Marisa Peryer

With a postseason berth at Ivy Madness berth already secured, the Elis need one win for the Ivy League’s regular-season crown.

Beating both Dartmouth (12-15, 5-7 Ivy) and Harvard (20-7, 9-3) on the road this weekend would earn Yale (22–6, 10–2) an outright conference title, simultaneously securing the Bulldogs a No. 1 seed at Ivy Madness in Boston next weekend. One win over Dartmouth and a Harvard loss to Brown would accomplish the same result. The four-team tournament will grant one Ancient Eight squad a ticket to March Madness, but another game at Lavietes Pavilion figures more prominently for the Elis this weekend.

Saturday promises an exciting rematch between Yale and Harvard, who respectively occupy first and second in the league standings. In New Haven last month, the Crimson escaped with a one-point win despite 33 points from guard Azar Swain ’21.

“Credit to Harvard, they are a very good basketball team and play their best against us every game,” guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 said. “At the same time, we are also a very good basketball team. Most of our most recent matchups have been one or two possession games, which tells you how competitive both our teams are. We’re definitely looking forward to playing at Lavietes on Saturday and have zero intentions to share an Ivy League championship with anybody else.”

Few, if any, can dispute the fact that Yale is capable of beating the Crimson. Although Harvard has won seven straight meetings in the regular season, the Bulldogs have ranked between 50 to 60 spots higher than their rivals in national rankings for much of the season. As of Thursday night, the 2020 Pomeroy College Basketball Rankings (KenPom) place Yale at 57th and Harvard at 109th of all 353 programs in NCAA Division I men’s hoops. The Crimson have won 12 straight games at Lavietes Pavilion, a streak that includes their 10–0 mark at home this season.

Within their seven-game losing spat in the regular season, Yale has also beaten Harvard twice in the postseason, once in the 2017 Ivy Madness semifinal and again in last season’s conference tournament championship. 

Harvard plays pretty distinctly different from a lot of teams in our league,” captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 said. “They try to pressure us more, they try to deny all of our passes, and that can take some adjusting to.”

Yale’s most recent loss to the Crimson before this season also came at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in another game decided by just a possession. Harvard guard Bryce Aiken scored 28 and a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to lift the Crimson to a two-point win. Although he leads Harvard with an average of 16.7 points a game, Aiken has only appeared in seven games this season after sustaining an ankle injury — according to a report last week from CBS Sports’s Jon Rothstein, the senior is expected to remain sidelined for the rest of the season.

Crimson guard Christian Juzang, who appeared to injure his ankle last weekend at Columbia before returning to the bench with crutches, will also not play this weekend, according to the Harvard Crimson. Excluding Aiken, sophomore guard Noah Kirkwood leads Harvard with a dozen points a game, and Juzang’s absence will likely increase his usage this weekend.

But Yale has its focus on Dartmouth first. The Big Green, which started conference play 0–6, has won five of its last six games to enter the final weekend with a slim shot at Ivy Madness. To qualify, the Big Green needs a weekend sweep over Yale and Brown, two Penn losses and a Harvard win over Brown Friday night (or Yale win over Harvard on Saturday if Brown beats the Crimson).

“You just have to focus on what’s in front of you, as cliche as that sounds, because if you don’t, then you might drop a game that you shouldn’t drop,” Monroe said. “If we win, that could clinch things. We’re a game ahead of Harvard. Harvard has to play a desperate Brown team. Brown’s already beat Harvard [this season], so anything can happen there. I think the bottom line is we don’t want to drop a game this weekend regardless.”

Dartmouth forward Chris Knight took home Ivy League Player of the Week honors this week after contributing consecutive double-doubles in a sweep of Cornell and Columbia last weekend. The junior leads his side with 14.6 points a game, scoring a dozen in the Big Green’s 75–57 loss in New Haven last month.

Like its two opponents this weekend, the Bulldogs swept its competition last weekend, taking down Penn with a thrilling 76–73 victory that saw Yale launch a 13–0 run in the final 98 seconds before defeating Princeton, 66–63, on Saturday.

Forward Paul Atkinson ’21 contributed 18 points in both wins. His 17.6 points per game lead Yale and rank second in the Ancient Eight.

“My team has a lot of faith in me,” Atkinson said after the Penn thriller. “When they pass me the ball, [I] just take it strong, try to find plays, make plays for my teammates, make plays for us to win.”

An Ivy League championship this season would mark two consecutive regular-season titles for Yale and the program’s fourth in the past six years.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu