The team that won the Battle 4 Atlantis was not one that we knew. Since when has Harvard been a shutdown defense? A team that allowed 1.015 points per possession last season yielded just .737 points per possession against Utah, .684 points against Florida St., and .849 points against Central Florida. Since when has the Crimson so thoroughly cleaned the glass? A team that struggled on the boards against the likes of MIT and Holy Cross won each rebounding battle, 37-26, 36-26, and 35-33 against the Utes, the Seminoles, and the Knights, respectively.
Harvard took its game to a different level for three nights on the fittingly named Paradise Island. It was a collective effort. Just as the Versus announcers struggled to name a tournament MVP from the Crimson’s roster (the distinction fell almost by default to senior forward Keith Wright), it’s difficult to single out a player who didn’t carry his weight. Junior Christian Webster struggled with his shot but hit two threes to open an early lead against Central Florida; Wright notched just two field goals against Florida St. (both were timely dunks), but he grabbed eight rebounds; senior guard Oliver McNally deferred most of the ball-handling duties to Brandyn Curry, but he snagged 10 boards and racked up eight assists in the final two games of the tournament. There are too many examples to completely enumerate.
Harvard simply played team basketball—unlikely to make any individual a star, but, if this week was any indication, sure to translate into on-court success. The formula has been laid: if the Crimson commits to defense and rebounding, it can beat the best. Though this recipe is not exactly groundbreaking, Harvard appears to finally have the pieces to execute it. The freshman trio of Steve Moundou-Missi, Jonah Travis, and Wesley Saunders allows Wright and junior forward Kyle Casey to rest without the Crimson seeing a big drop-off in production (Wright averaged a shade under 25 minutes per game in the Bahamas, Casey was just over 20 minutes per game). Not only is the bench improved; the starting duo is more efficient (I’m eager to see the Pomeroy rebounding numbers; both big men are averaging about a full rebound per 40 minutes more than last year, and the team offensive rebounding percentage has risen from 30.6 percent to 35.1 percent).
Of course, Harvard will regress back to the mean with respect to its defensive numbers. A year ago, the very best defensive team in the country, Florida St., allowed .862 points per possession, so it would be unreasonable to expect Bahamian efficiency out of the Crimson all season. But the bar has been set. Harvard will be favored in every remaining game save for the matchup at UConn. Already high expectations are rising. The flip side of performing so well is that it won’t take much for the Crimson to fall from Paradise.