This weekend represents the biggest trap games left on Harvard’s schedule. Each of the following weeks pit the Crimson against a contender, and the final back-to-back on the road in New York will either be a victory lap or an opportunity to clinch the title. But Super Bowl weekend brings a pair of lesser opponents to town. As such, Saturday night’s game between Harvard and Columbia is easy to overlook in favor of juicier matchups down the line (ahem, the Killer P’s next week). But the faceoff between the Lions and the Crimson might prove as meaningful to the Ivy race as any other showdown this weekend.
Just two weeks ago Columbia was a dark horse to compete for the conference title. But a trio of narrow losses to Penn, Princeton, and Cornell has rendered the 2-3 Lions an afterthought. They did little to discredit themselves in those 2-, 4-, and 5- point losses though, and they are still very capable of springing an upset.
The Lions have two of the best players at their position in the league in guard Brian Barbour (the Ivy’s leading scorer in conference play at 20.8 points per game before this weekend) and forward Mark Cisco (the Ivy’s leading rebounder in conference play at 10.5 boards per game before this weekend), and it boasts a third player in Meiko Lyles who’s capable of springing a big performance. Columbia matches up well with Harvard at those spots on the floor (against Brandyn
Curry, Keith Wright, and Laurent Rivard/Christian Webster), but the Crimson has a decided edge with the rest of its rotation. The Lions’ top three will need at least one monster performance, ala Cisco’s 18-20 versus Cornell, to stay in this game.
Columbia’s greatest cause for hope is its defense, ranked second in the conference. Harvard’s Top 25 defense hasn’t wavered this season, but its offense has been prone to dry stretches. The Lions are probably the Ivy”s most capable of forcing one of these spells because of its ability to match up on the inside and on the perimeter.
Still, the Crimson should be too much to handle. It hasn’t lost at Lavietes since February 2010, and it’s taken five straight from Columbia, including three wins of 19 or more points. I don’t expect this game to be a blowout of those proportions; both teams d-up too hard and play at a pace too slow for such a lopsided affair. But Harvard’s talent and depth should rise once again, and the Crimson will head into the Palestra next Friday riding a win.
Harvard 64, Columbia 54.