The home portion of the Red's Ivy League schedule continues with a bang this weekend. After the team faces Dartmouth tonight, Cornell (16-3, 2-0 Ivy) will take on Harvard (13-3, 2-0 Ivy) in one of the most-highly anticipated Cornell basketball games in recent years. Most analysts agree that Harvard represents the most legitimate threat to Cornell’s quest to win a third straight conference championship.
Harvard has improved drastically over the past two seasons. The Crimson went 8-22 with a 3-11 Ivy League record during the 2007-08 season. The following season, Harvard doubled both its overall and in-conference win totals. Thus far this season, Harvard and Cornell have had similar success. Both teams have just three losses, including two each against nationally-ranked opponents. Big East powers UConn and Georgetown both defeated Harvard, as did Army. 
“[Harvard has] a lot of young guys and they’ve really bought into [third-year head coach Tommy] Amaker’s system,” said senior center Jeff Foote. “They’ve recruited a lot of talent and they’ve worked hard. [Senior guard] Jeremy Lin has also come a long way since he’s been there, and he’s the leader of that team.”
Lin is scoring over 17 points per game on better than 50 percent shooting for the second consecutive season. Lin led Harvard to victory with 20 points the last time these two teams played each other; however, the Red defense has successfully limited Lin’s effectiveness in the past. He averaged just nine points per game in his other five games against Cornell. Sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski and seniors Lou Dale and Geoff Reeves will be the primary defenders on Lin.
Aside from Lin, Harvard’s top players are sophomore forward Keith Wright and freshman forward Kyle Casey. They compliment Lin by providing strong rebounding and efficient scoring.
In the last meeting between the two teams, Harvard prevailed at home when Dale missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds. It was the third straight year that the Red’s game in Cambridge was decided on the final play. There is a decent chance tomorrow’s game will be equally competitive.
“They’ve got a very talented team and I know that we’re going to be ready to play as well,” Wroblewski said. “It should be a hard-fought battle.”
Cornell’s offensive star ¬¬–– senior forward Ryan Wittman ¬¬¬–– has lit up the Crimson defense during his career. The forward has scored 18.5 points per game in six games against the Crimson. While Wittman has once again had a very strong first half of the season, it is the Red’s defense that has been the driving force behind the team’s strong play.
“We’ve picked up our intensity on defense the last couple of games,” Wroblewski said.
The Red has held its opponents below 41 percent shooting from the field on the season. Another strong defensive performance will be necessary to defeat Harvard.
Cornell has plenty of reasons to be confident heading into the game, not the least of which is the fact that the team earned a 21-point victory over Harvard at Newman Arena last season. Tomorrow’s game has already sold out and there should be a raucous crowd present to cheer on the Red.
“I hope it’s electric,” Foote said. “It’s been a while since there’s been a really big game like this.”
Cornell’s fans have been treated to nearly three calendar years of in-conference perfection at home. The Red last lost to an Ivy League squad playing in Newman Arena on March 2, 2007. That game was against Harvard. The Crimson will be eager to put the other bookend on the streak, provided Cornell beats Dartmouth first. The Red players are aware of the implications of this game, both in terms of prolonging the home winning streak and in terms of winning a third consecutive conference championship.
“I think [the game] is very important obviously,” Foote said. “You can’t take any games off in this league. If Harvard is as good as everybody’s been saying they are, you can’t give them any sort of advantage, especially losing on your home court in a crucial game.”