Princeton Tigers (11-10) at Harvard Crimson (10-11)
We dropped a game last night when we backed Duke playing at North Carolina. It was yet another classic game in this rivalry. The Blue Devils controlled the first half of the game and held the lead for the first twenty minutes of the game and went into the half leading 49-45. However, Duke failed to leave the locked room for the second half and saw the Tar Heels take control to start the half, as they went on a 16-4 run.
The game tightened right back up and with five minutes to go this was a one-possession ball game at 74-71, North Carolina. This is where that home court advantage clearly came into play. Tar Heel point guard Joel Berry drove the lane and very obviously traveled, yet there was no call, and he was able to dish the ball to the perimeter to find a wide-open Cameron Johnson who knocked down a dagger three to make it 77-71, North Carolina, with just three minutes left on the clock.
The Blue Devils could never recover, and you have to wonder what if they would have made the correct call? Duke had all the momentum and the crowd was effectively taken out of the game at that point. What can you do, that is the risk you take when you bet against the home team, sometimes they get those home team type of calls that can decide the game. I look forward to seeing these two match up again later this year at Cameron Indoor Stadium to give Duke its shot at redemption. For today’s pick, I am going to break down a matchup in the Ivy League where Harvard hosts Princeton.
The Princeton Tigers will travel to Boston, Massachusetts Friday night to square off against the Harvard Crimson. Princeton is 3-3 in league play and badly needs a win to qualify for the Ivy League conference tournament that only invites the top four teams in the league. Harvard, on the other hand, is in second place in the Ivy league at 5-1, just one game back of Penn for the coveted Ivy league title. The Crimson are -2-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 132 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM PST from Lavietes Pavilion.
The Harvard Crimson had a great run going under head coach Tommy Amaker. The Crimson either won or shared the Ivy League title for five straight seasons between 2010-2015. They made four NCAA tournaments during that run. Things have gotten tougher the last two years as the Crimson has failed to finish in the top two in the Ivy either of the last two seasons.
The Ivy League has always done things a little differently than the rest of the country, and it makes for some really exciting regular season basketball. Before last season the Ivy League was the only conference that did not hold a post-season conference tournament. That meant that the regular season league winner would get the league’s coveted automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
They made an adjustment to that last season as they now hold a conference tournament to decide who gets to head to the Big Dance, but only the top four teams in the league get to play in the tournament. And no matter who wins the conference tournament, the regular season winner is still considered that year’s league champion.
That makes a game like tonight’s even more vital. Harvard is in second place in the league at 5-1, just one game back of Penn. They will play Penn at home in their next game. So, if they win tonight, they will be playing that game for first place, and that game could very easily decide who wins the Ivy this year.
This game means a lot for Princeton too as they need to finish the regular season in the top four in the league to advance to the conference tournament for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. Right now, there are three teams tied at 3-3 in league play, Brown, Princeton, and Columbia. One of them is going to get left out of the conference tournament and tonight’s game is going to go a long way in deciding which one.
In true Ivy League fashion, they have scheduled the conference games a little strange this year. The Ivy has always marched to the beat of their own drummer, and it shows in their scheduling. Harvard has played its last six games on the road, and tonight start a stretch of four straight home games. Princeton on the other hand, have played six straight games at home, and now embark on a road trip of four straight games.
That makes me wonder how much better the Crimson’s 5-1 record is than the Tiger’s 3-3 record. Harvard did it all on the road, and now gets to come home, and the Tigers did it all at home and now must play a long stretch on the road. As is almost always the case in small conference college basketball you want to back the home team. The Ivy even more so. Every single team in the league has a better record at home than they do on the road. It is very hard to win road games in this league.
Harvard has managed to run up a good record in league play by barely sneaking past most teams they have played. They beat Cornell by three points, Yale by just two points and Dartmouth by five, but all of those games were on the road. Now they get a chance to play at home, and I expect them to win tonight and go into the Penn game, looking to take charge of the league.
This game will be a close one, and that number is a sharp one as I would be shocked if this game doesn’t come down to the final possession or two. But in the end, I have to back the better team, playing at home. I don’t know exactly how they are going to do it, but I see Harvard squeaking by against Princeton and figuring out how to pick up a much-needed victory. Give me the Harvard Crimson -2 points tonight.