February 9, 2007

M. Basketball Prepares for Ivy Showdown

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After a heart-breaking final second loss to Harvard last weekend, the men’s basketball team hopes to respond with a pair of victories, as it welcomes Brown and Yale this weekend to Newman Arena.

“To have the lead and then lose on the buzzer like that is tough,” said freshman Ryan Wittman. “This week in practice there has been a real focal point on attention to detail.”
[img_assist|nid=21257|title=Where’d you go.|desc=Freshman Louis Dale (12) sneaks by a Columbia defender in the Red’s 56-51 win on Jan. 27.|link=none|align=left|width=66|height=100]
The Red (11-9, 4-2 Ivy) hopes to have those details fine-tuned by tonight when it faces Brown (7-14, 2-4) at 7 p.m. While Brown’s record may seem rather pedestrian, it is the only Ivy League team to have beaten league co-leader Yale.

“Brown is a very good team,” Wittman said. “Anybody can beat anybody in the league. Every game we have played has been a good game, so I think we know what they can bring.”

To make up for a lack of size, Brown has often employed a three guard lineup in order to highlight the talents of its smaller players. Leading the way are Mark McAndrew and Damon Huffman. The juniors — both shorter than 6-2 — are averaging 15.2 and 14.0 points per game, respectively. McAndrew, a quick guard with a knack for penetrating, is also one of the best in the league at getting to the free throw line.

“We need to stop penetration,” Wittman said. “They run the Princeton-style offense but unlike Princeton, they look to take the ball to the basket a lot more.”

The weekend’s second game will feature a Yale squad that, after starting a dismal 3-9, has emerged as a team to beat in the Ivy League after last weekend’s convincing, 77-68 win over traditional conference juggernaut Penn. The Bulldogs (9-19, 5-1) come into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game winners in seven of their last nine games and sharing first place in the conference.

“This is a really big game,” Wittman said. “After a huge weekend, beating Penn and Princeton, they have solidified that they are one of the best teams in the league.”

Last week’s Ivy League Player of the Week, Casey Hughes, will look to continue his strong play this Saturday against the Red. A versatile and athletic slasher, Hughes has been especially important to the Bulldogs since league play began — pacing the team in rebounds, steals and blocks.

Another player on the Red’s star watch will be Eric Flato, who at 14.6 points per game, is the team leader and ranked seventh in the league.

However, because of a lack of depth, Yale coach James Jones has limited the rotation in the past few games, including playing seven players against Princeton last Friday. Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, on the other hand, has been routinely emptying his bench and involving at least 11 players in every league game this season.

“Defensively, we will be able to pressure them a little more than they can pressure us,” Wittman said. “Because we use so many guys, we should be fresh late in the game.”

This weekend, as a whole, will be a telling barometer of where the Red stands in comparison to its league foes. After tomorrow, the Red will have played every Ivy League team and should have a good feel for the conference before heading into the second half of the Ancient Eight season. With that in mind, a pair of victories would move the Red right back into the hunt for the elusive Ivy League title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

“Every game in this league is a big game because a loss hurts you so much in terms of winning the championship,” Wittman said. “We [play] two very good teams, so after this weekend, if we take care of a few things, we should know where we stand.”