stroke, Jonah Travis’ toughness, or Wes Saunders’ athleticism, these rookies continue to impress.
We’ll discuss the rest of the league below, because after a dominant 6-0 record last week, I’m ready to jump right into the picks.
CORNELL (7-11, 2-2 Ivy) at HARVARD (18-2, 4-0)
Two years ago, an outstanding Big Red team came into Lavietes Pavilion and, behind 27 points from Ryan Wittman, demolished the Crimson in what had at that time been deemed “the biggest game in Harvard basketball history.”
There have been two more “biggest games in Harvard basketball history” since, and things now are very different from that evening two years ago.
Just this week, Jeremy Lin ’10—Wittman’s former competitor for Ivy Player of the Year—became a Madison Square Garden fan favorite following 26 successful NBA minutes. Similarly, Wittman led his Washington Wizards to a 102-99 win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Oh that’s right, that was his dad, Randy!
Ryan Wittman, for his part, became a Timberwolves fan favorite after his 26 successful hours working in Morgan Stanley’s Minneapolis branch. Here’s one to add to ryanwittmanfacts.com: Ryan Wittman retired so quickly, I didn’t even have time to finish writing this joke.
I only kid because it was disappointing to see a great talent like that give up so soon.
But in any case, the Crimson is now the Ivy League’s main dog at long last, and tonight it has another chance to prove it—just like Cornell did in the same arena two years ago.
Pick: Harvard 74, Cornell 60
PRINCETON (10-9, 1-2 Ivy) at BROWN (7-14, 1-3)
Brown shocked the Ivy basketball world by upsetting Princeton in each of the past two seasons, but if it wins tonight, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.
The Bears played the Crimson tough last week, fighting back to stay in the game on a number of occasions. Sean McGonagill and Stephen Albrecht form a talented guard duo, though they can get a bit trigger-happy at times, firing up threes like they’re the twin sons of Ali Farokhmanesh.
The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to struggle, and have already lost as many Ivy games as they did all last season.
Pick: Brown 67, Princeton 62
COLUMBIA (12-8, 1-3) AT DARTMOUTH (4-16, 0-4)
Put it this way: You could take a team of the five least athletic Lions of all time—let’s say Matt Millen, Snagglepuss, the Cowardly Lion, Joey Harrington, and Lionel Mandrake from Dr. Strangelove—and it would still beat Dartmouth.
Pick: Columbia 66, Dartmouth 63
PENN (11-9, 3-0) AT YALE (13-5, 3-1)
This is the best game of the weekend by far, with enormous implications for the only two other squads with legitimate postseason aspirations this year (you know, assuming Yale doesn’t decide to go on spring break again instead).
The two Player of the Year frontrunners and Ivy scoring leaders, Yale’s Greg Mangano and Penn’s Zack Rosen, will be going head-to-head. And while the Quakers are supposed to be a peaceful people, emerging from Yale with a win is going to require a lot of fight.
Penn, which starts four guards and a 6’8” freshman forward, simply doesn’t match up well inside with the Bulldogs. The 6’10” Mangano and 6’9” Jeremiah Kreisberg should dominate inside, and though Rosen will try, that’s something he won’t be able to overcome.
Pick: Yale 72, Penn 67
COLUMBIA AT HARVARD
The best teams are often the ones that are most disliked, and that’s something the Crimson is quickly starting to learn this year.
In a ridiculous column written in the Columbia Spectator this week, one writer urged readers to “hate” Tommy Amaker, comparing him—one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve encountered—to sports figures such as O.J. Simpson.
Clearly upset about being denied an interview with Amaker, the writer resorts to claiming that the coach has had a journey to “scandaltown.” His source, of course, is the 2008 New York Times article that reported Amaker guilty of NCAA recruiting violations; the writer, fittingly, decides not to mention that the coach was later cleared of any serious wrongdoing by the NCAA and found merely to have committed an “unintentional secondary violation.”
The writer then encourages Columbia’s athletic department to promote the idea of a Columbia-Harvard rivalry—because as every sports fan knows, all true rivalries start with people working for the team telling their fans to make it a rivalry.
Here’s the problem, Columbia: rivalries have to go both ways, but you just don’t matter enough to have a rivalry with.
Just look at your sports culture: Your team color is baby blue. Your students need to ride the subway across the city just to go to your football games. Speaking of football, your band received national media attention for making fun of its own team, which finished a pathetic 1-9. That’s almost as bad as you did in men’s hockey and men’s lacrosse. Oh wait, that’s not true, because you don’t even have teams in those sports.
There are like seven fans on your entire campus, the majority of whom apparently spend their time debating which fictional villain the opponent’s coach is most similar to.
So sorry, Columbia, find someone else to hate. Since you love superheroes so much, perhaps try Underdog. Because that’s what you always will be.
Pick: Harvard 76, Columbia 59
CORNELL AT DARTMOUTH
Big things are supposed to be good at basketball; the Big Red and Big Green are not. In fact, Cornell’s not very big at all; it’s two leading rebounders are the 6’7” Shonn Miller and 6’0” Chris Wrobleswki.
The squad badly lacks frontcourt depth, and that should allow Gabas Maldunas and company to give the Big Red some trouble in the historic “voluminous pigments” rivalry.
I could definitely see Dartmouth making a run at an upset here—they’re due for one sometime soon, and this is the type of game where Cornell loves to play down to its opponents. But I think it’s a bit too early for the Big Green’s annual one conference win of the year.
Pick: Cornell 64, Dartmouth 60
PRINCETON AT YALE
After last week’s embarrassment, it’s clear that Yale is much further from competing for a championship than we thought. That’s largely because they have no point guard after losing Porter Braswell to graduation. I’m not sure how they’ve been so successful without one, but the Bulldog offense was a mess Friday night.
That being said, they’re still better than Princeton. And though Doug Davis returns to the arena where he hit “The Shot,” there shouldn’t be any opportunities for another miracle this time around.
Pick: Yale 74, Princeton 66
PENN AT BROWN
Zack Rosen clearly plans to will Penn to his first Ivy title or die trying. The senior point guard has already taken 266 shots this season—just 14 less than he took last year, but in almost 400 fewer minutes.
How long Rosen will be able to find success in the Greg Jennings “team on my back” role remains to be seen, but it should be more than enough to beat the Bears.
Pick: Penn 78, Brown 71