On Wednesday, Harvard lost its most important player to a devastating injury. The team announced that captain and starting point guard Siyani Chambers has suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2015-16 season. He will not enroll in school this year, and he will re-enroll in 2016-17 (his final year of eligibility).
This situation is strikingly similar to when senior starting point guard Brandyn Curry un-enrolled before the 2012-13 season, throwing Chambers into the fire as the starter from day one. That year, Harvard won its third Ivy title, and Chambers was voted Ivy League Rookie of the Year and an All-Ivy first team selection (along with another breakout player, sophomore Wesley Saunders). The question is, can this year’s Harvard team replace the linchpin of their recent success with largely unproven players, the same way the program’s 2012-13 edition did? The simple answer is: No one knows.
Chambers’ injury hurts the Crimson’s title hopes for this season, but counting the Crimson out, as many already have, would be foolish. Though Harvard will have to contend with one of the deepest groups of teams this league has ever seen – Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and Yale all project to be very good – the Crimson still project to have one of the most talented (though unproven) lineups in the league. Logging most of the Crimson’s backcourt minutes will be sophomore combo guard Andre Chatfield, junior shooting guard Corbin Miller, freshman shooter Corey Johnson and freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy.
Corbin Miller, who was streaky last season, may assume point guard duties to start, but he will have to fight to keep that job, as he is better suited for off-ball play. Chatfield, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, will be relied upon for scoring. Freshman Corey Johnson will be the team’s best shooter from day one, which makes him another significant threat. These kids are good – but unproven. Junior Matt Fraschilla could very well prove to be a backcourt factor, too, but it looks like a younger crop of talent will assume most of the minutes.
Freshman Tommy McCarthy, who said he was “looking forward to learning from Siyani” before Chambers’ injury, will be now be at the helm of a team that last finished second in the Ivy League when he was in middle school. McCarthy can play: He shined in a big-time high school environment, he is not afraid to shoot the ball, and he has a strong pull-up off the dribble. If he can further develop his already excellent facilitating skills, he could become a very good guard in the Ivy League. But can he be that type of player and leader from day one? Is he ready for the spotlight? He told me he is: “A lot of guys may be starstruck playing in college on the big stage at first, but I’ve been there before and I’m ready for it.”
The Crimson’s 2015-16 season has not been doomed by Chambers’ injury, and it will be very interesting to see what Tommy Amaker does with this crop of players. Can these young players outplay the bonafide, strong guards of the league like Amir Bell, Tavon Blackmon and Maodo Lo? 2015-16 will be a season of uncertainty for Harvard, and because of this, many pundits have picked the Crimson to finish third or fourth in the league. This may be the safe prediction, but don’t be surprised if the Crimson exceed expectations and bring home banner number six. If there’s one thing last season taught us about Harvard, it’s to never count them out.