The Game 2.0

Can Harvard break Yale's heart in "The Game" once again? (gocrimson.com)
Can Harvard break Yale’s heart in “The Game” once again? (gocrimson.com)

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:

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Crimson vanquish P’s, secure sole possession of first place

Harvard appears to be closing in on a fifth straight Ivy crown, but the Crimson aren't in the clear just yet. (Robert Crawford)
Harvard appears to be closing in on a fifth straight Ivy crown, but the Crimson aren’t in the clear just yet. (Robert Crawford)

It was about 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in late January. Harvard had just suffered a crushing defeat to Dartmouth at home. The Crimson’s record was 1-1 in Ivy play. The Ivy season was still young, but to many this loss proved that Harvard was not the team it once was. The door was left wide open for Yale – in fact, the door had swung off its hinges. A few minutes after the buzzer sounded, the distraught Crimson players came back onto the floor to sign autographs for their young fans. At the time, the smiles on these kids’ faces made them look naive – but knowing how insignificant that loss seems now, perhaps those kids’ prophetic smiles proved they knew more about the Crimson’s future than the rest of us.

That hypothesis is supported by the next day’s headlines and the initial reaction to that second Harvard-Dartmouth game. A trusted source for Ivy basketball on Twitter ripped into Tommy Amaker for his lineup decisions and then stated, “When [Harvard] loses the league, this will be why.” A writer for our own Ivy Hoops Online wrote in a piece about Yale that “Harvard is not that good.” In the face of all of this negativity, Harvard basketball’s mantra became “regroup and respond,” and over the last month (during which the Crimson have won eight straight Ivy games), that’s just what this team has done. Harvard’s two wins this past weekend over Penn and Princeton, combined with Columbia’s victory over Yale on Saturday night, have placed Harvard in sole possession of first place (9-1), one game ahead of Yale (8-2).

Read moreCrimson vanquish P’s, secure sole possession of first place

A tale of two halves is the tale of two wins

Siyani Chambers' step-back jumper just inside the three-point line buried Columbia with 2.9 seconds left, resulting in a 72-68 victory for the Crimson.
Siyani Chambers’ step-back jumper just inside the three-point line buried Columbia with 2.9 seconds left, resulting in a 72-68 victory for the Crimson.

This past weekend, Harvard continued its nerve-wracking habit of playing excellent basketball for only one half of the game, which ultimately led them to two more crucial victories over Columbia and Cornell. Unfortunately, the Crimson played one half on Friday and one half on Saturday that were certainly below the standard of a team that is fighting to be the best team in the Ivy League. So far, Harvard has gotten away with its heart attack-inducing ways, but the question looms: Can they keep this up for six more games?

Read moreA tale of two halves is the tale of two wins

IHO Power Rankings – Feb. 10

1. Harvard (5-1)

Harvard’s still the class of the conference. The Crimson held Yale to 11 points in the entire first half at Payne Whitney Gym to tie Yale atop the Ivy standings at 5-1 in league play. Wesley Saunders’ career-high 33 points did Brown in in overtime the night before. Reports of the Crimson’s demise were clearly premature. Harvard hosts Columbia and Cornell at home, two more solid defensive squads that will not be easy outs at Lavietes. The thing about Harvard is that the Crimson win the close ones – they’re 8-1 in overtime games since 2010. I have a feeling that that stat will be coming into play at least one more time down the stretch.

2. Yale (5-1)

The Bulldogs responded to the biggest game for their program in quite some time by going 3-for-22 in the first half. Harvard’s defense is awesome, but the Elis were visibly a little tense in the early going too. Still, Yale is 5-1 and tied for the conference lead with its greatest rival and another shot at that rival at Lavietes, the same place Yale trumped Harvard last season. All is not lost for the Elis, but it was disconcerting to see them abandon Justin Sears in the second half.

More importantly, the Whiffenpoofs are full steam ahead.

Read moreIHO Power Rankings – Feb. 10

Crimson survives at Brown, prevails at Yale

Reports of Harvard's demise were proven premature in New Haven Saturday night.
Reports of Harvard’s demise were proven premature in New Haven Saturday night.

The Crimson’s season hung in the balance: There were eight seconds left and Harvard trailed by two points. A loss would seriously hurt the Crimson’s chances of even a share of the Ivy title.

This was not the narrative for Harvard’s Saturday night tilt against league-leader Yale, however – this was the storyline of their game against bottom-dweller Brown on Friday.

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Crimson collapse, and Big Green capitalize

Lavietes Pavilion hasn't hosted too many 26-2 runs in its day.  (gocrimson.com)
Lavietes Pavilion hasn’t hosted too many 26-2 runs in its day. (gocrimson.com)
Harvard’s 70-61 loss to Dartmouth was the culmination of every single thing that has gone wrong for the Crimson at some point this season. Critics of Harvard have pointed out that when Wesley Saunders isn’t “on,” they can’t win, that Harvard’s offense is anemic, that Siyani Chambers turns over the ball too frequently. One thing that Harvard had not been called out on – until yesterday – was its defense. Harvard struggled to get key stops when it needed them, which led to this deflating loss. But really, this was a tale of two halves… or four quarters, actually.

Read moreCrimson collapse, and Big Green capitalize

Crimson conquer first Ivy Foe, Miller lethal from long range

Harvard stifled Dartmouth for a 57-46 win in Hanover on Saturday night to move to 1-0 on this young Ivy League season. The win is the Crimson’s third straight, and their eleventh straight versus the Big Green. In Harvard’s most important tilt thus far, it took care of business. Out of the gate, the Crimson shined, making their first three shots. However, they only made one field goal in the next seven minutes of play, letting Dartmouth tie the score at eight. Then Corbin Miller got hot, posting the next 11 points for the Crimson. Harvard looked very streaky offensively in the first half, but Dartmouth’s shooting woes (27 percent from the field), coupled with Harvard’s stout D, gave the visitors a seven-point lead at halftime.

Harvard traded blows with Dartmouth in the second half, with the Crimson’s lead eventually reaching eleven, three minutes into the half. However, Dartmouth stayed within reach and was able to cut the lead to five only a few minutes later. With Saunders out due to foul trouble, Kenyatta Smith, Siyani Chambers, and Corbin Miller stepped up scoring Harvard’s first 22 points of the second half (that’s every point for the first 18:17 of the half). Strong late-game performances from the charity stripe by Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders sealed the Crimson’s first Ivy League victory. Though at the time the game seemed well in hand, clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch will be crucial to Harvard’s success against tougher Ivy League foes.

Read moreCrimson conquer first Ivy Foe, Miller lethal from long range

Breaking down why Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League

As a Harvard optimist, I was unfazed by the Crimson’s lackluster performance against Virginia on Dec. 21. I concede that Harvard is not on the Cavaliers’ level. This past Sunday, the Crimson needed a strong bounce-back performance versus a more suitable opponent, Arizona State, but once again, Harvard could not establish the upper hand in a 56-46 loss to a tough Sun Devils team. Three obvious takeaways from this game are:

  • Harvard’s defense continues to be top-notch.
  • Harvard’s offense continues to sputter.
  • Playing away from its home court at Lavietes Pavilion is tough for the Crimson.

So the real question is, can Harvard escape the Ivy League gauntlet with a stingy defense and an offense that’s weaker than last year’s? To examine this question, I decided to take a closer look at how Harvard and the other Ivy League teams have fared against “Ivy League-caliber” competition.

Read moreBreaking down why Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League

Watch out for Harvard’s Corbin Miller

Corbin Miller has scored in double figures in three of Harvard's past five games. (gocrimson.com)
Corbin Miller has scored in double figures in three of Harvard’s past five games. (gocrimson.com)

On Monday night, Harvard’s tough defense and late-game toughness pushed the Crimson over Boston University, 70-56, at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge. For the first thirty minutes of the game, Harvard and BU traded leads and the scrappy Terriers just would not go away. Then halfway through the second half, Harvard pulled ahead for good on a Wesley Saunders three-pointer, and the game was never in doubt after that. BU’s head coach, Joe Jones, noted after the game that Harvard played like a “winning team” down the stretch, and BU simply did not.

Once again, Saunders had an outstanding night, with 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Great performances from Saunders are becoming the norm (he is currently the only player in the NCAA averaging at least 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game), so it was another Harvard player’s performance that caught the attention of Crimson fans.

Read moreWatch out for Harvard’s Corbin Miller

IHO Awards of the Week – Dec. 1

The week that was in Ivy roundball, power rankings included:

8. Penn (0-5)

Sigh. More on Penn here, but suffice it to say that the Quakers’ loss to Wagner made their tangible improvements against Lafayette and Temple look like a mirage.

7. Dartmouth (1-3)

Meh. The Big Green let a four-point lead with 7:04 left slip away at home to New Hampshire, which trumped Dartmouth, 65-63, via a game-winning bucket by Daniel Dion with four seconds left. Dartmouth beat IPFW, 68-67, earlier in the week but entered the New Hampshire game with the lowest-scoring offense in the conference and second to last in turnover margin. This offense just isn’t very good and somebody besides Alex Mitola needs to step up as a consistent weapon. Prior to New Hampshire, Connor Boehm was shooting just 43.8 percent from the field, and his scoring was down to 6.7 points per game from 10.9 last season. Boehm was the Big Green’s leading scorer against the Wildcats and will have to be even more impactful going forward for this offense to lift itself up.

Read moreIHO Awards of the Week – Dec. 1