Ivy League play has begun in earnest, and it looks like the contenders are who they have been of late. Our first weekend of league showdowns is this one, with one last night and one tonight.
It started last night with Yale visiting Columbia. Columbia scored a nice win over Harvard at home last week, but the home court wasn’t quite so good this time around. The Lions led at the break and still led by five over seven minutes into the second half, and that’s when Miye Oni and Yale took over. Oni scored five of his 22 points during a decisive 11-0 run, and Yale was then en route to an 87-78 road win.
Road wins are a big deal in the Ivy League, not unlike other conferences. And another contender got one last night and hopes to get another in tonight’s big game.
Princeton went up to Dartmouth and got a hard-fought 69-64 win, a reminder that trips to Hanover are never easy ones. Coaches all over the league will tell you that, and lest you think it’s merely coachspeak to respect an opponent, several have been caught on trips up there when the Big Green has been down. (It’s not hard to figure it to be a tough trip when the Big Green has a good team, as they have a few times recently.) Yale suffered a heartbreaking loss up there a couple of years ago that took them from being seconds away from an Ivy League title to ultimately not making a postseason tournament.
On Saturday night, Princeton is at Harvard. These two have met in some epic battles in recent years, from one-game playoffs to decisive games still in the regular season. The heart-breaking loss Harvard suffered in New Haven at the hands of the Tigers in 2011 guided them for several years. They never forgot that feeling en route to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances right after that.
This time around, there are some other angles to this. Harvard impressed at times in non-league play with their talent, reminding many why the general feeling was that the Crimson were again the team to beat this year. Princeton, meanwhile, was a little up and down, but more importantly, lost key players Hans Brase (knee) and Henry Caruso (toe) to season-ending injuries in December. At that point, you could be forgiven for thinking the Crimson were heavier favorites in the league than before.
But the Tigers have regrouped to win their first four Ivy League games, putting them a half game ahead of Harvard entering Saturday night’s game. It’s never a good time for an injury, but you might say the injuries happened at a better time than later in the season in that it gave the Tigers time to regroup, time for new players to step into the roles Brase and Caruso had. Mitch Henderson, an all-time great Tiger, has been a bit snakebit during his head coaching tenure there, but maybe this is where the fortunes change a bit.
So once more, Harvard and Princeton meet in a big game on Saturday night. It’s early in league play, but this game’s out come can set a tone and go a long way. It’s also good for the league to have big games early on to get some attention.
One of the many games slated for Saturday has already been moved. North Carolina will now host Notre Dame at 1 p.m. in Greensboro on Sunday instead of 8 p.m. on campus on Saturday, a move made because of a water shortage in Chapel Hill after two incidents. A water main broke on Friday, and a treatment plant had to close because of the amount of fluoride in the water, which led to UNC canceling classes after 1 p.m. on Friday and area restaurants and schools closing.
Another busy slate is ahead with a lot of matchups to watch.
- In the ACC, Duke welcomes back head coach Mike Krzyzewski as they host Pittsburgh (1 p.m.), while an underrated matchup in importants is Georgia Tech at Wake Forest (3 p.m.)
- A key Atlantic 10 matchup is St. Bonaventure hosting VCU (4 p.m.)
- The Big 12 slate is led by Iowa State at Kansas (2 p.m.), while Baylor tries to bounce back from the loss at Kansas when they host Kansas State (3 p.m.)
- In the Big East, an important battle takes place in the afternoon as Creighton hosts Xavier (3 p.m.), while Villanova hosts St. John’s later (8 p.m.)
- An important Big Ten game leads off their slate as Maryland hosts Purdue (noon)
- In the CAA, Elon visits College of Charleston in a matchup of two of the conference’s best teams (5 p.m.)
- A big battle is set in the Horizon League as Green Bay is a game and a half back of Valparaiso, who they host at 1 p.m.
- One of the best, and biggest, matchups of the day is the Missouri Valley showdown with Illinois State traveling to Wichita State (8 p.m.)
- The Mountain West has an important matchup with San Diego State trying to get back to .500 in the conference as they travel to Fresno State (7 p.m.)
- The Pac-12 has the best game of the day, a first-place showdown as Oregon hosts Arizona (4 p.m.)
- In the SEC, Georgia couldn’t pull off a win at Kentucky the other night, but will try Saturday to do so at South Carolina (2 p.m.), while the best matchup of the day is the showdown in Gainesville as Kentucky visits Florida (8:15 p.m.)