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ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yale plays Harvard on Friday: the preview

By Bill Cloutier
Assistant Sports Editor
bcloutier@nhregister.com
NEW HAVEN -- Contrary to popular belief the Ivy League trophy will not be awarded to the winner of Friday night’s Yale-Harvard men’s basketball game.
The teams were picked one-two in the league’s preseason poll and have not disappointed.
Harvard (16-2) gained national recognition after winning an early-season tournament loaded with national powers in the Bahamas and leaping into both national Top 25 polls. The Crimson are currently ranked 23rd in the nation in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll and dropped out of the AP poll after a recent loss at Fordham. Harvard finished in a tie for the Ivy League title last year but lost the league’s title game against Princeton 63-62 in a game also played at the Lee Amphitheater.
Yale (12-4) has won four straight and is 6-0 at home on the season. The Bulldogs racked up 10 wins before the league schedule, the most since the 1991-92 season.
They’re both 2-0 in the league play tied with Penn atop the standings.
Those are the resumes. You already know about the rivalry.
The Bulldogs host the Crimson at the Lee Amphitheater at 7 p.m. The game is a sell-out and has been the talk of the campus for weeks.
“Sure it’s early but it’s Harvard-Yale and that makes it a big game,” said Yale guard Austin Morgan. “The fact that we were both picked to do well in the Ivy League makes it even bigger. It’s always good to have the New Haven community excited about the game.
“I don’t know how many times it’s been a sell-out but we’re excited to be a part of it.”
While the Bulldogs are anxious to play in front of a packed house, Yale coach James Jones isn’t concerned with counting tickets.
“Every Tom, Dick and Harry has called me for a ticket for the game,” he said. "We’ve been sold out for three weeks and I expect the atmosphere to be as good as gets. But I don’t care if we play in front of four people, I’d rather come out with a ‘W’”
Jones has a masters in coach-speak. It’s one-game-at-a-time and a win here doesn’t mean anything if you lose the next night. In the Ivy League that’s the rule, because win or lose, Yale hosts Dartmouth on Saturday and then has to get ready for Penn and Princeton the next night.
But it also can make Friday’s game all the more important. If the Bulldogs can’t beat Harvard at home it will be awfully hard to do so in Cambridge, Mass., in a few of weeks. And there’s always that two-game trip to Princeton and Penn at the end of the season to worry about. Very few teams ever sweep that series. All the games are the same," Jones said. "If we win on Friday and then lose on Saturday we’re in the same place. You want to win all 14 of them and this one is only different because it’s a home game. You want to be in control of your destiny.”
Yale split the season series with Harvard last season with both teams winning nail-biters on their home courts. For the most part the cast of characters is the same. Jones said Harvard is a little deeper than it was last year.
"They don’t have any bad players and by that I mean they don’t play anyone just because you need to spell a guy,” Jones said. “Everybody that they play this year is capable, very good basketball players. At that same time you look at a guy like Christian Webster, who I think is tremendous and Kyle Casey, who is tremendous, and they’re all playing less minutes than they did last year because they have a good group of freshmen.”
Said Morgan: “We have to play as a team. Harvard is good all-around. If we can get the ball inside out, the strength of our team is inside, we’ll be successful.”
While Harvard certainly has a ton of talent Yale will counter with its “Big Three” of Morgan, who is second in the nation in free throw shooting (93.7 percent), defensive wizard Reggie Willhite, and Orange's Greg Mangano, the top post player in the league.
Mangano leads the Ivy in scoring (19.4 ppg), rebounding (10.3 rpg) and blocks (40). After playing with Team USA over the summer in the World University Games in China, he has continued to progress toward the elite big men in the nation.
And what will make Friday night even more special is that Mangano needs just three points to become the 24th player in program history to reach 1,000 for his career.
His presence, along with smooth sophomore Jeremiah Kreisberg is where Jones starts his game-planning.
“Our advantages, like every game, are that we’re better inside than most every team that we play,” Jones said. “Harvard is pretty good inside, too. What I’ve come to understand is that there are players in this country that if you give them the ball on the blocks and expect them to score and you happen to have five or six of them in this game.
“It should be thrilling and fun to watch.”
Said Morgan: “They’re a good team and they’re getting respected because of it. We’re trying to get respect, too. That’s why they play the games, to see who’s better.”
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