The rain has started to fall on Harvard’s parade, and it’s just in time for the 14-Game Tournament, which begins this Saturday when Dartmouth comes to Cambridge. The 60-54 loss to Fordham on Tuesday will bump the Crimson from the Top 25, likely for the remainder of the season, and will also certainly raise some second thoughts about a team that many had penciled in for a perfect Ivy record.
The Rams made it look relatively easy. They packed in a zone against the Crimson, and for some reason the No. 21/22 team in the nation could not adjust. Harvard forwards Keith Wright and Kyle Casey combined to attempt just seven shots, and the offense gravitated towards the perimeter where the Crimson launched 30 threes. Harvard managed to hit just eight of those attempts despite frequent open looks, with sharpshooters Laurent Rivard, Christian Webster, and Corbin Miller the greatest offenders, hitting one-of-eight, zero-of-five, and zero-of-three, respectively.
The miserable shooting actually provided some solace. I don’t expect too many nights where Rivard, Webster, and Miller combine for one-of-16 shooting from deep, and if they had stroked it even slightly better, the Crimson likely would have escaped with a victory. What’s more troubling was the overall lack of execution and focus. Harvard turned the ball over 15 times, many of them unforced like Rivard trying to catch a pass with one hand or Curry losing it on a drive; the Crimson, second in the country in free throw shooting a year ago, missed half of its freebies from the stripe; and the normally stalwart defense allowed 1.070 points per possession against one of the worst offenses in Division I.
Under Coach Amaker (and to his credit), Harvard has rarely had any stinkers against inferior teams, but Tuesday night stunk. Fordham’s won four of five, including a win over Georgia Tech, but its overall profile is more on par with the Dartmouth-tier of the Ivy League than the Cornell/Columbia-level. For all of the talk of an undefeated conference season, the Rams made it look like that just won’t happen this year.
The first roadblock for the Crimson is the Big Green. Despite having lost nine of 10, Dartmouth has actually impressed over the last month. Aside from a loss at Notre Dame—the only double-digit defeat over that stretch—the Big Green has looked threatening. Dartmouth coughed up a three-point lead in the last 6.3 seconds in an overtime loss at Colgate (classic “up three, to foul or not to foul?” situation), relinquished a late advantage at Army in a three-point defeat, led by as many as 15 before falling late to Holy Cross, and saw an eight-point halftime advantage turn into an eight-point loss against Bucknell.
The cynic might say that the Big Green finds a way to lose, as many young teams are apt to do, but at least Dartmouth is in these situations late. The improvement is mostly a product of the Big Green’s defense, which has maintained its marked improvement over last year. The offense, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.
While senior guard Jabari Trotter and junior ball handler RJ Griffin have played well to this point, any hope for serious improvement rests on the shoulders of some tall freshmen. Forward Gabas Maldunas was the surprise early in the year (to date, he’s averaging 9.1 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game), but his classmate Jvonte Brooks has come on strong lately as well. Brooks has put up 10 points a game since mid-December, chipping in almost seven rebounds a night over the same period. John Golden, too, has proven to be a capable weapon, with seven games of eight or more points.
Odds are that Dartmouth continues to be the same team we’ve seen all year: surprisingly competitive and then a house of cards late. But that kind of performance at Lavietes would win the Big Green a lot of respect. My money, however, is on a refocused Harvard team wiping the floor with Dartmouth. The Big Green doesn’t have the athletes to defend the post, which, if Tuesday was any indication, is the key to slowing down the Crimson. The rematch in Hanover two weeks later will be more interesting—that game has always caused problems for Harvard—but I expect Saturday to be an uncompetitive matinee. Still, it’s Ivy hoops: Let the games begin.