On Saturday, Harvard traveled to Ithaca, N.Y to take on Cornell in what was billed as a battle between the two best teams in the Ivy League. That was the idea at least. What ensued was a 36-point blowout by the Big Red.
Cornell (18-3, 4-0 Ivy League) completely dominated the Crimson. All five Cornell starters finished in double figures, led by senior center Jeff Foote. Foote had 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and he was impressive on both ends of the floor.
The key to this win was Cornell’s defense. They were quicker and hungrier than Harvard all game long, creating 25 turnovers, including 14 steals. In doing so, the Big Red held Harvard to a mere 36 field-goal attempts. This defensive effort translated to points, where Cornell owned a 29-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Ivy League does not have a postseason tournament to determine its automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. Instead, the regular season Ivy League champion gets the berth. That is why this win is so big.
Before this weekend, Cornell and Harvard were considered the league’s premier teams. Cornell must still travel to Cambridge to take on the Crimson, but it is clearly the team to beat now.
Two questions come to mind. First, can Harvard regroup after this tough loss and get back on track? Second, is Cornell deserving of a spot in the Top 25?
Harvard (14-4, 3-1 Ivy League) is having a terrific season so far but certainly hit a roadblock on Saturday. By itself, losing on the road to Cornell is not bad at all. However, when the size of the loss (36 points) is factored in, the game becomes much more meaningful.
Harvard has a very young team. There is no doubt that experience was a factor in this game, and these youngsters did not handle the atmosphere very well. Playing on the road, in front of a loud and energized crowd, the Crimson laid an egg.
For a team this young, the next game will be very important. For Harvard, that next game is at home against Princeton. If the Crimson can take care of business in that game, then we will know they are back on track.
Of course, Cornell is still lurking. However, the next time they face each other, the game will be in the Crimson's gym, in front of a room full of fans screaming for them, instead of the other way around.
Cornell has a very good, experienced team. They have made the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and looked primed to make a third consecutive trip. They have only three losses, and two of them are to top-five teams (Kansas and Syracuse).
So are they a top-25 team? As of right now, probably not. The problem is that, although the Big Red have played well against some good teams, they do not have a single quality win. Realistically, Cornell is more like a top-40 team, which is exactly where they are currently ranked. They are 36th in the most recent AP poll. Plus, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Cornell as a 10-seed in his most recent Bracketology update. This is a good spot for the Big Red.
So what did this matchup really teach us for sure? First, it confirmed that, as of right now, Cornell is still the best the Ivy League has to offer. Second, we learned that a young, talented Harvard squad is not yet ready to take on a good Cornell team. Besides that, who knows? Perhaps Harvard is not quite as good as we thought. Maybe Princeton is Cornell’s biggest challenge.
Or, maybe Cornell really is that good.
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