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Harvard needs to improve defensively with Princeton showdown six days away

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With Princeton suffering a surprising home loss to Yale on Saturday, the Harvard Crimson entered today’s rescheduled game against Columbia with a chance to move a game ahead of the Tigers in the loss column atop the Ivy League standings.

Kyle Smith’s Lions, who got off to a less than stellar start to league play, had other ideas.

Steve Frankoski hit five three-pointers and led four Lions in double figures with 27 points in the 78-63 Columbia victory. The result drops Harvard (5-1 Ivy) back into a first place tie with Princeton (4-1), with the first meeting this season between the reigning champions and preseason favorite coming next Saturday.

Wesley Saunders was the only player to have a good afternoon offensively for Harvard, and their defensive issues were exposed as a result.

The sophomore, whose role is far greater this season due to the departure of Kyle Casey, shot 8-of-11 from the field and scored 27 points. Thirteen of those points came in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as Harvard shot 8-of-21 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes.

Remove Saunders’ numbers for the entire game and the other Crimson players combined to shoot 10-of-31 from the field. By comparison Columbia shot 50.9% from the field and 9-of-17 from three, with this simply being the first time that Harvard’s lost as a result of their defense in Ivy League play.

In the five league games before Sunday’s defeat Harvard opponents shot 46.2% from the field, and after Columbia’s offensive performance the Crimson are seventh in the Ivy League in field goal percentage defense (47.0%).

With the offensive talent that Harvard possesses they’d been able to rack up some sizable leads in Ivy League games, most recently leading Cornell by as many as 19 points on Friday night (67-65 Harvard win), but their defense has allowed teams to fight their way back.

Columbia made Harvard pay on Sunday, and if the Crimson don’t improve defensively Princeton is every bit as capable of doing the same.

Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics (Steve Frankoski)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.