Harvard’s Wake-Up Call Might Not Be So Bad

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 20th, 2014

Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.

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O26 Shake-Up: Assessing an Ugly Week of Suspensions & Injuries

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 4th, 2014

The past 10 days have been especially fraught with injuries and suspensions and ineligibility rulings, many of which are sure to affect conference races across the Other 26. Let’s examine some of the major losses and their impact as the season approaches:

Isaac Fotu's career could be over at Hawaii. (Photos courtesy Charles Simmons / www.chasingthemomentphoto.com)

Isaac Fotu’s career might be over at Hawaii. (Charles Simmons/chasingthemomentphoto.com)

Isaac Fotu – F – Hawaii. Just a couple days after head coach Gib Arnold was abruptly fired, Hawaii lost its best player last week when Fotu was ruled ineligible due to an ongoing improper benefits investigation. The 6’8’’ all-conference forward averaged 14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG a year ago and figured to at least keep the Warriors competitive in the Big West. Without him, the outlook is much grimmer. Christian Standhardinger – last year’s leading scorer and rebounder – graduated and starting point guard Keith Shamburger transferred to Missouri, leaving shooting guard Garrett Nevels (13.1 PPG) as Hawaii’s lone returning starter. In fact, he will be the only returner who averaged more than five points per game in 2013-14, meaning Hawaii is effectively a collection of young, unproven players adapting to a new coach with the season opener right around the corner. If Fotu does not return – which appears to be the case, as of late Monday night – this could be a rough season in Honolulu. Read the rest of this entry »

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Top of the O26 Class: Ivy, MAAC, America East, NEC & Patriot

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 22nd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Northeastern U.S: the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Northeast Conference and Patriot League.

Top Units

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-2015. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-15. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Ivy League

  • Harvard – 2013-14 record: 27-5 (13-1). After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for 66 straight years, Harvard suddenly finds itself in position to reach a fourth straight Big Dance. But just as times have changed, so have expectations — not only is Tommy Amaker’s club tabbed to win another Ivy League title, many expect it to do more damage in the postseason. Those lofty expectations can be largely attributed to the return of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. Chambers is a precocious third-year point guard who has proven himself to be a gifted distributor and quality outside shooter (40.2% 3FG on his career), while Saunders is the team’s top scorer, best perimeter defender and reigning conference Player of the Year. And yet, despite those two, Harvard’s biggest strength might actually be in its frontcourt, which features a deep stable of athletic forwards who should wear down Ivy opponents in the paint. Best among them is Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6’7″ Cameroonian who logged a double-double against Michigan State in the Round of 32 last March. Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Kenyatta Smith, Zena Edosomwan — the list of expected contributors seems endless, and if the Crimson can avoid injury to its guards, a sustained presence in the Top 25 is a legitimate possibility.
  • Yale2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5). Yale was the only Ivy League unit to knock off the Crimson last season, so with the majority of its starting five back, the Bulldogs should present the most serious threat to Harvard’s crown. Most crucial among the returnees is Justin Sears, a 6’8″ junior who was something of a statistical machine last season: The forward averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game, ranked in the top 100 nationally in block rate and drew over seven fouls per 40 minutes. With Javier Duren (13.6 PPG) pacing things in the backcourt and veteran guys like Armani Cotton and Matt Townsend shoring things up down low, Yale fans can expect another top-three Ivy League finish.

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Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

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Circle of March, Vol. VI

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2014

Friday was a fun day of eliminations, with several good games involving a couple of buzzer-beaters, one step closer for #cheerfortheears, and the NCAA Tournament’s first automatic bid (Harvard). All told, 16 teams lost games and were removed from the Circle of March, with two more tournaments on tap to begin today (America East and The Summit). That leaves us with 282 “eligible” teams, but keep in mind that in order to respect the integrity of the regular season, we will not remove teams until their schedules are finished regardless of their current status. This means that the five other already-eliminated Ivy League teams, each of which concludes their seasons tonight, will come off the CoM on Sunday (Penn and Princeton, the two other Ivies, will be removed after their Tuesday night finale).

circlemarch_3_7 Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.07.14)

  • Murray State
  • Appalachian State
  • High Point
  • Evansville
  • Furman
  • Radford
  • Illinois State
  • UNC Greensboro
  • Charleston Southern
  • UNC Wilmington
  • Oakland
  • Loyola (Chicago)
  • Morehead State
  • Gardner-Webb
  • Valparaiso
  • Northern Iowa
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Bracket Prep: Harvard

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 8th, 2014

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The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched in New Haven on Friday night, and as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytic snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Team Is Back In The Big Dance, And The Crimson Aren’t Planning On Leaving The Party Early

  • Ivy Champion (25-4, 12-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #52/#32/#37
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Well, well, well – look who we have here. The Harvard Crimson, by virtue of their victory Friday night over Yale, clinched the Ivy League title and earned the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s first official bid. Harvard and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence may have been quite a story a few years ago, but after three straight Tournament appearances, the NBA’s brief bout of Linsanity in 2012, and last year’s opening round takedown of New Mexico, the Crimson have become a familiar March entity. This year’s team may be Tommy Amaker’s best since he arrived in Cambridge, but navigating its way to another Ivy title was not the walk in the park many expected, as Yale proved a worthy challenger right up until the end. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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O26 Weekly Awards: American, Juvonte Reddic, Chris Mooney & FAU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 30th, 2014

From half-court shots and buzzer-beaters to reverse alley-oops and posterizing dunks, it was one heck of a week in O26 basketball. And for several players, coaches and teams, it might have been a defining one. Let’s pass out some awards to those who stood out from the rest of the pack.

O26 Team of the Week

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.

First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.

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O26 Game of the Week: MAC on the Line as Toledo Faces Ohio

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2014

As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.

Game of the Week

Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot.  It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether.  For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.

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Harvard, Princeton and the Grind of a 14-Game Tournament

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 11th, 2014

On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode V

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 11th, 2013

Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.

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Harvard Must Stay the Course After Winning Great Alaska Shootout

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 4th, 2013

High expectations can sometimes have an adverse effect on a basketball team, magnifying moments of failure and creating unnecessary pressure that otherwise would not exist. After pulling off an unexpected upset over #3-seed New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Harvard entered this fall with entirely different expectations from a year ago. Whereas the 2012-13 Crimson squad was largely written off before the year began with star upperclassmen Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey having withdrawn from school due to an academic scandal, this season’s club returned both of those All-Ivy players in addition to four starters and a strong recruiting class to boot. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high coming into this season. And for a program that only recently became a regular contender in the Ivy League, a presumed conference championship and possible single-digit seed in the Big Dance inevitably meant there was going to be a certain amount of pressure.

Tommy Amaker will look to keep his team focused heading into the New Year.(Getty)

Tommy Amaker will look to keep his team focused heading into the New Year.(Getty)

So it probably came as a relief for head coach Tommy Amaker that his team— after narrowly losing a winnable game at NCAA-caliber Colorado the Sunday prior—bounced back in resounding fashion over the holiday weekend by knocking off Denver, Green Bay and TCU on its way to capturing the Great Alaska Shootout. Despite playing without Curry and junior big man Kenyatta Smith, both of whom remain out with foot injuries, Harvard managed to win each game by a comfortable margin and was only really pushed in the second half by Green Bay. Guard Wesley Saunders, picked by many to win Ivy League Player of the Year, took home MVP honors by averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and nearly five assists a game, and sharpshooter Laurent Rivard—who struggled from behind the arc in the second half against Colorado—seemed to find his stroke in the final two games in Anchorage, shooting 10-of-24 from deep. Also notable was the Crimson’s dominance on the offensive glass throughout the tournament: The team gathered a combined 43 offensive boards to its opponents’ 23, leading to a bunch of second-chance points.

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