BGOC: Yale at Harvard

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There is no older rivalry than that between Harvard and Yale.  Twelve presidents have graduated from one of these two universities.  The schools that have been around for over 200 years do not mess around when it comes to this
rivalry.  These schools take it so serious, that during a football game in 1894, seven players were taken off the field in “dying condition.”

Tonight, the two old rivals meet again on the basketball court at 8 p.m. ET with huge stakes on the line.

Harvard and Yale have many distinctions and have been the firsts for many things.  Harvard is the nation’s oldest university, founded in 1636, while Yale’s men basketball team participated in the very first 5-on-5 basketball game.  The two schools have won a combined 507 Ivy league titles since the start of the league in 1956.

Since there is no league tournament, the winner of tonight’s game will have the inside track to securing the first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  This same situation happened back in 1946 when Harvard edged Yale 39-37 to receive the bid. Yale has not been to the big dance since 1962. There is a circumstance, however, where if Yale (21-8, 10-2) wins tonight and loses tomorrow at Dartmouth, then the Crimson win tomorrow, there will be a one-game playoff for the Ivy League championship and the automatic bid.  Yale has not made it to the big dance since 1962.

Harvard (20-6, 10-2), on the other hand, has had its share of success in the previous years.  With a win, the Crimson will lock up their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.  The last two years, Harvard has pulled off a first-round upset.  The Crimson beat 3-seed New Mexico in 2013, and 5-seed Cincinnati last year. Tommy Amaker and his staff would like to continue that string of upsets in this year’s tournament, but they must first get by Yale tonight.

This Yale team has been on the uprise in the last couple of years.  The senior class of the Bulldogs has been the one of the most successful ever at the school.  The Class of 2015 has already amassed 73 wins in their time, the most in any four-year span since 1908.  This one is going to mean a lot to the Bulldogs after coming in 3rd and 2nd in the league the last two years, respectively.

Why You Should Care

This is a rivalry that is unlike any other in the country.  This is a battle between arguably the two most academic schools in the nation.  This is essentially the Ivy League championship game.  It will all be left on the court.  We could witness one of the best mid-major games of the year in this one … if you can find it somewhere to watch it.  Also, both of these teams have the potential to pull off an upset in the tournament, as we have seen Harvard do it the last two years.  If you are looking to pick an upset in your bracket this year, then you should pay attention to this game.

Match-up to Watch

What to watch for here is the Yale offense against Harvard’s defense.  Harvard is allowing just 57 points per game, which ranks 12th in the country.  In the first match-up between these teams, both of Yale’s top scorers were held in single digits and shot a combined 27 percent from the field.  The Bulldogs were held to just 11 points in the first half of that game and Harvard was able to use a 13-4 run to start the second half to stretch the lead for good.  Yale must not slump on the offensive side of the ball to stay in this one.

X-Factor

Wesley Saunders a pivotal player in this match-up.  Saunders scored 16 points in the first meeting, but only shot 31 percent and was 0-3 from behind the arc.  The Crimson need Saunders to come up big in this one to avoid letting this one get away.  If Yale is able to find its way against the Harvard defense, the Crimson will rely on Saunders to keep them in it.  Saunders has been to the tournament before and knows what it takes to get back there.  He was a freshman when the team started the string of tournament appearances when it played Vanderbilt in the first round in 2012.  As a senior, I imagine that he wants his class to put their own mark on Harvard athletic history.

Prediction

Harvard was able to come away with a win at Yale a month ago, and I don’t see it being any different playing at home this time.  I see Harvard’s experience as a key factor in this one.  It has been in the spotlight and knows how to handle it.  Yale let the best of the big game get to it in the first half of the last meeting, and this one has even bigger stakes.  I’m calling the Crimson coming away the victory and securing the bid to the tourney, 62-56.

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