Smelling Crimson in the Water

What does the Crimson
What does the Crimson”s embarrassing loss at FAU say about the Ivy race?

It was just one game, but Harvard”s stunning 68-53 loss to Florida Atlantic on Tuesday has seemingly cast a new light on the conference race. Until Boca Raton, the Crimson had laid waste to its Ivy-level competition—the only blemishes on its record were road losses against Colorado and Connecticut. With Princeton”s defeat at the Palestra two weeks ago, the road to the NCAA Tournament looked like a relative stroll for Harvard, especially compared to the two-month marathons of the Crimson”s last three league championships. But this week”s clunker against the 7-12 Owls (four wins against D-II or sub-300 teams) exposed Harvard and breathed hope into the seven Ivies that stand between the Crimson and March Madness. If Harvard can stumble to Florida Atlantic on ten days rest, doesn”t [insert your school, not Cornell] have a fighter”s chance on a back-to-back?

Well, disappointed Crimson fans, things are neither as gloomy as they seem now, nor were they ever as rosy as they seemed last week. Sure, the #2BidIvy campaign is now sunk, but it was only ever in play in the event of a one-loss tie, which pretty much bit the dust when the Tigers went down to the Quakers. An Ivy title is the only validation for a ticket to the Tournament, and unless you”re a dreamer it always was. In truth, Harvard was punching above its weight for much of the season, and it was fortunate to navigate its non-conference slate as successfully as it did. The Crimson began the season at No. 50 in KenPom, and, after its loss this week, it sit at No. 48. A 14-3 record on Jan. 24 was the forecast, and who, given the choice in the preseason, would not have taken that?

There”s no doubt that Tuesday”s loss is one of the low-points of Coach Amaker”s tenure. The Crimson shot 23% from the field and tallied three assists, both game-lows over the last seven seasons. Harvard continued a troubling trend of getting stuffed at the rim, as the Owls rang up 12 blocked shots. But there were a few positives as well. Wes Saunders played 34 minutes after missing the last two games with a knee sprain, Zena Edosomwan showed a pulse (11 points, nine rebounds), and in spite of everything, the Crimson had a chance to steal a win, scraping within five with 5:36 remaining.

No, if anything accounts for Harvard”s sudden vulnerability, it”s not a bad night against Florida Atlantic. It”s the strength of the rest of the Ancient Eight. Princeton sits at 11-3, Columbia has cracked to KenPom Top-100, Penn is coming off its best win of the year, and, while Brown and Yale are just waking from a holiday swoon, both project to 6-point home underdogs against the Crimson. Harvard may be in it for the long haul, but it always was.

4 thoughts on “Smelling Crimson in the Water

  1. No question that the Crimson remain the prohibitive favorite for another Ivy title. I recall the wonderful days of yesteryear when the Ivy title was the point of the whole thing, not just a “ticket to the dance.” The post-season was considered a reward for a good season, not the purpose of playing. I wish this League would figure out what it’s trying to do. Biased I may be, but football seems to be more competitive on a league-wide basis than basketball (and doing quite well, thank you). Wonder why? The trip to Boca was nothing more than a wake-up call, the bad night that every team has. If Harvard shoots 23% again I’ll eat this keyboard.The Tigers laid their egg at The Palestra, the worst possible place to throw up on yourself, at least this year. Columbia has the talent to challenge, but they must do more than slap Cornell around. In a few weeks the hottest discussion topic here will be “Who’s getting the (insert “Penn” and/or “Cornell”) job?” Can’t wait for Sunday and the match-up with Kean(?)…Will bring back memories of Carnegie-Mellon a few years and coaches ago.

  2. I can’t get too caught up in the FAU loss meaning anything for Ivy competition. Harvard is the overwhelming favorite to win the conference; that was true at the beginning of the OOC schedule and it’s true now.

    The only thing FAU reminds us is that Amaker has assembled the raw athleticism to compile a 15-0 or 16-0 conference record, but he fails to develop a lot of that talent once it arrives at Lavietes. For every Siyani Chambers who flourishes ahead of schedule, there are several more Dee Giger’s, Michael Hall’s, Hunter Myers, Evan Cummins and Jonah Travis — top, top rated recruits who never get off the far end of the bench.

    Amaker recruits enough star power to field literally two Ivy championship teams, then underachieves by producing a 12-2 or 11-3 squad.

    • I totally agree. I think, and always have, that he is a mediocre coach who has the pedigree to overwhelm a middling mid-major conference simply by acquiring more talent which in the end he fails to fully develop. Still, the recruits are probably not complaining too much–they get a championship ring and a Harvard degree. Not too shabby.

      The AQ

  3. Well said AQ and Fitz. The talent gap between the Crimson and the rest of the league is enormous, as it has been for several years. It’s only Amaker’s mediocrity in all coaching aspects but recruiting that has kept the league race interesting.

    The Florida Atlantic loss will hurt Harvard’s eventual seed, but unless you think the Crimson has many more nights (if any) where they shoot under 25%, it doesn’t shift the league dynamic any. I just don’t think anyone else in the league has a 12-2 league record in them.

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