Previewing Harvard-Princeton

Sure, it’s early in Ivy League play. But Friday night’s battle between Harvard and Princeton carries serious implications.

Wesley Saunders and the Crimson were last seen beating Dartmouth by 30 in Hanover.

Wesley Saunders and the Crimson are fresh off a 30 point win over Dartmouth.

In a league with no post-season tournament, the annual pair of meetings between Harvard and Princeton–the league’s two best programs over the past few years–have been pivotal in determining the conference’s winner.

This year, Harvard has mostly fulfilled extraordinarily high expectations in spite of a number of injuries. The Crimson sit at 15-3 going into this weekend and are 2-0 in Ivy League play. Both Ivy League wins came in the form of blowouts against Dartmouth.

Princeton entered the season with somewhat tempered expectations. While the Tigers hit double-digit wins in conference play last season (their fourth straight year accomplishing the feat), their 17-11 overall record was still their worst since 2009 and they lost their best player, forward Ian Hummer, to graduation in the off-season.

Yet, even without Hummer, the Tigers have been cooking all season. To date, they’re 12-3 and guard T.J. Bray has stepped up in a big way as a senior, logging 17 points and 6 assists per game. He’s been crazy efficient too, shooting 54% from the field and hitting at a 42% clip from downtown. But the Tigers hit a roadblock in their first Ivy League game, falling in Philadelphia against a bad Penn team.

With their Ivy League record at 0-1, Princeton’s game with Harvard takes on even more importance for the Tigers.

Winning in Boston would certainly be impressive. With their vicious pressure defense, Harvard has been one of the best defensive teams in the nation this winter. They also boast offensive options galore, from Saunders (who missed a couple of games earlier in the month due to injury), to explosive big man Kyle Casey, to sharp shooter Laurent Rivard. Perhaps Harvard’s toughest player to guard is sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers, a lightening bolt with deep range on his jumper.

While Columbia, Brown, and Yale remain intriguing dark horses in the Ivy League race, Harvard and Princeton have to be considered the class of the league at the moment. Mitch Henderson is the young, fiery coach of Princeton while Tommy Amaker continues to preside over the Harvard program he has built over the past few years. Both coaches are excellent and both have teams worth watching.

2,195 fans will get the chance to do just that in Lavietes Pavilion tomorrow night. For Harvard, the game represents their first real test in Ivy League play. For Princeton, it could be a must-win game, as an 0-2 start in Ivy play would be a major blow to their prospects of winning the league and making it to the NCAAs. Pretty spicy stuff for the end of January.

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