UConn has two Ivy League schools on its schedule, Yale, which comes to XL Center on Monday, and Harvard, which comes to Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 8.
And as we have seen by recent March performances from Cornell and Harvard, Ivy League basketball has come up in the world. Harvard has made it into the rankings on occasion, and provided good tests – and good RPI gains – for UConn the last two seasons.
“It’s the best league top to bottom I’ve been in,” Yale coach James Jones said last week, when I visited, “no bad teams in the league. Somebody’s gonna finish in last place, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad team. I look at us and there’s nobody on our schedule we can just go in and beat by showing up.”
Yale, which hasn’t been in the tournament since 1962, would like to make this their year. They were picked third in the league’s preseason poll, and opened the season with a stirring comeback win over Central – down by 17, winning by 16. They have an experienced returning cast, big guards, quick forwards for their level of play.
“I think the team has a really great dynamic,” junior Matt Townsend said, “in terms of getting along with each other. I think what’s special about this team – we didn’t lose that many players, we have a really great nucleus of returning players. A lot of young guys, too, only two seniors. It’s a really tight-knit group and we all have high expectations for this year, it’s a matter of going out and proving it.”
(I’m featuring Townsend in our story for the Monday Courant, which will be up on our main website later Sunday.)
What’s Ivy League basketball about?
“More plays are run instead of a run and gun style,” Townsend says. “There are a lot of guys who can shoot. One-through-four on most teams can shoot from pretty good range. From the perimeter, you saw that when Harvard beat New Mexico in the [NCAA] tournament, they really weren’t expecting [Laurent] Rivard to knock down as many threes.”
Yale and UConn haven’t played in 10 years. In 2003. The Huskies, ranked first at the time, were down three at halftime, but rallied to win by 10 points.
“It’s a challenge,” Jones says, “an opportunity to do something marvelous, an opportunity to get better, that’s really what the [early] season is all about, the challenges to make you better for what really matters – our conference season.”
The American Athletic Conference teams are 9-0 so far, with Memphis yet to open. Temple had a struggle, but rallied to beat Penn – second in the Ivy poll, 78-73 on Saturday.