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Ivy League showdown looms between old rivals

February 18, 2012 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The stage is set. Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion will be a potentially epic battle with first place on the line after Friday night’s results. Harvard blew out Brown 69-42 at home, while Yale held off Dartmouth 70-61 in Hanover to take care of their end. Harvard will come in with an 8-1 Ivy League record, while Yale is on its heels at 7-2.

In theory, there should not have been much doubt about the games on Friday night. Brown was already under-manned, especially up front, and then had to go without Andrew McCarthy due to a back injury, thinning the frontcourt further against a Harvard team that can punish opponents inside. Dartmouth came in as the league’s only winless team, although they were at home. But there’s a reason why we play the games, and it isn’t because Brown had big halftime leads over Harvard in both meetings last season or Dartmouth’s reputation for playing teams tough in Hanover.

Saturday night’s game is also noteworthy in that this is a major rivalry, although one known more in football with “The Game”. Last year, Yale dealt a big blow to Harvard, knocking them off in New Haven, a loss that set the stage for the tie atop the league that led to the one-game playoff with Princeton. The Crimson haven’t forgotten that, and it’s one reason they understand that they have to play their best every game.

“We’re just looking at this as we’re pitching it up for 40 minutes and we have to come out of here with a win,” said junior forward Kyle Casey.

When the two teams met over three weeks ago, it was all Harvard as the Crimson drubbed the Bulldogs 65-35. They forced 22 turnovers, something that has plagued Yale teams over the years, and dominated for much of the game. The Bulldogs appear to have gotten over that loss, having won every game since then. And in keeping with lessons learned, Harvard won’t be approaching Saturday night’s game as if the earlier result gives them a leg up.

“We know we’re going to face a hungry team, and a team that’s fighting for our league just as we are,” said head coach Tommy Amaker. “We anticipate this is going to be what people thought going into that last game.”

Yale isn’t as deep as Harvard, and the Crimson got a chance to rest their starters somewhat with a big lead in the second half. The biggest factor in this game will likely be the turnover battle; if Yale can win out there, they should have a chance. The Bulldogs turn the ball over more than any other Ivy League team, and while Harvard turns it over the least in the league, they have been prone to stretches of turnovers in addition to stretches where they simply don’t give the ball away.

The Bulldogs match up well with Harvard save for not being as deep, so it will come down to who plays the better game. One Harvard player is confident in how his team will come to play.

“I think we’re going to play very well tomorrow,” said senior forward Keith Wright. “I’m excited.”

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