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Harvard battles Penn in pivotal Ivy League tussle

The 25th-ranked Harvard Crimson will try to maintain their spot atop the Ivy League standings, as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Penn Quakers tonight at The Palestra.

Harvard is enjoying the best start in school history, losing just two of its first 22 games and the team sits a game up on Yale in the Ivy League standings coming into action today. An Ivy League school hasn't started out this well since Princeton began the 1997-98 season at 21-1. The Crimson have won eight games in a row, the most recent of which being a 57-52 decision over Columbia last Saturday.

Penn has been nearly as impressive of late, winning five of its last six games to move to 4-1 in the league, just a game and a half behind Harvard for first place. The Quakers defeated Brown in convincing fashion last Saturday, 65-48.

Penn holds a commanding 127-33 advantage in the all-time series with Harvard, but the Crimson has won the last five meetings.

Most of Harvard's success this season can be directly attributed to its stellar defense, which allows a mere 53.6 ppg, third-best in the nation behind only Wisconsin and Virginia. The Crimson have allowed 70 points just once, gave up 50 points or fewer in 10 games, and less than 40 points twice. It was the same old story last Saturday against Columbia, as the Lions were held to 40 percent field goal efficiency and only 52 points, as Harvard won its 25th straight home game -- the fourth longest active streak in the country. Laurent Rivard finished with a game-high 20 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor and 8-of-12 from the foul line, while Keith Wright added 15 points and six rebounds in the win. Rivard (11.3 ppg), Kyle Casey (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Wright (10.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) lead a capable offense for the Crimson. Though he's not much of a scorer, Brandyn Curry ranks fourth in the Ivy League in assists (5.0 apg) and second in steals (1.9 spg).

Penn has one of the few offenses in the Ivy League that could be a problem for the stout Harvard defense as it ranks second in both scoring (67.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (.446). While the Quakers' defensive effort often times under-performs (67.5 ppg), they put forth one of their best efforts of the season against Brown last Saturday, allowing the Bears to shoot just 37.7 percent from the field en route to a meager 48 points. Rob Belcore logged his second double-double of the season in the win, grabbing 10 rebounds while tying a career-high with 17 points. Zack Rosen has been one of the Ivy's top playmakers this season, ranking second in scoring (18.3 ppg) and first in assists (6.0 apg), all while shooting 47.8 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from three-point range and 88.1 percent from the charity stripe. Tyler Bernardini has been a admirable wingman for Rosen, ranking fifth in scoring (14.9 ppg) and first in three-point FG percentage (.432). Miles Cartwright rounds out Penn's double-digit scorers with 10.2 ppg.