As winter approaches, it is unusually cold here in New York City. The football teams are not very good, it is a stretch to deem the basketball teams “professional” so far, and the hockey teams do not appear to be must-see attractions either. The baseball hot stove can only warm the air so much.
Meanwhile, here at Columbia, the football season fittingly ended in an eerie, bleak darkness. Let’s just say there were no Alabama-Auburn finishes this season.
So as I look ahead to the next few months, I can only find one solution (sports-wise) to quell the bitterness in the air: Ivy League basketball.
The league is restocked and stronger than last year, of course led once again by the Crimson, which has the potential to be one of the greatest Ivy squads in the past two decades.
Coming off its upset of New Mexico in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, Harvard returns seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey—who took leave last year amid the cheating scandal—to its already loaded roster. And so far, so good—for the second time in three years, the Crimson convincingly won a prominent tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.
After a year of fending off teams in the final seconds, it looks like the Crimson should have a large margin for error, come Ivy League play. Unfortunately, the road to mid-January is a lot less challenging and exciting than I, and many others, would have hoped.
I usually root for the other Ancient Eight teams to succeed in nonconference play, since it would enable the eventual Ivy champion to earn a better seed for March Madness. Unfortunately, a loss to Colorado and an early January meeting with Connecticut are the only two games that stand out enough on Harvard’s schedule to be meaningful. The Crimson doesn’t meet a single top-15 opponent this season. While Columbia faced at-the-time No. 2 Michigan State and Cornell faced then-No. 3 Louisville, Harvard was playing MIT and Howard and didn’t even schedule a game with the one other really good Massachusetts team, undefeated top-25 surprise UMass.
So setting aside that one game with UConn, it will be more interesting to keep an eye on the rest of the Ivy League, which this year loosely breaks into three tiers after Harvard. The first group this season includes perennially strong Yale, Princeton, and Penn, along with surprising Brown.
The Bulldogs have gotten off to a fast start offensively this season, while the Tigers, coming off a statement win over Bucknell, look like Harvard’s most formidable challenger. Meanwhile, Penn has relatively high expectations. A year after posting an unimpressive 9-22 record, it will have to step up its play during its tough schedule to truly put itself on par with Princeton and Yale—beginning with a Big Five game at Villanova tomorrow night.
Brown, at 5-2, may be the biggest surprise so far. One of those losses was a narrow one, to crosstown rival Providence, which trails only undefeated Villanova for the best record in the Big East.
The big question for Columbia is whether it competes with this jumbled but impressive tier. So far, the Lions seem determined to show that they belong, with good performances (albeit losses) against teams like Michigan State, Manhattan, and Elon. While we can’t be too confident in Columbia solely based on the first month of the season, solid performances in challenging games against Bucknell, St. John’s, and Stony Brook in the next five weeks would go a long way toward cementing Columbia in that upper tier, rather than in the second group with Dartmouth (which hasn’t played much this season because of finals).
Regardless of what happens, the bottom-tier eighth place clearly seems to be reserved for Cornell.
The winless Big Red started its season by opening up a 14-point lead more than 15 minutes into its first game at Syracuse, but it has been all downhill from there, thanks to a historically poor defense. Come January, the Lions need to beat their Empire State rivals if they want to avoid the conference basement. That bad first half against Cornell at Levien last year signaled the beginning of the end.
Fortunately, while the winter may be chillier than usual, at least it means a new year is on its way. Let’s hope the script for Ivy basketball can be one to warm all our hearts for 2014.
Ryan Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics-statistics. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. Roar Ryan Roar runs biweekly.