William McCormack

Could anyone have scripted this?

Today at noon, No. 1 Harvard (18–10, 10–4 Ivy) and No. 2 Yale (21–7, 10–4), who shared the Ivy League’s regular season crown, meet for the third time this season with a coveted NCAA tournament berth on the line. The stakes are higher than they have been since the Bulldogs dropped a 53–51 Ivy playoff match to the Crimson in 2015 — before there even was an Ivy Madness. The Crimson have beaten the Bulldogs in six straight regular season meetings, but this is March. Anything is possible.

Like any rugged rivalry, parallels define Harvard and Yale on the hardwood, two schools and two teams with more similarities than one might initially assume. Harvard senior guard Robbie Feinberg and guard Michael Feinberg ’22, after all, are brothers. Junior guards Christian Juzang and Miye Oni ’20 are best friends. Tommy Amaker and James Jones — two of the most respected head coaches in college basketball — helm squads that each boast veteran talent. Both coaches were named finalists for the CollegeInsider Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award last week, and both teams feature star junior guards atop deep rotations that represent far more than just supporting casts. Oni edged his shorter Crimson counterpart Bryce Aiken for the Ivy League Player of the Year award this season just two seasons after Aiken emerged victorious in the duo’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year race in 2017.

Aiken seemed to save a Crimson win with every late-game shot he launched this season in the Ancient Eight, which led all Division I conferences in close-game percentage for much of the regular season. Less than four points — or an extra five minutes of overtime — decided almost half of Ancient Eight contests, including the team’s most recent meeting in New Haven. Aiken lifted his team to an 88–86 win thanks to a mid-range fadeaway that fell at the buzzer just seconds after G Alex Copeland ’19 pulled up on Yale’s end for a game-tying three-pointer. The contest featured 10 ties and 17 lead changes. There’s no reason to expect anything different in what promises to be a full 40-minute battle this afternoon.

PROTECT THIS HOUSE

Forget seeding. Yale, the only team in the Ivy League with an Under Armour sponsorship, owns home court advantage in today’s contest at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Bulldogs are 11–2 in New Haven this season and have dropped only three games at JLA in the last 450 days. The Elis’ home-court runs often occur immediately after tipoff, like in Yale’s 61-point first half against Cornell earlier this month or farther down the stretch — late in the second half Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs finished the game on a 17–6 run to send themselves to today’s championship. Oni, guard Trey Phills ’19 and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 electrify JLA on the fast break, making the Elis a scary team in transition; Penn head coach Steve Donahue called Yale an “elite team in transition, probably top two percent in the country,” when the Quakers defeated the Bulldogs last weekend. Expect the Elis to fly in front of their home crowd and in defense of their own court.

OWN THE PAINT

The Bulldogs boast three impressive big men — forwards Blake Reynolds ’19, Jordan Bruner ’20 and Paul Atkinson ’21 — each with their own skill sets and strengths. However, all three are tasked with controlling the lane, whether it be snagging rebounds, sending away shots from drivers or preventing other bigs from gaining ideal position inside. With Yale’s game plan calling for early inside buckets, it is important that the forwards establish themselves on the interior straight from tipoff. In addition to Harvard forward Chris Lewis, first-years Noah Kirkwood and Kale Catchings add strength and size to the starting lineup. After allowing Princeton forward Richmond Aririguzoh to dominate the paint during Saturday’s matchup, Yale’s focus will shift to  battling for boards and limiting second-chance opportunities for the Crimson on Sunday.

DON’T LET UP

Yale, who held sole possession of first place in the Ancient Eight for the majority of league play, went 3–3 in the final six games, allowing Harvard to grab a share of the regular season title. Mid-game complacency has plagued the Elis, and blown leads in conference play, such as when Columbia erased a 18 point lead against Yale in February, have led to close games down the stretch. The trend bled into the postseason, when Princeton ate into the the Bulldogs’ 12-point halftime lead and overtook Yale just over five minutes into the second period. Although obvious, playing focused and energized for a full forty minutes will be essential to downing a Harvard team saturated with talented, hard-nosed players.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu