Palestra may be ‘all that stands in the way’ of Harvard’s Ivy title hopes

ESPN's Dana O'Neil loves to bring up Philadelphia in her college basketball columns. A Penn State grad who lives in the area and used to cover Villanova for the Philadelphia Daily News, O'Neil knows Philly basketball.

After mentioning the Penn-Princeton rivalry yesterday as one of the great historic rivalries in college basketball, O'Neil's post today yet again mentions the Quakers.

In a list of 'Five Things I Think I Know,' O'Neil says that "The Palestra could be all that stands in the way of Harvard and the NCAA tourney."

Here's what she says about Friday's game against Harvard at the Palestra:

I'm sure Crimson fans are cringing right now, remembering how Harvard let its own fate slip through its grasp at the end of last season.

And yes, history could cruelly repeat itself.

But really, it all comes down to the Palestra, and here's why. The only two teams that pose a real threat to Harvard and the automatic bid are Penn and Yale, each with just one loss in the Ivy League.

If the Crimson can get past the Quakers on Friday night -- no easy task as Jerome Allen has restored order at Penn -- there are just three more road games between it and that elusive NCAA berth. Harvard is at Princeton on Saturday night and will travel to Columbia and Cornell. The Crimson would be favored to win all three.

Equally important, Yale and Penn will meet in the final game of the regular season.

At the Palestra.

Do you think the Palestra is the last real obstacle for Harvard in its search for the Ivy League title? If not, who else could pose a threat to the Crimson?

Jeremy Lin’s emergence leads people to care about Ivy League athletes turned pro

Harvard is getting a lot of attention for its athletic program these days.

The basketball team is ranked No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll (its eighth consecutive week being ranked in this poll) and No. 25 in the AP Top 25.

Now, with the emergence of Harvard grad Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks (Lin-sanity, they're calling it), people are suddenly realizing all of the great athletes who have gone to Harvard and other Ivy League schools.

Sports Illustrated posted a photo gallery of "Sports Figures Who Attended Harvard," which, in addition to Lin, includes Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (did you know he played football at Harvard?), and a variety of other athletes and Harvard grads involved in the sports world.

Huffington Post College spread the love around the Ancient Eight, posting its own photo gallery of "Jeremy Lin and 6 Other Ivy League Athletes Who Made It In the Pros." Their photos include Lou Gehrig, who attended Columbia before signing with the Yankees; Princeton's Bill Bradley; Yale running back Calvin Hill (fun fact: he was fraternity brothers with George W. Bush); Fitzpatrick; hockey goalie Ken Dryden, who left his homeland of Canada to attend Cornell; and Columbia grad George Starke, who played for the Washington Redskins.

Penn did get one shoutout in The New York Times, which mentioned new Big 5 Hall of Fame inductee Matt Maloney, who suited up for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2002-03 season. The rest of the article was about Lin and the rest of the Crimson.

Which Ivy League athletes who have gone on to the pros deserve more recognition?

Pat Forde picks Harvard-Penn as a top-10 game to watch

Florida-Kentucky. Georgetown-Syracuse. Baylor-Kansas. Duke-UNC. Harvard-Penn.

Yup, you read that right. Along with some of the biggest college basketball clashes of the season, the Penn-Harvard showdown Friday night at the Palestra was picked by Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde as one of the 10 games to watch this week.

Forde calls the upcoming NCAA slate "the best week of the season," and says that the Ivy matchup matters because, "This should be the Crimson’s toughest remaining game in what seems like an inevitable coronation as Ivy League champion and dangerous NCAA opponent. But if Penn can pull the upset, it at least would make the rest of the league schedule more interesting."

Not so great? Forde picked the Crimson to beat the Quakers, 58-49. "The Crimson are not exactly Kentucky when it comes to athleticism, but they are significantly more athletic than the Quakers. Penn should have a hard time scoring," he wrote.

Another Ivy shoutout in the article: Forde lists Princeton's 75-73 triple overtime win over Florida State on Dec. 30 as one of the top five road upsets of the season.

More on potential 2013 recruit Watkins

Aside

2013 PF Isaiah Watkins spoke with Brian Snow from Scout.com and said he has offers from Arkansas and Baylor. But he also asserts that he is very focused on academics — Watkins said he is talking with Harvard, Penn, WVU, Stanford, Iowa State, and others — and wants to take his time in his decision.

He added, "I want to go to a school that is competitive and plays in the
NCAA Tournament."

Zack Rosen named candidate for Bob Cousy Award

For the second-straight year, Zack Rosen is up for the Bob Cousy Award. Rosen is up against 64 other point guards throughout the country, including locals Tyreek Duran (La Salle) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova).

PGs from several Ivy schools made the list as well — Columbia's Brian Barbour, Cornell's Chris Wroblewski and Harvard's Brandyn Curry. Check the full list here.

Rosen currently ranks No. 14 in the country among guards in points per game (20.8) and No. 21 in assists per game (6.0).

The field of 65 will be narrowed to 20 by the New Year, and continues to split in half each month until the winner is announced during the Final Four weekend in New Orleans.

Harvard basketball cracks the top 25

We've followed Harvard's rise to national prominence closely here at The Buzz, and now the voters have spoken. The Crimson's 8-0 start has propelled them to the No. 24 spot in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and No. 25 in the Associated Press poll. This is the school's first-ever appearance in the hoops top 25.

And up next is the biggest test of their nonconference slate, a December 8th prime-time matchup at UConn, which will be televised on ESPN2 starting at 7 p.m. The game will offer the ultimate measuring stick to see how legitimate this Harvard team truly is. Should be excellent theater so stay tuned.

Mano-A-Mano: Crimson Fever

The Penn basketball team loves to keep things interesting, no matter who the opponent is (can't we get a double-digit win one of these days?). But the real hot topic right now is Harvard. A full-blown outbreak of Crimson fever has swept the nation after their Battle 4 Atlantis tourney title, causing national media outlets to do the unthinkable: actually acknowledge Ivy League basketball. Are the experts jumping on the bandwagon too soon? Or does this year's non-major powerhouse really reside in Cambridge? Mano-A-Mano debates...

Question: Is Harvard really this good?

Kevin Esteves: Yes, Harvard is a great team and probably should have received a top-25 ranking this past week after winning Battle 4 Atlantis. But does that mean they're just going to steamroll through their schedule like that ESPN article said? I just can't see it. College basketball games are way too volatile for any coach/player to think they're going to basically win out and sweep their conference slate. Penn beat Cornell two seasons ago when the Big Red were ranked 22nd and playing unbelievable basketball. Cornell just didn't show up for that one. That kind of stuff happens. I just think it's way too early in the season to be making these kinds of extrapolations. So yeah, Harvard's great right now, but let them play at least halfway into the Ivy season before we even think about comparing them to some of the all-time great Ivy teams. I think people are just so ready to jump the gun because fans and the media love it when an Ivy team, which isn't supposed to be challenging ranked teams, starts taking out the big boys.

Brian Kotloff: From what I see, the pieces are there. Watching this weekend (that's right, I did some homework), I saw a team with legit size and skill both down low and on the perimeter. They move the ball and spread the floor extremely well, and have been playing lights-out defense. But while awfully impressive as an Ivy team, the Crimson are not without flaws. They don't really have a true go-to point guard, meaning they could be susceptible to ball pressure. They have a rare gem in dominant big man Keith Wright, but they struggle to get him an ample amount of touches -- he's shooting 65 percent yet only getting eight shots per game. And yes, they beat a top-25 team, but Florida State can't exactly light it up offensively. I saw a Seminoles team that couldn't capitalize on the open perimeter shots Harvard allowed them. So I agree, it's waaay too early to put Harvard on a pedestal and declare them this year's "it" team. First, they have to prove themselves in further nonconference tests against teams like Vermont, UConn, Boston U. and B.C. Once they get into Ivy play, teams will be so familiar with them that upsets in multiple games are certainly possible. So cool your jets, national media -- right, Emilio?

KE: Yep...if you took a minute to stop breaking down game film , you would see that I also said it's way too early to classify this Harvard squad as a big-time team. But, I'll give it to you — that breakdown is pretty solid. Not having a go-to point guard could definitely spell trouble, but in terms of Ivy play, what will make the Crimson so tough is their ability to get what they want down low. When Penn tried to make those comebacks in last year's double-OT game, the Quakers were clawing for every basket — everything was tough and contested — while the Crimson could just stop the bleeding and dump it down to Wright, who would inevitably draw contact or finish at the cup. What a luxury to have.

BK: That's exactly why Harvard could be a special team. Even the great Cornell teams that built a mini-dynasty in recent years didn't have such a strong post presence (and no, Jeff Foote doesn't count...) or the caliber of athletes that Harvard boasts. The reason we're preaching patience, though, is because the pieces don't always gel. You just can't essentially hand a team a championship before the actual games begin, like ESPN did today. What if the early success gets to their head? What if Wright or Kyle Casey gets injured? I hesitate to think guys like Zack Rosen and Douglas Davis and Greg Mangano will let Harvard roll to the league title without having something to say about it.


Harvard basketball, 2011-12: Best Ivy League team ever?

I covered a bit in my column today how Harvard is shaping up to be the overwhelming favorite in the Ivy League this season. In a story on ESPN.com (warning: Insiders only!), John Gasaway took my angle several steps further, suggesting the following:

  • A 28-2 record is not an unreasonable expectation, with the only losses coming in upcoming games at Vermont and UConn
  • "A 26-4 finish for [Tommy] Amaker's team would be well within the range of expectation"
  • Harvard appears on track to "smash through" the previous Ivy League high in Ken Pomeroy's national rankings (No. 52, set by Cornell in 2010). It currently ranks No. 30, ahead of teams like Temple, Memphis, Texas and Vanderbilt.

Any Buzz readers who are Ivy League hoops historians: How do you feel about these statements? Are the Crimson really better than Penn's 1979 Final Four team? Gasaway never suggested that, but I don't think enough thought was put into the headline, "Best Ivy ever?" Maybe best in the last 30 years? 20 years?

The main takeaway is that the Crimson national bandwagon is gaining major, major steam after their performance in the Bahamas. And as I wrote today, this is no ordinary Ivy team -- size-wise, talent-wise and depth-wise, Harvard is built like a high-major team. That said, can we please gather a bigger sample size before concluding that 26-4 should be expected?

As Penn coach Jerome Allen said of Pitt: "Obviously, they have some natural advantages over us as far as height, strength and jumping ability. But you've got to play the game. They put their shorts on one leg at a time."

Former Ivy standout Jeremy Lin: “How to Get into Harvard”

Harvard alum Jeremy Lin, a 6'3 guard who graduated in 2010 and has gone on to the NBA's Golden State Warriors, shows how he's keeping himself busy during the league's lockout. The two-time All-Ivy player definitely has a sense of humor in this clip. Even though it's pretty cheesy, great to see this side of players that we can't always witness on the court.

Penn-Princeton on ESPN3.com

Can't make it to the Palestra tomorrow night? In New Orleans for Mardi Gras and itchin' for your fixin' of Penn basketball?

The obvious (and always reliable) solution is to follow us here at our Liveblog, but to see a live video broadcast stream, look no further than ESPN3.com. Programming is free of charge to anyone with high-speed internet from an affiliated service provider — Comcast, Time Warner Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Mediacom and several more — or on a university or military network. So for those who usually catch the stream from the Penn Sports Network, you'll only get an audio feed.

Scott Graham and Tim O'Toole will commentate for ESPN, but come 7pm Tuesday, I'll be here at the Buzz with my colleagues Jennifer Scuteri and assistant editor Alyssa Kress. And let us not forget:

  • If Penn wins, Harvard is the outright Ivy champion and will receive an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • If Penn loses, Princeton and Harvard are co-Ivy champions and will play at Saturday at 4 p.m. at Yale to determine which team will dance in the Tournament. (In the event of a playoff, it too will be broadcast on ESPN3.com)