For the first time in the Tommy Amaker era, Harvard has begun the season 1-3, with the sole win coming versus a Division III school: MIT. After falling to Providence, UMass, and Boston College, Harvard seems to have taken a step back from its past dominance.
But the real question isn’t, “How good is Harvard?” The important questions are: “Why have the Crimson struggled?,” “What will it take to improve?” and “Can the Crimson contend for an Ivy League title this year?”
Harvard has struggled mightily in a few areas this so far this season. The first matter of major concern is turnovers. The Crimson has turned the ball over on nearly one fourth of their possessions. On the other end, Harvard has forced a turnover on only one eighth of their opponents’ possessions. This causes a straightforward but almost insurmountable problem: Harvard’s opponents take more shots.
Through three games, Harvard has averaged about eight fewer shots from the field per game than its opponents. The Crimson has even shot a higher percentage than its opponent in two of its three losses, underscoring the weakness of their current formula. Simply put, if they plan to get back on track, they must fix the turnover imbalance.
Another problem is Harvard’s inability to make free throws. From the line, the Crimson have shot below 60 percent, while opponents have shot around 85 percent. Though some of the latter statistic can be attributed to luck, the Crimson’s shooting is concerning, especially considering that junior Zena Edosomwan, who has taken twice as many free throws as the next guy on the list, is shooting just 50 percent from the charity stripe. There is no quick fix for this issue, as Edosomwan is a career 57 percent free throw shooter.
Some things, however, have gone well for the Crimson this year. When Edosomwan is not at the foul line, he has looked like an All-Ivy caliber player, averaging 14.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Of equal importance is Edosomwan’s improvement in his style of play. His fouls per 40 minutes have decreased from 5.95 to 4.24, while his shooting percentage from the floor has risen from 39 percent to 49 percent. Freshman Corey Johnson and junior Corbin Miller have also impressed, combining to shoot 42 percent from three-point land. With offensive weapons like Edosomwan, Miller, and Johnson, and a coach who has always put a stingy defense on the floor, Crimson fans have been banging their heads against a wall as the early season losses have mounted.
Here’s the takeaway: Harvard is a currently a below average team, at least by program standards. But the Crimson will improve.
And the degree to which they improve will hinge mostly on “the Tommys” – coach Amaker and freshman guard McCarthy. The burden of teaching this young team to play loose and together is on Amaker’s shoulders, while floor general McCarthy is the key factor in reducing turnovers (he’s averaging 3.8 turnovers per game) and improving the offense (he’s shooting 22 percent from the floor). The individual pieces are there offensively. It’s just a matter of whether Tommy McCarthy – or Corbin Miller, or whomever steps up – can play the point guard position solidly. The bottom line: If McCarthy improves his game significantly by January, Harvard will be in the Ivy title race. If he does not, the Crimson will have to fight hard for fourth place.