Reading the Ivy tea leaves – Harvard roundup

Thanks to all those who shared their thoughts on their hopes and expectations for the Crimson this season:

Jonah Travis, Harvard forward ’15: There’s a couple different things that I’m most looking forward to watching this season. I’ll be interested to see which one of our upperclassmen is able to take the reins and steer the team towards another championship. With so many seniors graduating, they’ll be able to influence the team in many ways they haven’t been able to before. I’ll also be interested to see which freshmen step up and put in the work to be a contributor. The opportunity is there for them, it’ll just take a high degree of work ethic to make it happen.

David Tannenwald, Harvard Magazine: I’m excited about a few things for the upcoming season:

  • I’m excited to see how the league performs across the board (i.e., nonconference, in conference, and post-season). Over the last few years, the Ivy League has made a lot of waves nationally. The best example of this is Harvard with a pair of NCAA tournament wins. But Yale beating UConn (and making a deep run in the 2014 CIT), Columbia battling Kentucky, and Brown beating Providence demonstrate that the league as a whole is getting really, really good. If multiple Ivy teams pick up signature non-conference wins and do post-season damage, I think it would help to build the Ivy brand, bolster the conference’s appeal to recruits, and (at some point down the road) create the possibility of an Ivy team getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. So I’m very excited to watch the league as a whole this year.
  • On a related note, I’m excited to see how Harvard performs in conference play. Obviously, losing Siyani is huge, and it’s reasonable to expect that it will take some time to adjust. But by the time Harvard gets to conference play, the team will have had some time to sort through that. Paired with how strong and balanced the league is this year, it will be really interesting to see how the team fares in the back-to-backs in league play. I think February is going to be a really fun month.
  • Finally, I’m excited to see what kind of production Amaker gets from this year’s freshman class. Obviously next year’s recruiting class has received a lot of attention (and rightfully so), whereas this year’s freshmen haven’t received that much ink. That could serve as motivation for them. It could also mean that we’re overlooking some serious talent. Is Corey Johnson the next Laurent Rivard? How big an impact will Weisner Perez have? I’m really curious to see how much the Class of 2019 contributes.

As for predictions, I think the league as a whole is going to be extremely, extremely competitive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a three-team playoff. I’m reluctant to offer a prediction of where Harvard will place specifically (it seems too close to call), but I do think Harvard will exceed expectations (i.e., place higher than fourth, where the Crimson was ranked in the preseason poll). This is in part because they’re apt to be strong defensively. Coach Amaker emphasizes this, and he has some great defenders on the roster (particularly Agunwa). I also don’t think any five-time champion relinquishes that title easily. Finally, I think coach Amaker is really good at taking the pulse of his teams, and I think he’s likely to do that throughout the season, if there are some ups and downs.

Michael James (@Ivybball), Harvard ’06: Whew. A year to relax. After five-consecutive years of title chases with nothing ever coming easy, Harvard fans can just enjoy some basketball without the weight of great expectations so often thrust upon the program. For the Crimson faithful, this will be a year of learning more than anything else. Can Tommy Amaker figure out the right mix of personnel to run an efficient offense in the new world of the 30-second shot clock? Which of the myriad three-star recruits on the Harvard roster deserved such acclaim and which will likely spend the rest of their days parked on the end of the bench? Perhaps most importantly, which paltry few returning players next season will be successful in battling for playing time against Siyani Chambers and a seven-man recruiting class currently ranked 8th nationally at ?. But for those Crimson partisans who enjoyed the gut-wrenching fear of watching Amaker navigate the Ivy slate as a favorite… regularly scheduled broadcasting will resume in 2016-17.

John Ezekowitz, Harvard ’13, Phoenix Suns analytics consultant, 2011-13: This season is obviously one of transition for Harvard, and what I am looking forward to is seeing how coach Amaker deals with a team that does not have an established go to player. Zena Edosomwan will likely take a lot of shots, but it remains to be seen how efficient he can be and whether he can stay on the floor. I expect Harvard’s offense to be a work in progress (to put it politely) throughout the nonconference. If they can round into form by conference play, they could do better than the fourth-place prediction.

Individually, I am very excited to see how the young backcourt shapes up. The comparisons between Tommy McCarthy and Siyani Chambers, both thrust into starting roles as freshmen, are readily apparent, but McCarthy’s game initially reminds me more of another fantastic guard, Oliver McNally. I think the play of Corey Johnson and the development of Andre Chatfield will also be key to Harvard’s success or failure this season.

David Freed, Harvard Crimson sports administration reporter: The 2015-16 Harvard men’s basketball team is long on talent and short on experience. Even after graduating two All-Ivy starters and losing point guard Siyani Chambers to a torn ACL, the team has well-regarded recruits starting and coming off the bench at every position. The biggest hole remains at point guard—Chambers and graduated senior Wesley Saunders handled the ball on almost every Crimson possession last year. The presumptive replacements for Chambers, juniors Corbin Miller and Matt Fraschilla, have never been primary ball handlers for Amaker’s squad. In the front court, the team hopes that junior Zena Edosomwan can make the expected third-year jump to All-Ivy production. Sophomores Chris Egi and Andre Chatfield, sparsely used reserves a year ago, will be counted on heavily to add depth to a squad whose only seniors—Agunwa Okolie and Evan Cummins—combined for just 6.7 points a game last year.

Ultimately, the squad may defend like hell but it will struggle to score even more than last year’s team, which suffered a long offensive drought once a game. In a strengthened Ivy League, it is hard to see Harvard winning its sixth straight championship unless freshman Tommy McCarthy plays, like, well, a freshman Siyani Chambers.

Juliet Spies-Gans, Huffington Post editorial fellow, former Harvard Crimson Sports Chair:
With the graduation of program cornerstones Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi along with the season-ending injury to floor general Siyani Chambers, the sudden lack of experience and proved stardom on Harvard’s roster this year is going to force someone on the Crimson bench to step up in a major way. Sound familiar? That’s because a quite similar situation happened back in the 2012-13 season, when the unplanned leaves of absence of co-captains Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey left the team reeling.
But they were reeling only for a moment – because that’s when then-sophomore and future Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders was handed the ball and the proverbial baton, taking over the team after its leadership had vanished in the blink of an eye. Look for history to repeat itself this year. Personally, I’ll be watching sophomore Andre Chatfield in particular to see how he tries to replicate Saunders’ swift swing from limited minutes to the limelight, as Chatfield’s hardwood style echoes that of Saunders both on the defensive end – he’s proven prescient and quick playing the lanes – and on the offensive side of things – as his combination of grace and power driving down the middle is quintessential Wesley Saunders basketball. Given the dearth of experience on the bench this year, 2015-16 will be an exercise in patience and player development for the Crimson. While it likely won’t earn its sixth straight Ivy League crown, this year will set the tempo and provide a solid foundation for the arrival of a talented recruiting class and the return of co-captain Siyani Chambers next fall.

 

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