Harvard takes giant step in Ivy race

These are heady days in Cambridge.

After a hard-fought six-point win Friday night over Princeton and a dominating 30-point win Saturday night over Penn, Harvard sits at 17-3 overall and, more importantly, 4-0 in the Ivy League.

By toppling the two traditional Ivy powers back-to-back, the Crimson took a strong hold on the top of the conference. At 3-1, Brown and Yale are their closest challengers, and both come to Lavietes Pavilion next weekend.

“It’s definitely a good position to be in,” Harvard senior Kyle Casey said after the 80-50 win over the Quakers on Saturday night. “Being in first place is always good. Winning and learning from our wins is better than having to learn from a loss. This league is definitely an up-and-down league, an unpredictable league. As long as we come out and take care of business and do what we do, I think we’ll be all right.

“It’s definitely good to get a jump start.”

With another solid showing against the Bears and Bulldogs this coming weekend, the Crimson would have a practical stranglehold on the league race before they’ve played their second Ivy road game.

But Tommy Amaker won’t let his players get ahead of themselves.

“I think our kids will be ready to go next weekend,” he said. “I think we recognize that we’re doing some good things and you want to remember how you’ve been able to do those things. I think they’ve heard me preach that enough, ‘How do we get there? How have we gotten here?’ I think they recognize what has taken place and [that] it’s an investment.

“It’s defense, it’s unselfishness, it’s a lot of things that we lay in front of them. And I think they believe in those things. It’s why we are who we are and where we are. I would be disappointed and somewhat surprised if [overconfidence] seeped in.

“It’s still very early in the conference race. But it certainly feels good to be where we are.”

If the Crimson needed a reminder that anything can happen in league play, both Penn and Princeton dropping games this weekend at Dartmouth -- which Harvard handled with no problem in the teams’ two meetings -- provided it.

“Our league, who knows what’s going to happen?” Amaker said. “There are going to be a number of twists and turns before this finds out where it’s going to go. [Looking ahead], it’s a formula for disaster.”

So to avoid calamity, Amaker will do his best to keep his charges focused on the process.

“We take it one game at a time,” Crimson co-captain Laurent Rivard said after dropping a game-high 22 points (via six 3s) on the Quakers. “I know it’s kind of a cliche, but you can’t really look ahead of anyone. Whether you play Cornell or Columbia or Yale, you’ve got to take it one at a time.

“And last night, after we beat Princeton, [Amaker] really had us focused on tonight and not thinking about next week or anything. He’s making a good job of making us think one game at a time and I think that’s what it takes to win this league.”

“A tremendous weekend for our program,” Amaker said of the Princeton-Penn sweep, “and now we have to turn it around and see if we can do it again next weekend.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.