On January 25th, the chances that the Yale Bulldogs would win their next seven games were less than 1%. Of course, the Elis bucked the odds and rode the unlikely string of victories into a tie for first place heading into Sunday’s showdown with Columbia. But Yale’s good fortune crashed more violently than the NBC Sports Network video truck outside Levien as the boys of Morningside Heights methodically stifled Justin Sears and Co. And now, we are faced with the prospect of a final weekend with little drama if Yale can’t bounce back and pick up a win or two on the always-challenging southern road trip.
Still, all the credit goes to Harvard for storming into a loud, defiant Jadwin and tossing off the shackles of history in an impressive second half defensive effort that sealed the Crimson’s pivotal ninth win.
Let’s get to the rankings.
1. Harvard (9-1) (56 points, 7 first place votes)
This was the Harvard team you either feared or hoped for. The one with Top 25 dreams and a Cinderella slipper size. Neck and neck with Yale in the standings, the Crimson delivered two resounding victories, on the road, against the Killer Ps, for the first time since 1985.
On Friday, Harvard went into the Palestra and dismantled Penn, 83-63. It was ruthless and methodical. Behind a season-high 10 assists from Siyani Chambers, the Crimson built a 12-point halftime lead, stretched it out to 26, and then rested up for Saturday. After all, that swift annihilation was merely preamble to the showdown at Jadwin, where Harvard would have its best shot in 25 years to walk out with a win. The 0-24 losing streak at Princeton was the last artifact of the Crimson’s dark ages and perhaps the biggest remaining hurdle for coach Tommy Amaker.
The first half felt like the same old story, as the Tigers ran out to a 12 point lead, but a late push, sparked by a pair of Brandyn Curry jumpers, dragged Harvard within five at the break. In the second half, the Crimson defense, ranked 23rd in the nation, clamped down. It forced Princeton to launch from deep (14 of 23 second-half attempts were from three), and the Tigers went cold, shooting just 34.8% eFG in the frame. Again, Curry, in his final chance to top Princeton, stepped up with big buckets (12 points in the second half), first to help whittle away the lead and then to give Harvard the edge. Nursing a double-digit advantage, the Crimson could enjoy the last four minutes, as this bunch made school history for the umpteenth time.
The weekend sweep was made doubly sweet for Harvard fans when Columbia took care of Yale on Sunday. While the Bulldogs still technically control their own destiny, Crimson fans know that a very small margin now separates their team from a fourth-straight Ivy title. -C. River Banks
2. Yale (8-2) (46 points)
Yale fans reacted to Sunday’s ugliness in two ways. We shrugged our shoulders and echoed James Jones’ post-game thoughts, rationalizing that it’s tough to play great 14 out of 14 times. These Bulldogs had been overachieving for a whole month and they were bound to drop a game at some point. With Javier Duren sidelined by an injury, we had a valid excuse and still some hope with Princeton and Penn looming– teams that Yale has beaten six times in a row dating back to 2012. Sears won’t let that happen again, we’ll get Cotton some space, and Duren should be in playing shape, right?
But that little voice in our heads that we’ve been muffling for weeks continues to get louder. We’ve been hurt before by believing, most recently in 2012, but also in 2007 and 2002. “Don’t buy in! You’ll only have your heart stomped on when Harvard wins by 25 in New Haven on March 7th!” it says. Always top half, but never champions– the Elis are bound to let us down.
Yet, in the end, hope always wins out. We continue to watch and cheer for the precise reason that we believe that the unlikely is possible. And when it happens, we want to be there and be a part of it. One of these seasons, we’ll get over the hump. Maybe this one. The Quakers are a mess and we have the formula for beating Princeton. The students will show up and make John J. Lee a madhouse on March 7th and Harvard’s finale at Brown isn’t a gimme either. Four games to go and we’re right in the thick of it.
Believe in blue. –Bruno March
3. Columbia (6-4) (45 points)
Columbia took care of business this weekend – its first weekend sweep since February 2009. The irony is that they did it without a healthy Grant Mullins, who announced Sunday via Twitter that he would be watching Sunday’s game from his “personal concussion box seats” at Levien. However, Brown was without Maia, and Yale without Duren.
Friday night’s game was a back and forth barnburner. The Lions benefitted from an inspiring performance from Meiko Lyles, who had a season-high 21 points on 5-5 from deep, and 9 rebounds. McGonagill’s 20 points and 5 assists didn’t cut it for Brown who was playing without big man, Rafael Maia. Alex Rosenberg added 23 points, and at this point has asserted himself as an elite scorer in the Ivy League – yes, a serious Ivy POY candidate. He’s shooting 45%/44%/80%, and has the 10th highest FT Rate in the country.
After their impressive 62-46 trouncing of Yale, the Lions are now officially postseason eligible, and boast a 17-10 overall record. Sunday’s postgame press conference was all smiles and laughter, but there was no smile wider and no laughter louder than that of Columbia’s Steve Frankoski (you can literally hear it in the audio below).
Coming back from a broken wrist, Frank entered Sunday’s game with just 10 points on the season. He had 14 in the first half, and finished with 17 in the game. His final basket was a backbreaking three-pointer resulting from a great hustle rebound from Ivy League All-Hustle First Team, Isaac Cohen. Frankoski has his swagger back, and should be a huge weapon for the Lions going into the final four Ivy League games.
Ultimately, despite their infinitesimal chances at winning an Ivy title, this weekend was a transcendental weekend for the program. The Lions have a real shot at finishing the Ivy season above .500 for the first time in 20 years.
If you listen to the audio below – yes, those were my questions that made everyone laugh. –Greg “Wolfgang” Schwartz
4. Brown (6-4) (34 points)
Interesting weekend for the Bears without Rafael Maia. They dropped a game at Columbia that they really could’ve won– on a last second shot for the second straight year— and managed to scratch out a victory in Ithaca in overtime. The stars of the weekend were undoubtedly Cedric Kuakumensah, who had unprecedented success on the offensive end, and Leland King, who played a lot of minutes to make up for Maia’s absence and took advantage of his opportunity, winning Ivy Rookie of the Week yet again. It was a very encouraging sign to see the Bears pull out a victory when McGonagill had a rare off night. It gave the Pizzitola faithful a hopeful glimpse at the uncomfortable future without the Professor guiding the offense.
The Bears, with their young roster, need just a split this weekend and a home win against Dartmouth to wrap up a winning Ivy record and a possible postseason berth in the CBI or CIT. –Bruno March
5. Princeton (3-6) (29 points)
The Tigers have an outside shot at second place for the third straight season, but they need to sweep their final five. No small feat, especially with Columbia on the road next weekend. Yale visits Jadwin on Friday, with a sweep of the P’s in mind. Both teams should have chips on their shoulders after last week, when the Bulldogs were staggered by Columbia and the Tigers were embarrassed at home by Harvard, the first win for the Crimson at Jadwin in 25 years.
No one can blame Mitch Henderson if he starts looking ahead to next year, when he will have the unenviable need to fill up TJ Bray’s minutes. The Tigers are demonstrably worse without TJ on the floor (see John Templon’s piece at Big Apple Buckets). Princeton has a very good chance to receive a post-season invitation, especially if they can put up 20 wins, a mark reachable with a sweep of the final five. The presence of three first year players in the line-up most of the time makes a post-season appearance extremely attractive. –Toothless Tiger
6. Penn (4-5) (21 points)
This has been an extremely difficult season in which to remain positive as a Penn fan. I’m certain it has been even more difficult for both the players and coaches. After all, the last two weeks have been especially tough on the Quakers. First, their Southern New England swing through New Haven and Providence didn’t turn out exactly as planned. (As predicted yes, but not as planned.) However, they certainly had their chances as both Yale and Brown began each game with a brick-building clinic, allowing the Quakers to hang in despite their own sputtering offense. Of course, a more polished team would have quickly taken advantage and buried their rivals thus sealing a win. Naturally, this ability was completely out of the question for Penn. The outcome: two more road losses.
After the Brown game, which was played in a raging snowstorm forcing the team to walk to the Pizzitola Center, DNH honorably admitted that the team was “tired.” And why shouldn’t they be? It has been proven time and again that it’s absolutely exhausting trying win a ball game while you’re already busy beating yourself to the tune of 42 turnovers and 50 fouls across both games. (I should mention that two of those TOs at Yale consisted of two 10-second violations called in short succession.) The following weekend, league-leading Harvard came to Philly. The results were no different except the yawning talent and discipline gulf between the top and the bottom of the Ivy was now on full display. True, half of the home squad was either injured or ill, necessitating a JV player to be called up to help fill the personnel gap, but even with the Quakers at full strength, one would still expect a crushing loss for no other reason than the persistent and pathetic lack of fundamentals. Between TOs and fouls, Penn allowed an amazing 51 of the Crimson’s 83 points. (Henry Brooks even shattered his own DQ speed record by fouling out with more than 10 minutes left in the game.) The Quakers now rank an unbelievable 346th out of 351 D-I teams in turnover rate and 342nd in fouls committed per game. The numbers speak for themselves: stunning stats for a former perennial League power and its disheartened and disillusioned fan base. No team, not even Lebron’s Miami Heat, could possibly succeed while playing in such a careless fashion.
As of late, I’ve wondered who the Quakers would be if say James Jones or Kyle Smith was at the helm. How would these men, or any other seasoned coach, harness and develop the malleable talent that Penn clearly has? Still, no matter who mentored the Quakers, you’d have to believe that they probably wouldn’t continue to lead the NCAA in beating themselves.
The Red and Blue will surely not be favored in any of their remaining games except perhaps the one game Quaker fans secretly fear most—Cornell. Should Jerome’s Boys lose before all 12 blue-haired old ladies that currently comprise the Alfred E. Newman Nation–and they very well could– it is safe to say the fall of Penn Basketball would be complete. Regardless, I’m staying Red and Blue, my friends. –The AQ
7. Dartmouth (2-8) (13 points)
The Big Green’s current six-game losing streak feels very similar to the five-game skid it endured during February last season. Aside from the loss to a pitiful 2-22 Cornell team, none of the other games – even those against fellow also-rans Princeton and Penn last weekend – have been close. Paul Cormier still doesn’t know who his best guys are (11 players played 10+ minutes against the Tigers; 10 did so against the Quakers) which generally isn’t a good thing with four games remaining in the season.
The Big Green has been game on defense, but the offense has killed any hope of a top-half finish. Dartmouth has shot over 50% just once in an Ivy League game and is shooting 39.8% from the field in Ivy games, 0.1% better than Cornell. It’s been terrible at the free-throw line too, ranking last in Ivy contests at 65%, and without Gabas Maldunas providing interior spacing, the Big Green hasn’t been able to take or make many threes, hitting an average of just 4.7 per game in conference play. Every week a new youngster like sophomore forward Brandon McDonnell will step forward (18 points, 7 rebounds vs. Penn) only for the rest of the starters to take a step back. Right now, it’s a squad that more closely resembles the 1-13 Dartmouth squads of 2010-12 than the 5-9 team of last year.
Maybe hosting Columbia and Cornell this weekend (whom the Big Green swept in Hanover last year) is just what Dartmouth needs to stop the rot. Or maybe the New York teams will become the latest to prey on a squad that is rapidly undoing all of the progress of 2013. –Jonathan Gault
8. Cornell (1-9) (8 points)
Say what you want about the ongoing campaign, but the type of fight we’ve seen from a 2-22 basketball team should not go unnoticed. This team has fought back from double digit deficits with just minutes to play instead of throwing in the towel, something that’s not quite easy for a 20 loss team. This team has fought under the pressure of being without a D-I win since February 2012, and has finally gotten over the hump. Now, Cornell has fought not only without Shonn Miller, but without Robert Hatter and Deion Giddens.
Taking a contending Brown team to overtime in a game that was truly one bounce from going the Red’s way in this kind of season is admirable. Don’t confuse my admiration with being content, because I’m definitely not. Yeah, Cornell is dead last again in our power poll–anyone could have anticipated that–but instead of using this space to hammer the team, I wanted to take a minute to admire the way the group hasn’t quit. I don’t think every team would be able to say the same in Cornell’s shoes. In amateur athletics, that’s got to stand for something. -Jake Mastbaum
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