On Nov. 22, 2014, Harvard defeated Yale in a thriller on the gridiron just a few hundred yards from Lavietes Pavilion. This Friday, Yale will get its chance at revenge – not only for this fall’s loss, but also for losses in 13 of the last 14 football “Games,” as well as for four straight years of Harvard dominance in men’s basketball. However, when the Bulldogs arrive in Cambridge this Friday, they will not be focused on past results; they will have their sights set on the 2015 Ivy League championship. This would be Yale’s first conference title since 2002.
There is also no shortage of motivation on the Harvard side. The Crimson will go for its fifth straight Ivy title. The last a team to do that was Penn (six straight from 1970 to 1975).
Evidently, this is it. The winner of this game will clinch a share of the Ivy title. So the question looms: Harvard or Yale? Who will win Friday’s showdown? Who will hoist the 2015 Ivy League Championship banner? Who’s going dancing? Luckily, I’m here to answer that question. To begin, let’s take a look at a few key matchups:
The first key matchup features Harvard’s perennial Ivy Player of the Year candidate Wesley Saunders and whomever is attempting to guard him – presumably Armani Cotton, and possibly Javier Duren at times. Look for Wesley Saunders to win his matchup, but do not expect an eye-popping point total for Saunders on Friday, because Yale’s head coach James Jones is a smart man; he will try everything to slow down Saunders. For the Crimson to win, Wesley Saunders needs to lead the team not only as a scorer but also with his facilitating – a role in which Saunders has thrived, leading the Ivy League in assists during conference play.
One of the most interesting matchups will be Yale’s Javier Duren vs. Harvard’s Siyani Chambers: both are outstanding players. Duren may use his size advantage to post up Chambers, and on the other end, too, Duren’s height may pose a challenge for Chambers. In Ivy play this season, Chambers has put up remarkable numbers (except against Brown and Yale). But Chambers is a seasoned veteran, and when it comes to big games, he has proven that he can carry his team on his back. Duren also has experience on his side, so look for these two floor generals to be the ones to step up in key spots when their teams need them.
Finally, the most important matchup on the floor will be the one between Harvard’s Steve Moundou-Missi and Yale’s Justin Sears. All season, Sears has boldly staked his claim for Player of the Year honors, while senior co-captain Moundou-Missi has been extremely effective with less gaudy numbers. I have little doubt that Sears will outscore Moundou-Missi, but I am confident that Moundou-Missi, the unsung hero of this Crimson squad, will rise to the occasion on Friday. If his mid-range jumper is falling, Moundou-Missi can become almost impossible to stop. The key to stopping Sears is to frustrate and stymie him for as long as possible (easier said than done). Perhaps Moundou-Missi will partner with Kenyatta Smith in this endeavor (has Tommy Amaker been saving Smith for this one game?) with the hope that Sears becomes a non-factor down the stretch – which is what happened the last time these two teams met. A message to Crimson fans: don’t count on Sears’ disappearance. Even if he doesn’t play his best game, Sears will be a major factor all night. This was the case against Penn last Saturday: although he was held scoreless during the first half, Sears dominated the boards, grabbing eight first-half rebounds and eventually leading his team to victory.
Through 12 Ivy League conference games, one thing has become clear: both Harvard and Yale look like they are worthy of being called Ivy League champions. Though it is technically possible that the two teams can tie for the title, there can only be one winner on Friday night, and that winner will be Harvard. Facing slightly superior talent, the Bulldogs won’t find a way to overcome the Crimson in one of the the biggest games ever played at Lavietes Pavilion (the last tickets sold at StubHub went for over $200). In an archetypal battle of offense vs. defense, the Crimson will prevail because it will continue its defensive dominance, while key Crimson players will step up offensively in the clutch. And looking ahead to Saturday night, I would not be surprised if a surging Big Green team, which is in desperate need of two wins to keep its postseason dreams alive, pounces on the Bulldogs while they are down and crushes their championship hopes once and for all for a thirteenth straight year.
Predictions aside, find a way to be at the game on Friday in Cambridge or check your local listings (which can be found here) for where to view the game on a big screen, because this battle could be an instant classic. And for those who have become tired of calculating the minutes until tip-off, check out the real time Yale-Harvard countdown It is bittersweet to realize that the next time I write for Ivy Hoops Online, an Ivy champion will have been crowned. This weekend is sure to excite.
Enjoy the show.