Harvard’s basketball team made history last season by winning its first outright Ivy League Championship while earning the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1946. The Crimson can take a big step toward their first consecutive trips to the Big Dance with victories at Princeton on Friday and Penn on Saturday.
It’s rather fitting that the Ivy League title comes down to Harvard and Princeton, as the Tigers have had a hand in the Crimson’s postseason fate each of the past two seasons. Last year, Penn would have played Harvard in one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s automatic bid had the Quakers won at Princeton to close the regular season. However, Princeton jumped out to an early 17-point lead in that one and won easily, 62-52.
In 2011, Harvard and Princeton played in one of the most memorable Ivy League games ever. The Tigers rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit to beat Harvard 63-62 in New Haven on Douglas Davis’ leaning jumper at the buzzer to take the one-game playoff. That was Princeton’s 24th NCAA Tournament bid, the most in Ivy League history (Penn is second with 23).
Harvard enters Friday’s game at Princeton having won four straight since a puzzling 15-point loss at Columbia. The Crimson’s only other losses in the past 16 games are to NCAA Tournament locks Memphis and Saint Mary’s (Calif.), both on the road. Harvard (17-7, 9-1) has a 1.5-game lead over Princeton (14-9, 7-2). The Crimson beat the Tigers 69-57 at Lavietes Pavilion on February 16 as 1.5 point favorites. Five players scored in double figures for Harvard, although leading scorer Wesley Saunders was held to 10 points, tying his lowest total this season.
Princeton has blowout wins at Columbia and against Cornell since that loss, the school’s first weekend conference road sweep in two seasons. The Tigers have been favored in every home game, but are 7-4 there (3-6 against the spread). Senior Ian Hummer is a leading candidate for Ivy League Player of the Year with Saunders. He leads the team in points (16.1), rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.3). Hummer had 18 points and seven rebounds in the first meeting with Harvard.
Hummer was named the Ivy League’s Player of the Week on Monday for the sixth time this season, a conference record for one year. Hummer is one POW award short of tying the all-time Ivy League mark for a career and 10 points shy of becoming Princeton’s second-leading career scorer. He won’t be catching No. 1 Bill Bradley.
A win Friday would give Harvard a nearly insurmountable 2.5-game lead over the Tigers with three to play for the Crimson. They visit Penn on Saturday, a team Harvard beat 73-54 on February 15 as an 11-point favorite. Princeton follows the Harvard matchup by facing Dartmouth on Saturday in the Tigers’ final home game.
ESPN’s Bracketology currently has Harvard as a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s South Region and opening against No. 3 Georgetown in Philadelphia. The Crimson were a No. 12 seed when they lost to No. 5 Vanderbilt 79-70 in the first round last year in Albuquerque.
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