The men’s basketball team opened Ivy League play by traveling to Harvard and Dartmouth in January and returning to New Haven with two impressive road wins. A repeat of that performance this weekend is exactly what the Bulldogs need to right their wayward ship.

The Elis (7-13, 4-3 Ivy) are currently standing in fourth place in the Ivy League — two games behind league leading Princeton — and have lost four of their last five games. The Bulldogs return to action this weekend, facing off against Dartmouth tonight and Harvard tomorrow at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

In recent years, a team with three losses in the league could never have entertained the thought of a league crown — the last time an Ivy League winner had three losses was 1990. But the Bulldogs have the opportunity to get back in the hunt this weekend in a league that is more balanced than in years past.

“It is very interesting situation that is unfolding,” said Yale head coach James Jones, referring to the crowded nature of this year’s Ivy standings.

The league has been a two-horse race, between Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, with the pair winning the last 12 conference titles. While those two teams are currently sitting atop the league, there are clear indications they are not as dominant as they have been in previous years.

“Just about every game [last weekend] was exceptionally close. That is really good for the league — everyone is close to each other,” said Dartmouth head coach Dave Faucher, whose team pulled off a surprising upset last weekend, handing Princeton its first Ivy loss of the season, 57-56.

The unexpected victory over Princeton, in which the Big Green made key plays down the stretch to secure the victory, was a far cry from its first meeting with Yale, a 74-70 Eli victory. Dartmouth (7-14, 2-6) squandered a 19-point second half lead, collapsing under Yale’s full-court pressure.

“We have been much more effective against the press,” Faucher said. “We have rectified a lot of problems. We are playing really well right now.”

Harvard (12-8, 5-3) is a team that is also firing on all cylinders. While Dartmouth was stunning Princeton last weekend, Harvard was ending Penn’s 25-game conference winning streak, dealing the Quakers a 77-62 loss.

The next night, the Crimson nearly became the first team to sweep a Penn-Princeton weekend since 1989, but Kyle Wente nailed a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer for the Tigers, who prevailed 69-67.

“I let out a sigh, ‘Jeez, I can’t believe that happened,'” Crimson guard Patrick Harvey said of Wente’s shot. “Knowing that we can compete with [Penn and Princeton], it gives us confidence.”

Dan Clemente, one of the premier players in the Ivy League, had a game-high 29 points last Friday in Harvard’s upset of Penn. The last time the forward failed to hit double figures in scoring was against Yale this year, when he was held to nine points on four of 14 shooting in the 85-83 Eli overtime win.

Since then, Clemente has scored in double figures six straight games, being held under 17 points only once in that span.

“We can score with anybody, but it’s our defense and rebounding that wins basketball games for us,” Clemente said. “If we do that, we are a hard team to beat.”

As Dartmouth and Harvard come to New Haven hitting full stride, the Elis are stumbling into the Lee Amphitheater.

Slow starts have been the problem that has bothered the team in recent outings. In both the Cornell and Columbia games last weekend, the team hit the floor with little energy, yielding control of the game and spotting their opponents double-digit leads.

Against Cornell, the team finished the game with a desperate comeback attempt that fell short, 73-70. The next night, the Elis were able to complete a miraculous rally, beating Columbia in double overtime, 80-78.

In the past week, Jones has shown his team videotape highlighting the different energy levels from the team’s listless starts to its feisty finishes.

“There was a huge contrast in intensity and alertness,” guard Ime Archibong ’03 said. “We have been given our gift once or twice now. We can’t rely on coming back.”

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