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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 10:58 PM

When we last checked in on the Ivy League, Harvard had firmly established itself as the clear league power…one who had a legitimate chance to make headlines in the Big Dance. Since then, they’ve started to look a bit less impressive. They lost as a road favorite at Princeton (the team they face tonight in a revenge spot). They had a few lethargic non-covers when they lost their focus. And, some of their early season resume lost its luster.

*Beating Central Florida to win a holiday tournament seemed like a big deal when Central Florida was a favorite in Conference USA. Central Florida fell apart after that, and is now well off the college hoops radar.

*Losing by 14 points to Connecticut now looks pretty abysmal since UCONN has fallen apart in the Big East. How would Harvard fare if it had to play in the Big East? If you answer that question honestly, it’s hard to get too excited about a deep postseason run for the Crimson.

*There were quite a few single digit wins over unheralded teams. That sampling didn’t look better with time. In fact, the Vermont team that lost by seven to Harvard just lost to Binghamton. That was Binghamton’s first win of the season!

The neutral site win over Florida State does look good, given how well FSU has played in the ACC this year. So, it hasn’t been all bad news. But, Harvard went from “a team to watch” after Thanksgiving to “the team that Jeremy Lin played for” the past several days. There’s still time to make headlines about the PRESENT rather than the past. There’s just less excitement about the present than we had expected in earlier discussions.

We mentioned that Harvard hosts Princeton tonight in hopes of avenging their only Ivy League loss. Let’s check on the conference standings with two weeks left for everyone:

IVY LEAGUE CONTENDERS

Harvard 9-1

Pennsylvania 7-2

Yale 7-3

Princeton 6-3

With eight teams in the conference, everyone plays 14 games. Harvard and Yale double up this weekend and next. Penn and Princeton do that as well, but then play each other in the official grand finale of the Ivy League season on March 6th. In some years, that’s the game that determines the championship. This year, it will probably be a lame duck outside of possible NIT considerations.

Harvard has four games left…and will be clear favorites in all four games. It’s great that we have a chance to squeeze in some Ivy League coverage this week (thanks to the NBA’s All-Star Break) because Harvard will be hosting two of those contenders. Penn comes to town Saturday, knowing they HAVE to win to have any chance of catching Harvard.

Note that Harvard has already defeated Penn on the road, and now only has to beat them again at home to virtually lock up the crown.

Note also that the Ivy League DOESN’T have a postseason conference tournament…so the regular season champion gets the Big Dance bid. Harvard will either tighten their grip on that bid these next two days, or will create a migraine they don’t want to deal with.

Yale and Princeton are likely out of the race even with good records because it’s so unlikely Harvard will lose more than once. Yale and Princeton already have more than two losses as it is. Princeton can dream, but they need some help even if they pull off another upset this evening.

What’s the outlook for the Ivy League in terms of Bracketology? Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently projects Harvard as a #10 seed. That’s a step up from where the league usually goes…but it’s a few steps down from where many of the other mid majors are expected to get slotted. This could be a VERY good year for mid majors, given the respect currently being given to the likes of Wichita State, New Mexico, Memphis, the eventual Atlantic 10 champion, and even teams like Belmont and Murray State. (This year’s Cinderella story is shaping up to look like an early season episode of “The Bachelor!”) Harvard is hoping the smart girl can plot her way to the Sweet 16.

Nobody else in the Ivy League has a shot at an at-large bid. In fact, should Penn or Princeton steal the crown at the very last second from a shocked Harvard, the Ivy League representative would probably be stuck with a #15 seed. The computer ratings we’ve been showcasing here in the NOTEBOOK this year make that very clear. Here’s what Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin of USA today have to say..

CURRENT COMPUTER RANKINGS

Harvard: 32nd in Pomeroy, 38th in Sagarin

Princeton: 115th in Pomeroy, 128th in Sagarin

Pennsylvania: 139th in Pomeroy, 147th in Sagarin

Note that Princeton finished the year 84th in Pomeroy last year when they stunned Harvard for the crown, then took Kentucky right down to the wire in a two-point loss in the first round (that Harvard team finished 83rd in Pomeroy). That gives you some perspective. The computers say Princeton is the second best team in the Ivy League right now (even if they’re fourth in the standings)…and the second best team this year is about 30 spots worse off than last year. On the other hand, this Harvard team is MUCH better than last year’s Princeton team…and Princeton almost upset Kentucky!

This year’s Dance could really turn into something wild…which is saying something after the past few seasons.

Since Harvard is lined up with both Princeton and Penn in games you’ll be handicapping Friday and Saturday, let’s run our key indicator stats for the full threesome.

ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY

Harvard: 72nd on offense, 17th on defense

Princeton: 102nd on offense, 132nd on defense

Pennsylvania: 123rd on offense, 172nd on defense

The word “adjusted” in this context means raw scoring adjusted for tempo and caliber of opposition. You can see that Harvard grades out very well on defense. We’re a bit skeptical that they’d do that well if you only looked at tournament teams playing against each other. In other words…if you had a round robin of the top 60 teams playing each other, we’re skeptical Harvard would really be the 17th best defense in that group, let alone the whole nation (as some great defenses still wouldn’t make the Dance because of horrible offenses). We’ll see next month.

Oh, you can see why Harvard played such a low scoring game with defensive-minded Florida State! The Crimson certainly have a chance to take out an undisciplined offense in the first round of the Dance this year.

ADJUSTED TEMPO

Pennsylvania: 288th in the nation

Princeton: 303rd in the nation

Harvard: 330th in the nation

Yawn! Of course, smart Ivy teams will slow things down in league play because of all the back-to-backs. But, that’s still pretty ridiculous. Look for slow grinders this weekend…and then again in the first round of the Dance. You can respect Harvard, but it’s not that much fun watching them!

Our Friday releases will go up early this afternoon here at the website (you can check late in the morning if you’re in a hurry, because they may go up early with the light schedule). There’s a good chance Princeton-Harvard is in the mix because of the light schedule. Our New York sources will play a big role for us tonight because of the Ivy and Metro-Atlantic action on the slate. If you have any questions about JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, please call the office at 1-800-323-4453. The fact that it’s a light Friday schedule will give you plenty of time to learn everything you need to know.

Back Saturday to study the Big East picture and preview the prime time game on ESPN featuring national power Syracuse and disappointing Connecticut. Just a few days left in February…so make sure you’re building your bankroll NOW for MARCH MADNESS with JIM HURLEY!

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