Night Line: Harvard’s Ability to Hang Tough With Connecticut Bodes Well For Future

Posted by EJacoby on December 9th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Harvard may have lost its first game of the season on Thursday night by double figures, but there were plenty of positive signs that came out of their efforts at No. 9 Connecticut. Tommy Amaker’s team looked like it belonged on the floor against UConn, able to handle physical play and hit tough shots against the defending national champions. Few teams in the country are as physically dominant as UConn, and the Crimson will not play another team with that kind of athletic superiority unless or until they reach the NCAA Tournament. Based on how they competed against one of the top teams in the nation on an off-shooting, ineffective night, Harvard looks like a team that will in fact get that opportunity in March.

Harvard Struggled Against UConn's Length, but Still Hung Tough in Storrs (AP/B. Child)

The Huskies have a far more athletic roster than the Crimson, and this showed throughout the game. Harvard’s leading scorer, Keith Wright, had no room to operate while being defended by Alex Oriakhi and, mainly, Andre Drummond, two of the top interior defenders in the nation. Wright converted just 3-10 field goals and finished with only nine points. He also did not get double-teamed upon receiving post entries, so there were no open shots for his teammates when he made post moves near the basket. Give Connecticut all the credit for executing its defensive game plan to shut down the Crimson’s number one option. Additionally, Harvard couldn’t knock down a high percentage of perimeter shots (7-21 from three) nor stop UConn from converting theirs (7-14). They also turned the ball over a couple of times more than their opponent. Again, credit goes to Jim Calhoun’s team full of long, athletic players for defending the perimeter at a high level.

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RTC Live: Harvard @ Connecticut

Posted by mpatton on December 8th, 2011

RTC Live is back in Storrs tonight for one of the more interesting matchups between a regional mid-major and a powerhouse that you’ll ever find. Join us this evening for Harvard vs. Connecticut from Storrs,  after the jump.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.25.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 25th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Preseason tournaments continue to roll on with the NIT Season Tip-Off championship as well as semifinal action at the Old Spice and 76 Classic along with the Battle 4 Atlantis. Although we don’t know the championship matchups in those tournaments, be sure to check out the finals at Atlantis on Saturday and the Old Spice and 76 Classic on Sunday for those TBD games.

Minnesota vs. Indiana State (at Orlando, Florida) – 12:00 PM EST on ESPN (**)

Trevor Mbakwe Is a Beast Inside

  •  The Golden Gophers escaped an upset-minded DePaul team on Thursday afternoon behind another double-double from Trevor Mbakwe, his fourth in five games. Against an Indiana State team that is better than DePaul, Minnesota must assert itself inside, protect the ball and defend better. Tubby Smith’s team has a huge height advantage over the Sycamores, especially with swingman Rodney Williams standing at 6’7”. The potential is there for Williams to have a huge game given his size and athleticism. Indiana State can rotate taller players in off its bench but Minnesota has more than enough talent in the paint to play well. However, the Gophers can’t afford 17 turnovers and a 1-9 night from three point range again as they did against DePaul.
  • The major concern for Greg Lansing has to be rebounding the basketball against a team with lots of strength and size up front. Indiana State was out-rebounded and out-shot by Texas Tech but forced 18 Red Raider turnovers and got to the foul line 31 times. The Sycamores shoot 78% from the stripe and must use that to their advantage against a Minnesota team with an awful defensive free throw rate (#249). With sophomore point guard Jake Odum breaking down the defense and finding open players, that shouldn’t be a big problem given Minnesota’s propensity to foul. Indiana State shoots 37.1% from three point land as a unit with Jordan Printy taking the majority of those shots and converting 38.5% of the time. ISU must make threes because it is not going to have an easy time scoring inside against Minnesota’s size.
  • For the Sycamores to pull the upset, we feel they have to play a zone. Going to a zone is risky when your team has trouble rebounding to begin with but it may be their best bet. If Indiana State can pack its defense in the paint and limit the Gophers inside, that’ll force the Minnesota guards to jack up deep shots, something they’re not particularly good at. Playing a zone also minimizes foul trouble, a huge issue with only three major contributors over 6’8” on the Indiana State roster. It sounds simple but this game should come down to whichever team can execute its game plan better: inside scoring for Minnesota and three pointers plus solid interior defense for Indiana State.

#19 Florida State vs. Harvard (at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas) – 4:30 PM EST on Versus (***)

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RTC Conference Primers: #16 – Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Readers’ Take I

Geography is an important factor in many of the Ivy League pre-conference games. With that in mind, we ask you:


Top Storylines

  • Travelin’ Elis: Optimism in New Haven? The Yankees are history, there are no Knicks, and the Giants and Jets have provided only disappointment so far. So it has to be about the upcoming Yale basketball season. And the fans have every reason to be hopeful thanks to their two stars who spent a good portion of the summer overseas. Jeremiah Kreisberg played for the Israeli U-20 team in the European Championships, and all he did was lead the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in about 30 minutes of action. The experience the 6’9” sophomore from California gained from international competition makes him the perfect complement to Greg Mangano. The returning RTC Ivy League POY played his way onto the US World University Games roster and in doing so became the first Ivy player to compete on the US team since Bill Bradley in 1965. (Can you say “Senator Mangano?”) While the team did not distinguish itself (a quarterfinal loss to Lithuania earned them a fifth place finish) Mangano got to show his skills playing alongside some of the heavyweights of the Big East. Also on the team were Tim Abromaitis, Ashton Gibbs and Scoop Jardine. Mangano averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in almost 11 minutes of action, highlighted by an 8/8 performance against Mexico.
  • Early Exams: Granted, in a league where there is traditionally only one NCAA Tournament bid — Harvard’s merits last year not withstanding — wins and losses in non-conference games mean little. Yet, they do provide some early insight as to where the teams stand and an upset of a national power is cause for celebration. Overwhelming preseason favorite Harvard, along with the top two contenders, Yale and Penn, have early schedules that will prove to be either minefields or springboards. The Crimson play in the Battle for Atlantis over Thanksgiving and open with Utah. If all goes according to plan, they will face heavyweight Connecticut in the final. Should that happen, it will be a prelude to their traditional matchup with the Huskies in early December. Yale has an early date at Seton Hall but their acid test comes during a December road trip to Wake Forest and Florida. But the granddaddy of pre-conference schedules belongs to Penn. They will face Pitt and James Madison during the Hoop Group Philly Classic. That’s the appetizer for a main course that includes Big 5 contests against Temple and Villanova. And the dessert? End-of-year road trips to UCLA and Duke. It’s not a stretch to assume all of the above are tournament teams with Top 25 potential.

Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parenthesis)

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20 Questions: Will Harvard Finally Break Through to the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC and one of that conference’s microsite writers.

Question: Will Harvard Finally Break Through to the NCAA Tournament?

One word says it all: yes. Barring serious injury, there is no reason Harvard shouldn’t attend the Big Dance this season. But before we break down why the Crimson will get there, let’s look at where they come from.

Unlike most would have you believe, Harvard has in fact played in the NCAA Tournament before. It was the 1945-46 season, and conference schedules were a thing of the future. Ivy League opponents were few and far between, as head coach Floyd Stahl’s squad only faced Brown (twice) and Yale. In the end Harvard finished with a 19-3 overall record, but I would be remiss not to mention that three Crimson victories came against the not-so-mighty Chelsea Naval Hospital team. Harvard’s lone regular season loss came at the hands of Massachusetts rival Holy Cross. Unfortunately, the Crimson’s regular season success held no good omens for the postseason, as the Crimson fell quickly to Ohio State in the first round of the Tournament and followed that up with a regional consolation loss to NYU. Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State) went on to win the 1946 championship, beating North Carolina 43-40 in the finals.

Harvard Was Only a Couple of Ticks Away Last Year (credit: Harvard Crimson)

The Crimson never made it back. Head coach Tommy Amaker inherited a program with one postseason appearance and no winning coaches since Edward Wachter left Cambridge in 1933. He inherited a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 nor a winning conference season since 1996-97. To this point the athletic department was content with .500 Ivy League seasons every few years, mostly trying only to avoid embarrassment instead of actually compete.  But in 2007 after he was fired by Michigan, Harvard called up Amaker: “The Ivy League was appealing to him. He was drawn to Harvard’s tradition of excellence, to the New England area, to the opportunity to flourish in such a strong academic environment.” But the drawbacks I mentioned above–along with tough Ivy League restrictions–pushed the other side of the scale.

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RTC Summer Update: Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 19th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Ivy League correspondent, Howard Hochman.

Reader’s Take


It seems like only yesterday that Doug Davis was hitting his buzzer beating, fall-back, fall-down jumper that turned Harvard followers crimson. And not soon after, Brandon Knight’s last-second layup was a stake in the eye of the Tiger. But we must look forward and we can only hope the 2011-12 Ivy hoop season can provide the same excitement. This year, it appears seven of the Ancient Eight will be battling for second place. Harvard returns everyone, will be favored to go unbeaten in league play, and, in fact, each starter is capable of earning all league honors. But more on that later. First….

Summer News and Notes

  • Providence Coaching Change Trickles Into Ivy Ranks: We have yet to hear a good explanation why a title-winning Princeton coach and alum Sydney Johnson would leave that bucolic and secure setting for traditional basketball hotbed… Fairfield. Now granted, the MAAC is an underrated conference and departing coach Ed Cooley did not exactly leave the cupboard bare after a 25-win season. In my opinion, the move is lateral at best. But never fear, Princetonians, the apple does not fall far from the tree; the Pete Carrill coaching tree, that is. Mitch Henderson, another alum, and most recently Bill Carmody’s right hand man at Northwestern, was immediately signed on, so it would be wise to keep “three-pointer” and “back-door” in your vocabulary.
  • Ancient Eight Coaches Resist GMU Courtship: Speaking of coaches, when Jim Larranaga departed George Mason for the sunny climes and dollars at Miami, the school first looked north to the Ivy League for his replacement. Not surprisingly, Tommy Amaker chose to remain with his talent-laden bunch in Cambridge. What is surprising is that Bill Courtney turned Mason down. You might remember it was Courtney who was the recruiting architect of the Patriots’ Final Four team in 2006. Furthermore, the CAA is most assuredly a step up from the Ivy and enjoyed one of its finest seasons with VCU coming out of nowhere to make a Cinderella run to the Final Four. It makes one think Mr. Courtney likes what he sees on the roster and that the future may be brighter than most imagine at Cornell.
  • Life Outside Campus: Last season, Greg Mangano of Yale was named the RTC Ivy Player of the Year as a junior. After a season in which his double-double average led the Elis to a third-place finish, and after some discussion with his coach, James Jones, Mangano decided to declare for the NBA Draft but did not hire an agent. A few NBA teams showed interest, but fortunately for Yale fans, he listened to the whispers in his ear and withdrew his name and everyone exhaled at Pepe’s Pizza and Louis’ Lunch. As a reward for his outstanding season, Mangano was invited to try out for the World University Games Team, beginning July 31 in Colorado Springs. The Games themselves will take place next month in China, but it won’t be as big a culture shock as most would expect for Mangano. He averaged over 21 points per game during Yale’s recent ten-day swing through the country. Only 12 (out of the 22 high-profile invitees) will make the traveling squad. We will keep you posted.

Douglas Davis (20) was one cool customer for Princeton, sinking this heartbreaker to top the Crimson and nearly leading the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament upset over Kentucky (Associated Press/Jessica Hill)

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard: Just let the names Kyle Casey, Keith Wright, Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster roll off your tongue and you have the reasons why last year’s co-title holders should repeat with ease though the middle of the league has gotten stronger. An undefeated run through the league seems reasonable and with some out-of-conference success, a Top 25 ranking appears attainable. Kenyatta Smith, a rebounding machine a la Wes Unseld at 6’7″ and 260 pounds, leads a formidable recruiting class. Pencil in a meaningful Selection Sunday for the first time in Cambridge. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ivy League Playoff: A Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

This day seemed inevitable. From the first practice in October, these two schools were on a collision course; a date with destiny for the two most talented teams in the Ivy League. One with a storied tradition; one hoping to begin one. One looking to return to prominence; one looking to go where they had not before. One will be cutting down the nets; one will experience paradise lost. Princeton and Harvard–today at 4 PM at Lee Amphitheater on the campus of Yale and on your computer screen. Round three, the playoff. The chance to dance.

How They Got Here

They both entered their first meeting on February 4 at Princeton on hot streaks. Princeton had won 12 of 13 and Harvard had won eight in a row. The game did not disappoint. Though both struggled from the field, it was close most of the way. Ian Hummer sealed the deal for the Tigers late with two free throws en route to a 65-61 Princeton victory. The loss continued a streak of Crimson frustration at Jadwin–now winless in their last 22 trips.

The prevailing thought was that neither team was likely to stumble before their rematch a month later in Cambridge and it would be that game that would decide the title. Wrong… and right. First to fall was Princeton, shooting 38% from the field, 19% from three, and watching Brown make 25 of 27 free throws, a recipe that resulted in a ten-point defeat. Harvard, not being able to stand prosperity, followed suit a week later, blowing a late lead, and suffering an excruciating one point loss at Yale (an omen perhaps?). It set up a must-win for the Crimson on March 5 at home. They thrilled their home crowd as they began the second half with a 21-12 run that turned a one point half time lead into a 58-48 advantage. Princeton would never get close. The weekend ended with Harvard clinging to a half game lead, pending the outcome of Princeton/Penn at the Palestra.

That game was played as if the Quakers couldn’t wait for the season to end and, despite protestations to the contrary, that the Tigers were looking ahead. Penn quickly scored the first two baskets of the second half and Princeton found themselves in an eight point hole. Time out. An agitated Sydney Johnson reminded his team what was at stake. An 11-0 run opened up a lead they would never relinquish. When the horn sounded, Harvard and Princeton were deadlocked at 12-2 atop the Ivy League.

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Howard Hochman is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe there are only three weekends remaining in the Ivy season. The past fortnight saw some amazing comebacks (Harvard down 22 at the half vs. Brown at home; Penn rallying three consecutive games from double-figure deficits); difficulty on the road (unless the home team was Dartmouth); some outstanding individual performances (Greg Mangano, Keith Wright, Sean McGonagill, Ian Hummer); and the wheat separating itself from the chaff, beginning with….

The Clash of the Titans: On February 4, Harvard strode into Jadwin Gym for the Ivy version of Kansas vs. Texas. Both the Crimson and the Tigers were undefeated in conference and just about every pre-season prediction had one or the other as probable league champs. The likelihood was that this game, as well as the season-ending return match a month later would determine who would be dancing in March. It would be an upset if either team stumbled significantly before that.  Before Harvard could entertain any shining moments, they had to stop playing second banana and get the monkey off their back; the monkey in the form of a 21-game road losing streak to Princeton. Certainly the Crimson wanted to avoid any slip-ups this time.  Harvard out-shot the Tigers from the field, 44% to 39%, were basically even from the FT line and outrebounded Princeton 32-26. But as all baseball fans know, box scores don’t tell the story and in fact the Tigers prevailed 65-61 in round #1 of the Clash. Sixteen Harvard turnovers and frontcourt foul trouble more than likely contributed to the defeat. The Cambridge contingent already have endured their toughest trip while Princeton has yet to play their first league road game. It is up to both teams to navigate the rest of the schedule unscathed before their March 5 rematch.

Working Overtime: A four-game win streak, which included the seniors celebrating their first Big Five victory in four years and a 3-0 start out of the gate in the Ivy League, had the Penn faithful dreaming of another banner-hoisting in the Palestra. And with the opportunity to put a stamp on their credentials with back-to-back games against the Ivy elite–Harvard and Princeton–Quaker students and alums could be forgiven if they were clearing their mid-March schedule for NCAA first round travel plans. Seventy-two excruciating hours in February pretty much unpacked everyone’s bags.  Harvard entered the Palestra the night after a tough loss to Princeton dropping them into second place. Penn on the other hand had a bunch of well-rested starters-nobody saw more than 28 minutes of action-after a 31 point demolition of Dartmouth. However it was the more talented Crimson squad that took advantage of the shaky Quakers to open up what seemed to be an insurmountable 18 point second half lead. But Zack Rosen’s two free throws with 10 seconds left completed the improbable comeback and tied the game at 64. It sent the game into overtime and the 6283 in attendance dancing with glee (minus Brittney and Quinn). Rosen wasn’t finished with his heroics, as his jumper at the buzzer of OT #1 sent the game to an additional five minutes. This time however it was not to be. The Crimson rode the tide of Oliver McNally’s final basket to an 83-82 victory.  A rare mid-week game and a visit to travel partner Princeton was next on tap for Penn. Playing their first road game, the Quakers must have experienced déjà vu all over again as with eight minutes to go they found themselves down 13. However a 21-8 run sent the game into, you guessed it, overtime, and gave the Tiger faithful pause. Penn forged in front only to go scoreless the rest of the way, endure a Chris Webber-esque timeout-less moment, and watched the Tigers convert late from the line en route to a 62-59 defeat.  It gets worse, though.  A trip to Ithaca to face an unsettled Big Red squad seemed just what the doctor ordered to get Penn healthy. In a game of wild swings, Cornell led by 16, at 29-13, with 7:08 to go in the first half, before the Red and Blue countered with a run of their own to go up 52-43 with 8:41 left in the second and left the Quakers feeling their oats. But destiny being what it is, the game came down to the final seconds-make that the final second. Cornell missed on what they thought would be the last play of regulation only to see Conor Turley get fouled in the rebounding scramble with time still left on the clock. Clank. Into overtime for the third straight game. This time there were no heroics, no last second misses. The extra five minutes belonged to Cornell as they emerged with an 82-71 victory.  Three losses snatched from the jaws of victory. Three games where Penn had to dig themselves out of an early hole only to stick their nose in front–two of them on the road. Five points away from being undefeated and alone atop the Ivy standings. This Valentine’s Day, if you see a Penn coach or rabid fan, give them a hug. As for the players, they wont need your heart as they have plenty of that to go around.

Player of the Week: As mentioned, there are plenty of deserving candidates. Over the last four games, Greg Mangano of Yale has averaged about 21 points-including 30 in their win over Dartmouth- and eight rebounds a game; Ian Hummer, 15 and eight; Keith Wright has led Harvard in scoring each of the last four ,averaging 19 and nine. But it is our wont to spread the wealth; to recognize as many different players as possible in a league that doesn’t get much national ink. So this week we head up to Providence and honor Sean McGonagill of Brown. The 6’1 freshman from Illinois, who has started since Day 1, began his run to glory with an amazing 39 point effort against Columbia; a total which tied the gym scoring record. Over the last four games, he as played 34 minutes a game, shot 53% from the field, 44% from beyond the arc, and 86% (18-21) from the stripe. In fact, his 7-7 performance from the line helped the Bears seal the deal against the Big Green.. Besides his scoring, McGonagill contributed 17 rebounds and 22 assists during Brown’s 2-2 stretch. Partnered with sophomore Tucker Halperin, the Bears look to have a solid one-two punch for the next three years. And McGonagill, along with fellow frosh backcourt stars Miles Cartwright of Penn and Laurent Rivard of Harvard, represent, for the Ivy League, a changing of the…guard.

Power Rankings

1. Princeton (7-0, 19-4)–Yes they are undefeated in conference play, (five of them at home) and winners of nine in a row and 17 out of 18- very impressive. A closer look however shows that they have had four close calls, winning games by 4, 4, 3, and 2. Poor shooting has been the problem. The Tigers will need more consistency if they hope to remain perfect before their rematch with…

2. Harvard (7-1, 18-4)–At times, it appears the Crimson feel they need only show up to win. Cases in point–squandering an 18 point lead vs. Penn; sputtering to a three point win vs. Yale; and the topper–finding themselves down 21 points at home at the half vs. Brown. The amazing comeback notwithstanding, coach Tommy Amaker needs to get his squad to focus and cut down on turnovers if they hope to catch Princeton.

3. Yale (5-3, 12-10)–A bit of surprise to find the Elis above .500 but it should be none if they stay. After all they have played their three toughest road games (Penn, Princeton, Harvard) and were competitive- close losses all. And they have probably the most dangerous inside/outside combination in the league in Austin Morgan and Greg Mangano. Look for Yale to have a say in the league outcome as they get those same three teams in New Haven.

4. Penn (3-4, 9-12)–Their travails have been chronicled above and one cannot argue that with a few breaks, the Quakers could be right up there. But looking at the glass half empty there have been road losses like the one at Columbia ( 3-9 overall away from home), the rebounding issues (destroyed by the Lions 34-18) and the bit of a step backward by their star, Zack Rosen. A year away?

5. Columbia (4-4, 13-9)–The future looked bright for the Lions as they began league play 2-0 and winners of eight of nine. Coach Kyle Smith was getting some local pub and in some circles their resurgence was being compared to that of fellow city resident, St.Johns. However, after an excusable loss to Harvard and a win vs. Dartmouth, there followed two damaging losses to Brown and Yale and a 30 point home drubbing vs. Princeton. Leading scorer Norwua Agho was virtually invisible the first two defeats.

6. Cornell (2-6, 6-16)–This is the same Cornell that this column buried earlier; and no, we are not buckling under the pressure from prominent alumni. They were one of the few teams not named Harvard and Princeton to get a road win. And might have had a three game win streak if not for Kareem Maddox’s jump shot with 10 seconds to play. Coach Bill Courtney continues to struggle with combinations and players will play 30 minutes one night and ten the next. But the worst of the growing pains may be over

7. Brown (2-6, 9-13)–Up and down but not without promise. They have a roster infused with youth (see McGonagill and Halperin) and coach Jesse Agel looks like he knows what he is doing by looking at the big picture. One wonders how much the meltdown vs. Harvard will affect the Bears going forward.

8. Dartmouth (1-7, 5-17)–Too easy to knock the (not-so) Big Green, so we will focus on the positives. They will not go winless. They were competitive against Harvard and in their last two home games vs. Brown and Yale. And the home attendance figures are creeping towards four figures (982 at the Yale game). So now how does Paul Cormier convince any talent to come play in Hanover?

A Look Ahead

  • Princeton may face a stern test Friday at Yale before heading home to Jadwin where they are undefeated. Harvard must navigate around four road games before season ending home contests versus Penn and Princeton which could decide the Ivy title.
  • It’s “put up or shut up” time for Yale as they get the big boys at home.
  • Could we have a new player as we march toward March? Penn must repair their collective psyches and put the brakes on their four-game skid. Reveling in the role of spoiler may be their only motivation left.
  • Columbia may be back on track and it would not be out of the question to see them in a battle for third place.
  • The game this Friday at home vs. Harvard will go a long way in seeing how far Cornell has come back.
  • If the RTC Player of the Week award has not changed Sean McGonagill (wait -how can such a prestigious “trophy” not go to your head?), it will be interesting to see the progress he and his young teammates make at Brown. Dartmouth, unfortunately will have to wait until March 4 before attempting to break that elusive 1000-fan barrier.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Harvard Hoops: A Tradition of Futility

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2011

Matt Patton, a junior at Harvard University, is an RTC contributor.

Loving sports comes with ups and downs.  College sports especially come with the knowledge that no matter how good a player is, eligibility only lasts so long.  Some programs feel like they’re on perpetual highs, rarely enduring a bad season.  We plot winning streaks, consecutive NCAA bids, and even dynasties for these programs.  Then there are those less fortunate streaks: Northwestern’s historical absence from the NCAA tournament, Clemson’s perfect record of defeats in Chapel Hill, and Harvard’s empty space where years should represent Ivy League championships.

Harvard Hoops is On the Rise

For some fans these streaks produce incredible pain (Northwestern); for some they produce apathy (Clemson); and for others they scare them off altogether (Harvard).  Two years ago there was no such thing as a bandwagon Harvard fan.  The hiring of former Duke All-American Tommy Amaker infused a little life in the program.  But even in the winter of 2008-09, the games still felt like high school games.  There was little local interest and even less student interest.  I went to a game my freshman year with most of the student section to myself.  My interest had been piqued when the Crimson beat Boston College, who was just coming off a huge upset over #1 North Carolina (the eventual national champions).  The games were enjoyable, but most students were content to talk about the win over Boston College rather than make the short voyage to Lavietes Pavilion.  Harvard finished 6-8 in Ancient Eight play.

2009-10 introduced the first “bandwagon” fans with the Jeremy Lin show.  After a torrid start, Lin started getting attention from the national media, and students took note.  Harvard beat Boston College for the second year in a row, and suddenly the basketball team was one of the hottest on campus.  The student newspaper was abuzz with articles hinting at the possibility of winning the Ivy League for the first time in school history.  Lavietes was packed night in and night out.  Coach Amaker praised the student section’s tenacity, and the Princeton and Cornell home games had to lottery student tickets.  Unfortunately, Jeremy Lin couldn’t do it alone.  The team was stacked with young talent, but as most fans know, youth breeds inconsistency.  The Crimson finished 10-4 in Ivy League play (good for third in the conference) en route to the team’s first 20-win season ever.

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