Friday, January 7, 2011

History Remains, Until You Change It

A 10-5 start with a sweep of Dartmouth got them all talking. Twice.

Maybe Harvard would finally do it. Finally exorcise the demons of never having won an Ivy title.

But twice, the Crimson failed spectacularly. In 2002-2003, Harvard got swept at Penn and Princeton and followed it up with two more losses at Brown and Yale before losing star guard Pat Harvey to academic ineligibility and proceeding to finish 4-10. Three seasons later, the Crimson started 4-1 before getting beat on a baseline, banked three at Cornell and blowing a six-point lead in the final minute at home against Princeton en route to a 5-9 finish.

The common thread for both of those teams was implausible expectations and unnecessary disappointment. While both of those Harvard teams had a non-zero chance of winning a title, the odds hadn't left the neighborhood of zero, and the collapse that followed those slim hopes being dashed left the Crimson more than a few games worse off than they objectively should have been.

To some extent, 2008-2009 fit the same pattern. A win at Boston College raised Harvard to the level of contender more than a year before it was legitimately ready, and it stumbled to a 6-8 finish.

The manufactured cycle of hype and disappointment has unwittingly hidden the sad truth. In the AI era, the Crimson has never had the best team in the Ivy League. In fact, it's never even had one of the best teams.

Until now.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has been building for this moment since he stepped foot in Cambridge. He spent two recruiting classes stockpiling talent to fit around and ultimately take over for All-Ivy guard Jeremy Lin. His first three seasons were about all the other "firsts." First win over a ranked opponent. First 10-win non-conference campaign. First 20-win season.

That one, last "first" still remains. And while the others are nice, that one is the only one that really matters. The Crimson's first Ivy League title.

With an athletic and, when healthy, dominating frontcourt of Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, a pair of talented point guards and a couple strong shooters, the pieces are finally all there. With a nationally acclaimed recruiting class set to arrive next year and no seniors set to depart, the window is by no means closing, but the weight of history builds with every failed campaign and with it comes even greater pressure to succeed.

Especially now that the runway is truly clear for the first time. Princeton is very good, but at best the Crimson's equal, if not a step behind. Penn and Cornell have the ability to take a game or two off Harvard, but would struggle to overcome their flaws consistently enough to win a 14-game round robin. Yale and Columbia are darkhorses in what is a very deep league, but both of those teams would be hard pressed to win 10 Ivy games.

All of this has led them to start talking again. Only this time it's justified. As will be the disappointment, if Harvard once again fails to get the job done.

No comments:

Post a Comment