As a Harvard optimist, I was unfazed by the Crimson’s lackluster performance against Virginia on Dec. 21. I concede that Harvard is not on the Cavaliers’ level. This past Sunday, the Crimson needed a strong bounce-back performance versus a more suitable opponent, Arizona State, but once again, Harvard could not establish the upper hand in a 56-46 loss to a tough Sun Devils team. Three obvious takeaways from this game are:
- Harvard’s defense continues to be top-notch.
- Harvard’s offense continues to sputter.
- Playing away from its home court at Lavietes Pavilion is tough for the Crimson.
So the real question is, can Harvard escape the Ivy League gauntlet with a stingy defense and an offense that’s weaker than last year’s? To examine this question, I decided to take a closer look at how Harvard and the other Ivy League teams have fared against “Ivy League-caliber” competition.
It’s not that that Harvard’s performance versus Virginia or Yale’s performance against UConn is irrelevant, but the best indicator of how a team will do during the Ivy League “tournament” is past performance against teams of similar ability to the teams they’ll square off against come January and February. With this in mind, I compiled each team’s points scored per game and points allowed per game, excluding their games against teams with a KenPom ranking of 48 or better (Harvard is ranked 49th, best in the Ivy League), or 254 or worse (Penn is ranked 253rd, worst in the Ivy League). The telling results are as follows:
|Team||Points scored/game vs. all teams||Points allowed/game vs. all teams||Ivy-caliber adjusted points scored/game||Ivy-caliber adjusted points allowed/game|
*Includes games final by 12/30/14, 12:00 pm EST
Games not included: MIT (not Division I), Virginia (2 KenPom), Grand Canyon (285 KenPom).
Games not included: Newbury (not Division I), University of Chicago Illinois (315 KenPom), Providence (48 KenPom), UConn (32 KenPom), Florida (14 KenPom).
Games not included: Wagner (296 KenPom), Fairleigh Dickinson (291 KenPom), Loyola MD (309 KenPom), Kentucky (1 KenPom), UConn (32 KenPom).
Games not included: Loyola MD (309 KenPom), South Carolina (33 KenPom), Binghamton (340 KenPom), UMass Lowell (305 KenPom).
Games not included: Indiana St. (262 KenPom), Illinois (44 KenPom), Austin Peay (286 KenPom), Prairie View A&M (323 KenPom), Johnson and Wales (not Division I), Providence (48 KenPom), Central Connecticut (319 KenPom).
Games not included: San Jose St. (342 KenPom), Fairleigh Dickinson (291 KenPom), Lipscomb (256 KenPom), Liberty (311 KenPom).
Games not included: Longwood (339 KenPom), Maine (335 KenPom), UMass Lowell (305 KenPom), Jacksonville St. (299 KenPom).
Games not included: Wagner (300 KenPom), Navy (321 KenPom), Binghamton (340 KenPom), Marist (322 KenPom).
To see sortable, conventional Ivy League team stats see here.
Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Points Scored/Game Rankings
|1. Yale||67.4 pts/g|
|2. Harvard||65.9 pts/g|
|3. Penn||65.2 pts/g|
|4. Cornell||65.0 pts/g|
|5. Brown||64.7 pts/g|
|6. Columbia||62.5 pts/g|
|7. Princeton||62.1 pts/g|
|8. Dartmouth||57.6 pts/g|
Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Points Allowed/Game Rankings
|1. Columbia||54.0 pts/g|
|2. Harvard||56.6 pts.g|
|3. Dartmouth||59.6 pts/g|
|4. Yale||61.3 pts/g|
|5. Cornell||63.3 pts/g|
|6. Princeton||67.9 pts/g|
|7. Brown||68.5 pts.g|
|8. Penn||77.6 pts/g|
Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Average Point Differential
|1. Harvard||+9.3 pts/g|
|2. Yale||+6.3 pts/g|
|3. Columbia||+8.5 pts/g|
|4. Cornell||+1.7 pts/g|
|5. Brown||-3.8 pts/g|
|6. Princeton||-5.8 pts/g|
|7. Dartmouth||-2.0 pts/g|
|8. Penn||-12.4 pts/g|
So what does all of this information mean for Harvard? Come Ivy time (the only time that really matters), Harvard’s offense will reestablish its status as one of the conference’s best, and their defense will continue to shut down opposing offenses. And let’s not forget that Tommy Amaker will, no doubt, make offensive adjustments to improve his team’s play as the Ivy season quickly approaches. Don’t let two bad games against high quality competition fool you: Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League.
Finally, let’s look at the issue of playing on the road. It’s simple: Harvard is 6-0 when it plays in the friendly confines of Lavietes Pavilion, and it’s 1-3 in hostile or neutral buildings. While it’s true that the Crimson have played their two toughest opponents on the road (Virginia and Arizona State), they also lost to Holy Cross at TD Garden and needed double-overtime to achieve their sole road victory against UVM in Burlington. Harvard’s road woes are definitely a cause for concern; however, the Crimson’s utter dominance at home balances out this equation. If Harvard goes undefeated at Lavietes Pavilion in the 2015 Ivy League “tournament” (which is no easy feat), then the Crimson can afford to lose a few on the road. This is especially true in a year of relative parity among the best teams in the Ivy League – a year when 11 wins may be enough to capture the Ivy crown (or at least a share).
So Harvard’s offense isn’t as weak as it appears, Harvard’s defense is very strong, and Harvard’s poor road performances have been and will be balanced out by their dominance at home. Of these statements, I am certain. And yet I’m even more certain that, this being the Ivy League, where any member of the Ancient Eight can win on any given night, there will be shockers in January and February that go against every aforementioned number. Indeed, even if Harvard were undefeated right now, I would remind all fans that the Ivy League schedule is a journey where “the unexpected becomes the ordinary.”
The Ivy season gets underway for the Crimson on the road (of course) against Dartmouth on Jan. 10. The best part of the college basketball season – of the whole year – is almost upon us. Get ready, because the 2015 edition of “the chase for the Ivy League crown” is shaping up to be a classic.