Our favorite cranky Cantab-hating commenter sent us the following essay yesterday. The author of this piece is not affiliated with Ivy Hoops Online, but we always welcome and encourage commenters, outside contributors, and readers to share their opinions and thoughts.
By The Ancient Quaker
Now that the preliminaries are finally out of the way, at last comes the make or break weekend for the Crimson. The hyperbole surrounding this team is insufferable. The sporting press has already crowned them champions since early September. Some have even dared to call this year’s Crimson the best Ivy team of all time. (No, that would be the third ranked (that’s 3) Quakers of 1970. If you don’t agree, there are plenty of other possibilities: Bill Bradley’s Tigers, Penn’s 1979 Final Four team or even the sixth-ranked 1967 Columbia Lions with Jim McMillan.) What’s more, earlier this week ESPN was trying to determine Harvard’s likely tournament seed. As amusing as these possibilities may be, to this I say not so fast. With the P’s coming to Boston in a few days anything can happen. As I have already made clear in a prior article, I am no fan of Harvard Basketball or of their unctuous coach Tommy Amaker. Nevertheless (for fun), I will posit why I believe the Crimson will win their first outright title. Then to be fair (and hopeful), I will suggest why they will fail.
Why The Crimson Will Win
Home Court Advantage
Let’s dispense with the obvious first. It is always a plus to be the home team in the Ivy League. Although it’s a bit high schoolish looking for such an august institution, Lavietes has nevertheless been kind to the local tenants. The Crimson possess the second longest home winning streak in D-1 ball. The fact that this is also the longest Ivy road trip for the P’s and it comes toward the end of the season increases the fatigue factor for the visitors.
At present, Harvard is ranked third (that’s 3) in the nation in team defense. I will admit that that is a pretty impressive statistic. This title is usually held by Princeton but the Tigers are having an off year defensively (56th). Yale looked terrible in both games against Harvard because they couldn’t handle the defensive pressure. As the roundball sage of Philadelphia, Coach Jerome Allen, is fond of saying, defense “is the ability to impose your will on the opponent.” Defense wins ball games. Penn’s defense is ranked a miserable 161.
Experience is probably the biggest single factor in winning Ivy League Championships. There have never been any Fab 5’s in the Ancient Eight. Conference Champions tend to be stocked with juniors and seniors who know the Friday-Saturday horror shows the schedule can dish out. Witness the Penn and Princeton teams of yore and, as of late, Cornell. The 2010 Big Red reached the Sweet Sixteen because they were loaded with seniors and, above all, experienced. These teams rarely lost their poise.
The core of the Crimson are all upperclassman. Overall the team is 23-3 and they didn’t get that way by accident. It also doesn’t hurt to have a bunch of blue chip freshman sitting on the bench. Therefore, one can assume that the P’s are in for a long night as wave after wave of talented players hit the hardwood.
(So far things are looking bleak for the visitors.)
Although Amaker received a veritable (pun intended) slap on his Sydney Johnson for the program’s alleged misdeeds, the specter of recruiting violations still hovers over this team. Busted or not, Amaker has still reaped the spoils. He has qualitatively and quantitatively better players than the rest of the league. Yes I’m sure he knows how to work the living room (“Ummm, this onion dip is yummy for my tummy”) and is a good recruiter in his own right, but I can’t help but wonder who really belongs on the team and who doesn’t. Regardless, the program has been exonerated and it is a talent gap that unfortunately everyone must deal with.
In conclusion, the Crimson have constructed a formidable combination for winning: defense, experience and cheating. In fact I’m getting depressed just thinking about it. So without further ado, it’s time to explain why I think the Crimson will fail.
Why The Crimson will Lose
I will admit they are defensively solid, but I have seen the Crimson play several times this year and for a top 25 program, they play terrible team basketball. Their offense is erratic and streaky. For example, their defense kept them in the game against Florida State. A defensive struggle and no offense led to a 14-14 tie at halftime. No one could get the ball in the hoop. Consider this as opposed to the 2010 Cornell team that seemed to flow with the ball even when they were a little out of sync. Look, anyone can have a bad shooting night and Harvard is due. Disrupt their offensive sets and they appear panicky and hence extremely vulnerable. I may be completely wrong, but for all their experience, the Crimson does not strike me as a mentally tough team and talent only goes so far. I should also note that Columbia has the 19th ranked defense in the nation and they’re at the bottom of the league. So defense isn’t everything.
Princeton Will Wear Them Out
Having already lost to the Tigers, it will be payback time. It will be an emotional game and a defensive struggle. However, Princeton is peaking at the right time and is arguably playing the best ball of anyone in the League over the last month. If Harvard loses, they will be drained and defeated. If they win, they will be drained anyway. This is the same scenario that occurred when the Crimson arrived in New Jersey after a death match with the Quakers a few weeks ago. By the time Penn shows up, they will have their hands full with Zack ”Man on a Mission” Rosen. Of course, if Tyler Bernardini is injured and can’t play effectively or at all, Penn will simply not be able to keep up. The title might finally move to Cambridge. However, if Harvard loses to either of the P’s, the Crimson must then go to New York and play a dangerous and motivated Columbia team. Except for one game, all of the Lions’ Ivy losses have been by eleven points or less. They could have also very easily beaten Penn at The Cathedral last weekend if the defense didn’t decide to take a night-night when The Quakers inbounded the ball.
One could say that Douglas Davis’ dagger of last year was comeuppance enough but I say no. The stain of unfair advantage never goes away. Look at Bill Belichick. What have they Patriots won since Spygate? Zero playoff games since their embarrassing debacle versus the Giants in 2008 until another playoff run led to a lost Superbowl this year. What happened to the dynasty? Look at all the baseball players not in the Hall of Fame because of PEDs?
I do not believe in Karma (otherwise I’d be sitting here in thatched wheat underpants and sipping tepid Oolong tea right now), but I do believe that it is hard to respect a program of this nature where the leadership has set such a poor example.
My gut feeling, unfortunately, is that Harvard will eventually win the whole thing. Nevertheless, I think they are and have been extremely overrated. Even if they make the tournament, I can’t see them getting out of the first round. Normally, I root for the Ivy representative in the NCAA tournament whoever it is. A win of any kind brings honor to the League. This year may be the exception.