Princeton, Harvard Prove Smart Boys Can Play Ball Too

Ivy League giants fight for NCAA berth.

Posted: 03/10/2011 03:39 PM EST
Tommy Amaker

We won’t know the 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament until Sunday night. But for the first time in many years, two teams from the academically demanding Ivy League—Princeton and Harvard—deserve to be invited. The problem is traditionally only the Ivy League champion gets invited to March Madness.

The Princeton Tigers and Harvard Crimson are tied at 12–2 in the Ivy League standings. They’ll meet Saturday for the league championship at a neutral site, Yale University. “Our league has had a phenomenal year, and whenever you have two worthy teams like this competing for a championship, it’s a great showcase for the Ivy League,” Princeton coach Sydney Johnson told BET.com in a telephone interview. “We’re probably playing our best basketball of the year right now, and Harvard is playing very well too. The team that executes the best is going to win.”

The Harvard-Princeton matchup will also be a showcase for two outstanding young African-American coaches: Tommy Amaker, the former star guard at Duke, and Johnson, a star forward at Princeton in the 1990s. “It’s very challenging to coach here,” Johnson said, “because winning the Ivy League is what is expected of us.”

Princeton (24–6) has been to March Madness 23 times. A win by Harvard (23–5) will ensure its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946. The only way both teams will qualify for March Madness is if the NCAA tournament committee gives an at-large bid to the losing team. But the deck is stacked against the Ivies. The league doesn’t have athletes who leave school early for the NBA, so most fans don’t realize how talented the players are. But Harvard forward Keith Wright, the Ivy League player of the year, could play for any college in America, as could his teammates, forward Kyle Casey and guard Brandyn Curry. Princeton forward Kareem Maddox, the league’s defensive player of the year, and his teammates, forward Ian Hummer and guard Dan Mavraides, could as well.

Princeton–Harvard will be televised nationally, a rarity for the Ivy League. If you haven’t seen Ivy League ball in, well, forever, this game will be worth watching.

Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.

 

Photo:  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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