Back on February 8th, Yale pulled off the upset of the Ivy League season, taking down Harvard in Boston. Led by forward Justin Sears, who finished the night 21 points and 11 boards, the Bulldogs shocked the Crimson, ruining their then-perfect conference record.
Yale was +14 on the boards against the Crimson that night, but also benefited from some of their best shooting of the year, hitting on more than half of their shots and 24 of 29 free throws. It was a titanic win for a team that scuffled through most of their non-conference slate.
The win was part of an impressive seven game winning streak for the Yalies which solidified their status as the biggest threat to Harvard’s chances of winning the league. But a pair of recent losses (to Columbia and Princeton) did damage to the Bulldogs’ chances of stealing the league crown. As they enter the final weekend of Ivy play, they sit at 9-3 in conference play. Harvard sits at 11-1.
When the two teams go to war tomorrow night in New Haven, the implications will be considerable. While Harvard can clinch the league title with a victory, the Bulldogs need a W just to keep their chances alive. (They would then need a win on Saturday coupled with a Harvard loss to Brown…just to force a one game playoff for the Ivy championship.) But the game carries more than just the weight of Ivy League title implications. Recent games between the two heated rivals have resulted in superlative battles. This one should be no different.
Harvard is Harvard. The Crimson represent a team capable of making a run in the NCAA Tournament and their 24-4 record does justice to the fact that they are no ordinary mid-major. Tommy Amaker has built a winner in Beantown and this Harvard outfit is his best, with their boa constrictor defense (the tenth best in the country in terms of opponents’ points per game) and a highly efficient offense. Led by high-flying wing Wesley Saunders, the Crimson are as good a team as the Ivy League has ever seen.
Yale, in the other corner, can’t boast the same level of talent or skill as Harvard, and they enter the weekend with only an infinitesimal chance of winning the league. But the feisty Bulldogs are certainly a compelling team. While Yale lacks a go-to perimeter scorer, they do not lack in size and their bigs are athletic. The Bulldogs have leaned on their strengths in conference play, showing an ability to scratch and claw for wins. Their trees down low, particularly the dynamic Sears, are tough to match.
In the cathedral of Sweat, the Ivy League’s two best teams will face off once again Friday night. Harvard-Yale is not just a football rivalry anymore.