Harvard, Princeton meet in a winner-take-all game for Ivy title
Saturday's most intriguing NCAA game may be one that relatively few fans care about -- and even fewer will be able to see. But the playoff between upstart Harvard and postseason regular Princeton for the Ivy League title and an automatic NCAA berth, to tip off at Yale (4 p.m.) and shown via webcast only on ESPN3.com, has plot elements befitting a sometimes bitter athletic rivalry that dates to their first football game, back in '77 -- 1877, that is.
Perhaps the most delicious is: Will the loser also have a chance at cracking the newly expanded, 68-team field?
Full disclosure: As a Harvard alum, I am biased. I will admit that my eyes misted a bit when the Crimson beat the Tigers 79-67 last Saturday night in Cambridge and thus clinched a share of its first Ivy League men's basketball championship. (Pretty cool for a school known more for SAT than RPI.) But for the past 21 years I've lived just outside Princeton and have a healthy admiration for that program's accomplishments, which now include 26 Ivy titles. So I was hardly surprised on Tuesday when Princeton beat Penn 70-58 at the Palestra to force the playoff.
Both teams enter Saturday's game with 12-2 league records. Neither lost a home game. (Coach Sydney Johnson's Tigers beat Tommy Amaker's Crimson 65-61 at Jadwin Gym on Feb. 4.) Otherwise, it's all contrast. Here are the factors that should come into play:
• Sydney's Sorcery. When it was over last Saturday at Lavietes, Johnson had his team linger and watch as the exultant Harvard crowd rushed the court. Will this reverse psychology be a motivational masterstroke?
The Ivy League never has gotten an at-large bid, but this Harvard team is eminently worthy. Besides, shouldn't the addition of three tournament spots put the Crimson in the discussion?
Still, a victory would mean Harvard wouldn't have to plead its case. With my heart winning over my head, I'll say the Crimson will get it, 72-66.
Of course, now I can never eat lunch on Nassau Street again.