As with any weekend in the “14-game tournament” that is Ivy League play, this one will decide a lot. More so than other weekends, however, this weekend will give teams a chance to show that they can bounce back or continue their hot play. Plus, any time Penn and Princeton face off, it’s big.
Brown at Cornell
Last weekend, Cornell barely beat Dartmouth, almost unquestionably the worst team in the Ivy League. The Big Red needed four free throws down the stretch to close out the game. If Dartmouth had only shot a little better from beyond the arc, Cornell could be sitting at 1-3 in the Ancient Eight. I cannot see Cornell upsetting a team that just beat Princeton and has the league’s best scorer — Jason Forte — on it.
Pick: Brown cruises.
Princeton at Dartmouth
This should be a laugher. Through Jan. 27, Dartmouth was last in the league in points scored per possession and in points allowed per opponent possession. That basically equates to the worst offensive and worst defensive team in the Ivy League. Though Princeton lost its status as consensus Ivy favorite with a home loss to Brown, the Tigers still have two first-team All-Ivy players. The only thing Dartmouth has going for itself is that the Big Green shoots the three ball well and Princeton relies heavily on its own three-point shooting. If Dartmouth gets hot and Princeton comes out cold, it is possible the Tigers might let some doubt slip in — but it is highly unlikely.
Pick: Princeton will win in a landslide (or as much of a landslide as is possible when you hold the ball for almost 30 seconds on every possession).
Penn at Harvard
With Penn hot, this is expected to be no problem for the Quakers. And I think it should be, except for one thing: Harvard has two legitimate big men in Matt Stehle and Brian Cusworth, and I still question Penn’s strength inside. Mark Zoller is a good rebounder, but can he handle both of those guys at the same time without another strong inside presence?
Pick: The bottom line is that Penn will probably come out and bury these guys, but if Harvard squeaks out a victory, I knew it all along.
Penn at Dartmouth
See above for why Dartmouth sucks and will not win more than two games in the Ivy League this season. One of them is definitely not going to be against Penn. The Quakers just do not lose games like this.
Pick: Penn romps.
Princeton at Harvard
Unlike Penn, I do not think Princeton will have any trouble with the Cantabs’ inside presence unless Judson Wallace’s back continues to flare up. Of course, there is always Mike Stephens, the Tigers’ suddenly prolific scorer. Even without Harrison Schaen — who left school for the year after an impressive freshman season last year — the Tigers have Wallace, Stephens, Andre Logan, Luke Owings and a decent frosh in Noah Savage. More importantly, Harvard turns the ball over more frequently than any other Ivy League team — Princeton steals it more frequently than any other Ivy League team. That is not a good equation for the Cantabs. When you play against Princeton and its notoriously slow pace, there is no room for carelessness with the basketball, and I do not think Harvard is capable of preventing that.
Pick: Princeton gets another easy win, and gets ready for Tuesday’s showdown with Penn.
Brown at Columbia
Penn vs. Princeton is always the marquee Ancient Eight game, but this year Columbia and Brown are the two teams other than the obvious duo most likely to be in the title hunt. The Lions still haven’t convinced me that they are “for real.” It’s a lot easier to be 12-5 when you play one of the weakest schedules in the nation, as Columbia did. Wins against Dartmouth, Harvard and Cornell — good. Almost losing to Harvard and getting crushed by Cornell — very bad.
Pick: Brown squeaks one out on the back of Jason Forte.
Princeton at Penn
You can’t say it’s a must win this early in the season and on the road, but being five games into the Ivy season with two losses and Penn undefeated would put the Tigers in a real bad spot. I don’t think the Tigers can win in the Palestra when Penn is playing as well as it is now. After losing five straight, the Quakers have exploded with a five-game winning streak. Four of those games were won by 20-plus points, and the only one that wasn’t was against St. Joseph’s. A Princeton team that shoots just 31 percent from deep (last in the league) is very vulnerable, despite a stifling defense. Poor offensive rebounding means that if Princeton is off from beyond the arc, the offense will be anemic and Penn should coast to a home victory.
Pick: A solid victory for Penn.