The Harvard Crimson are predicted to win the Ivy League. Led by senior standout Wesley Saunders and the highly touted head coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard has enjoyed immense success over the last several years. To the schooled eye and on paper, Harvard is the Ancient Eight’s best team.
But sports are not about who is better on paper, and nobody came here to play school. Anything can happen on the hardwood and nothing is a foregone conclusion. Harvard has not locked up anything yet—and it’s not going to. Come March, Harvard, like you and me, will be sitting at home. Here’s why:
The Decline of Siyani Chambers
Junior guard Siyani Chambers is the primary ball handler for the Crimson, and while Saunders may take the majority of Harvard’s shots, Chambers plays more minutes and is responsible for running the offense. Two years ago, this would have been a nightmare scenario for fans outside of Cambridge, as Chambers was an absolute force to be reckoned with, shooting 44 percent from inside the arc, 42 percent from deep, and was ranked 61st in the nation in assist rate according to Ken Pomeroy. Chambers’ numbers since then have plummeted, and even though his minutes are up from last year, his shooting percentages from inside and outside the three-point line are in the basement—35 and 25 percent respectively—all while taking the team’s largest share of shots since he stepped on campus. At the risk of comparing Chambers to someone like, say, Russell Westbrook, Amaker should probably urge Chambers to pass the ball more often.
At last year’s Senior Night in Lavietes Pavilion, Rivard received a standing ovation after torching the Columbia Lions for a game-high 21 points and drilling six three-pointers on an eye-popping 75 percent from deep. That same year, Rivard was ranked fourteenth in the nation in effective field-goal percentage, and eleventh in True Shooting percentage—both metrics that evaluate how well you can shoot, taking into account converted free throws and the inflated worth of three-pointers. The man could flat-out shoot, and he was a key part of the Crimson offense last year. Rivard had Pomeroy’s highest offensive ranking on the team last year, and his departure may prove even more costly to Harvard than Kyle Casey who Amaker’s go-to defender and rebounder.
Crimson (Low) Tide
After the dust settles, basketball is a team game, just ask 2001 Allen Iverson. Unfortunately for Harvard, their team numbers are down across the board. Last year’s Crimson team was more efficient on both sides of the ball, had a higher assist to made field goal ratio, and took better care of the basketball. Even more damning, this year’s team has embarrassing losses to Holy Cross (a team they should’ve beaten) and Virginia (a team against which they probably should’ve scored more than 27 points against). Harvard has not been able to take advantage of a weaker schedule this year, and unlike teams like Columbia, they did not schedule out-of-conference juggernauts, so it’s a bit harder to give them the benefit of the doubt. Harvard is still incredibly good, but they have taken a step back this year, while teams like Yale (a top 100 defensive team in the nation), Columbia (top 100 in effective field goal percentage), and even Cornell (Shonn Miller!) have taken steps forward.
To make a long story short, the absences of Brandyn Curry, Laurent Rivard and Kyle Casey have not been fully compensated for, and there’s only so much that Wesley Saunders can do. Last year, Harvard was a bad charge call (Rivard strikes again) away from a loss at Columbia, lost to Yale at home, and only managed to beat a struggling Brown team at home—don’t count on them being so lucky this year.