Harvard splits the Ps, looks ahead to Brown and Yale

The Crimson played two wild games this past weekend, as Harvard took down Penn before dropping a stunning game to Princeton. On Friday night, the Crimson trailed 19-4 before storming back to beat Penn. On Saturday night, Harvard staged a double-digit comeback to lead Princeton late, but missed free throws, silly fouls and some rebounding issues led to this wild ending and a Harvard loss. Here are a few of my thoughts on Harvard at this point in the season:

The enigma down low

Zena Edosomwan or Chris Lewis? These two have established themselves as Harvard’s two primary post players. Tommy Amaker has favored a “small” lineup with either 6-foot-5 Justin Bassey or 6-foot-7 Seth Towns at the four-spot, combined with either Edosomwan or Lewis. There’s an argument to make for each of them. Coming into the season, Edosomwan was an Ivy Player of the Year candidate. His strong play seemed to be one of the only guarantees heading into the year. Things haven’t gone quite according to plan for the senior, but he will still have to play a key role if Harvard wins the league this season. Edosomwan’s rebounding prowess is unmatched. His rebounds-per-40-minutes this season is above 15, and if Edosomwan even played 25 minutes a game, he could lead the league in rebounding.

But Edosomwan has only played that many minutes in one game this season (28 versus Houston). On Saturday night, Edosomwan played 10 minutes. Most notably, Zena was on the bench with under 10 seconds to play and Princeton’s Myles Stephens standing at the line with one free throw. A make would have tied up the game; a miss and a Harvard board would likely have sealed the game for the Crimson. Chris Lewis subbed in. Zena remained where he had been since the 8:43 mark of the second half: on the bench. Stephens’ shot clanged off the rim, and Princeton’s Steven Cook snatched the rebound. After being stripped once by Bryce Aiken, Cook laid it in. Ballgame: 57-56, Princeton.

You can use the free throw shooting excuse – I have done so frequently – to justify playing Lewis over Edosomwan in late-game spots, but at this point, the difference between the two in that area is overblown. Lewis was 1-for-5 from the line Saturday night. Edosomwan isn’t exactly knock-down from the line either, but if you need a rebound (and Harvard almost always does as they rank 293rd nationally in offensive rebounding-against), Zena is your guy. Play him.

On the other hand, let me tell you why I’m also a big fan of Chris Lewis. Chris Lewis is a very polished offensive player already. His hook shot is reliable with both hands, and he has good hands (something a few recent Harvard bigs have oddly had problems with). Lewis alters shots on the defensive end consistently, whether he gets credited with a block on the stat sheet or not. The only knock on Lewis is that often, after he gives help defense, he has a hard time getting back to grab the rebound. This often leads to offensive rebounds for the opposition. It also leads to guys like Justin Bassey swooping in and grabbing 10 rebounds, which happened versus Princeton. Lewis will be an impactful player in this league for a while, but this year Edosomwan and Lewis need to share minutes more evenly than they have.

Bryce Aiken and Siyani Chambers are big-time players

Siyani Chambers is only shooting 35 percent from two this year and 29 percent from three. But when the Crimson need a bucket, a steal or even just a spark, it’s always the same guy to provide it: Siyani. Chambers leads the Ivy League in fist pumps by a wide margin, and I’m pretty sure he gets more excited about cutting a lead from 12 to 10 than anyone else I’ve ever seen. And his energy is contagious. The guy is a competitor; it’s a cliche for a lot of guys, but Siyani Chambers wants to win more than anyone else I’ve seen. It doesn’t matter if he’s 0-for-10 or 10-for-10 from the floor, Tommy Amaker has to feel good with the ball in this guy’s hands late in the game.

Bryce Aiken is the second half of Harvard’s lethal point guard tandem. Aiken is a little more of a gunslinger than Chambers, and he seems to find himself in the big spots often, too. Aiken’s defining characteristic is fearlessness. Aiken has had two bad shooting games in row, but he could explode any game. Against Cornell, Aiken hit a dagger of a jumper late, and versus Princeton he hit a huge, tough three-pointer. Keep an eye on Aiken: When he decides to make a play for himself, it usually leads to a collective “Ooh! Aah!” from the crowd.

I can’t wait to see these two go toe to toe Saturday night with another one of their kind: Yale’s Miye Oni. These three icy-veined, big-time shot makers should put on a good show Saturday night in New Haven when Harvard plays at Yale.

Turnovers

When Harvard wins the turnover battle, they’re a tough team to beat. This Friday, when Harvard plays Brown, the turnover battle will be especially important; the Crimson will have to limit the giveaways. The Bears allow opponents to shoot the ninth-highest effective field goal percentage nationally. However, Brown has stayed somewhat respectable on the defensive end by forcing turnovers at the 30th best rate nationally. Chris Lewis will have to hold on to the ball, especially if he’s double-teamed like he was versus Princeton (five turnovers), but Harvard should be in good hands with the ever reliable Siyani Chambers running the point. Furthermore, if the Crimson can win the turnover battle versus Yale on Saturday night, I would predict an upset for Harvard.

Harvard, sitting at 4-2 in the Ivy League, plays at Brown and Yale this weekend. A split would bode well for their already high odds of reaching the Ivy League Tournament, but both a split and a sweep are well within the realm of possibility for the Crimson. We’ll see if Harvard can play a full 40 minutes of solid basketball in either of these games. Even if not, the Crimson have proven quite capable of playing from behind this season – it just might not fly versus the cream of the league, like Yale.

4 thoughts on “Harvard splits the Ps, looks ahead to Brown and Yale

  1. Harvard is by far the most athletic team in the Ivy League. Not just two or three years in the future (which will be true then), but right now.

    I don’t understand how Coach Amaker brings in these unbelievable recruiting classes, but then has so many guys sputter or underachieve relative to their athleticism.

    Like you, I wondered where Zena was after Cook out jumped Lewis, Bassey and Johnson for the rebound of Stephens’ miss. I can understand Coach preferring Lewis to Zena, but he also kept Zena on the bench in favor of Bassey and Johnson. That just makes no sense to me.

    Amaker is the greatest recruiter in the history of the Ivy League. Having the best recruits does not guarantee championships, but it’s at least 75% of the equation. We should win the title every year; it’s a simple as that.

  2. Amaker has, to his credit, gotten the glossiest prospects in the League for the last half dozen years, but few under-the-radar overachievers. Still, with all that talent, he has won only three titles outright. He has milked Harvard’s somewhat overblown prestige for all it’s worth. But now Amaker’s honeymoon is coming to an end. The rest of the league is closing the talent gap as they are getting more visibility. With his current crop of high profile potential stars Amaker can make few promises to the next couple of classes. Look for a much more competitive league as the rest of the Ivies establish their niches with future high level prospects.

  3. Tiger69, you are correct in the sense that the rest of the league is definitely getting better recruits in recent years. But if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed that Coach Amaker is taking *his* recruiting game to an even higher level as well.

    Most observers, myself included, probably thought that Zena would represent the league high water mark forever in terms of the highest ranked recruit who would seriously consider going Ivy. But that was before Coach Amaker brought in Chris Lewis. This recruiting cycle, Coach Amaker took a serious run at Wendell Carter, a one-and-done NBA prospect. It came down to Harvard and Duke for his services.

    As the rest of the league reaches higher, Coach Amaker is not allowing them to “close the talent gap;” he’s increasing it. The only thing holding him back is deficiency in game management and developing talent.

    I would not bet against Harvard.

  4. Justin Bassey is having an amazing freshman year. He has been as valuable to Harvard as Lewis and Towns. Only Aikens has had a more profound first year.

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