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Friday, December 31, 2010

Can Harvard Win the Ivies' Men's Basketball Title?

Andy Glockner of Si.com seems to think so.

A few questions rise to the top:

1. Is Harvard cheating, because they haven't contended in a while and haven't won the title before?
2. Is Harvard doing things differently from when Frank Sullivan, their long-time coach, was at the helm?
3. Is Harvard admitting kids that other Ivies cannot touch?
4. Can Harvard's head coach, Tommy Amaker, actually coach well and win the title?
5. As for Question #4, does it really matter if he gets much more talent than everyone else?

The answers, from my vantage point, are:

1. No, and if the comment isn't "not a chance," it's "almost impossible" or "highly unlikely."
2. Yes, as the early parts of the article seem to indicate. Sullivan seemed like a decent coach who had a knack for getting his teams to finish in the middle of the Ivy pack, but he never seemed to be able to recruit the talent that Penn and Princeton did. Was it because he was a bad recruiter or because the Harvard admissions' office was tough and, perhaps, tougher than Penn's or Princeton's? (A familiar refrain from Ivy coaches who do not succeed is that they didn't get the breaks at the admissions office that other coaches in the league get).
3. Possibly. Yale coach James Jones seems to think so, or at least he did in 2008. Then again, Harvard just outdueled Penn for a highly touted big man, Kenyatta Smith, who will enter in the fall of 2011. Then again, of course, if Harvard weren't in the bullseye of the doubters (and, to alums of the schools in the target, "haters"), Penn would be and has been before. Still, let's give the benefit of the doubt to Harvard, Penn and Mr. Smith, and for those schools not named Harvard, not every big name who shows up excels. And, for Princeton fans, the Tigers remain in the hunt -- competing against ACC schools, for a NJ big man who would be a huge recruit for them, so a) those schools not named Harvard shouldn't be sad and b) while it's easy to point the finger at Harvard, all Ivies should be careful in doing so, because when you get down to it, who really knows what each and every school is doing anyway (as Federal law protects information about students).
4. Hard to say. Amaker hasn't exactly distinguished himself as a coach, so we'll all believe it when we see it. That's not to see he's a bad coach, but he's not Fran Dunphy, Pete Carril or Steve Donahue.
5. If he gets that much talent, it shouldn't matter all that much. You can have the best coach in the universe -- and many Ivies have had good coaches -- but it won't matter much if you don't get the players. True, a very well-coached team can slay a giant with more talent, but in the end, I would argue that the talent wins out.

What does this all mean, anyway? Just more publicity for Harvard and Amaker of a type that suggests to an incoming Ivy player that if Harvard comes a-calling, that player should listen. And beware the charms of any recruiter, as the player should remember that because the Ivies do not give athletic scholarships, they are not bound by the NCAA's 5/8 recruiting rule, which provides that a school may not provide more than 5 scholarships in a single year and 8 over a two-year period. The Ivy schools can tend to bring in 5 or 6 kids a year, so the competition is stiff. Not all kids find the Ivies to their liking or find themselves able to withstand the academic rigor, but, even so, the competition for playing time at these schools can be fierce.

The bottom line is that the games are won on the floor, and the road for a Crimson title has to endure two weekends of playing Penn and Princeton back-to-back, two games against defending (if weakened) champion Cornell, and two games against arch-rival Yale. Not an easy feat by any stretch.

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight fight fight (to quote from the Tom Lehrer song), because your opponents most certainly will be primed for you. As will you for them.

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