Two games will likely define Harvard’s season. The narrative surrounding this team — whether Harvard is back as a mainstay in the Big Dance as one of the top mid-major programs in the country, or if they were just too young — will be decided by two games. Two 40-minute games for all the marbles, because 14 is so “last year.” Like it or not, the Ivy League Tournament is here, it’s here to stay … and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Here’s what to watch for from Harvard’s perspective.
Eight games into the season, the Crimson sit at 4-4. Although this may not be the start everyone in Cambridge dreamed of when fate brought this team together, the Crimson are trending upward after winning three straight games heading into the exam break.
Harvard started the season by losing four consecutive winnable, Division I games. The team hung with Stanford in its opening night game in China, but it still didn’t feel like a great showing, even with Bryce Aiken scoring 21 points in his first collegiate game. After trouncing Fisher College, a non-NCAA team, the Crimson hit a low point in their season. Harvard was only three games in, but an 11-point loss to Holy Cross at home was not a good sign. With Zena Edosomwan only playing seven minutes, Siyani Chambers committing five turnovers (Harvard had 19 as a team), and freshman Bryce Aiken out with an injury, there didn’t seem to be much to take away from that game – besides what not to do. Seth Towns and Corey Johnson had solid games, but there were more question marks than answers. Would the heralded tandem down low of Zena Edosomwan and Chris Lewis play up to expectations? Or, more importantly, would the heralded tandem down low of Zena Edosomwan and Chris Lewis play? Would Bryce Aiken return soon? What was wrong with Siyani?
Cornell 75, Brown 71
Cornell won this season finale for both teams, scraping up a win with Brown offensive linchpin Tavon Blackmon missing the game due to an ankle injury. In his final collegiate game, Cedric Kuakumensah posted a characteristic 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, with Steven Spieth adding 13 rebounds, 12 points and seven assists. But Cornell’s 27-18 advantage in points off treys and 11-0 advantage in fastbreak points proved enough, featuring freshman Matt Morgan with 25 points, four assists and four rebounds, a steal and a block.
Princeton 74, Cornell 60
A day after starting with a 12-0 deficit at Penn, Cornell reeled off a game-opening 11-4 run at Jadwin, maintaining a lead for most of the first 12 minutes and trailing 37-34 at halftime before the Tigers very gradually took control. Matt Morgan got in on the scoring action as Robert Hatter receded in the second half. There’s no such thing as “the usual suspects” for Princeton, but tonight it was Amir Bell and Spencer Weisz leading the Tigers with 16 points, and Devin Cannady shooting 6-for-7 from deep, including 3-for-3 from long range. (Ask Columbia about that.) Meanwhile, Henry Caruso notched just two points on 0-for-4 shooting, though he did add seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Princeton 85, Cornell 56
That escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast. The Tigers cleaned out Cornell from wire to wire, racing out to a 33-8 lead in the first 10:20 and never looking back. Princeton shot 50 percent from the floor, anchored as usual by Henry Caruso’s 13-point, seven-rebound, two-assist, two-steal performance, with 13 additional points from Amir Bell. Freshmen Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens combined for 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting off the bench, including 3-for-4 beyond the arc from Cannady.
Penn 50, Princeton 48
Any roundup of Saturday’s Ivy action has to include Penn’s white-knuckle win over Princeton on the women’s side. Penn (10-2, 1-0 Ivy) prevailed for its home win over Princeton (11-4, 0-1) since 2008 by shutting down the Tigers defensively, holding Princeton to just one field goal in the final 4:16 and turning the Tigers away twice in the final eight seconds of the game. Junior center Sydney Stipanovich finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists for the Quakers, who Princeton to 17-for-62 (27.4 percent) shooting with a formidable 2-3 zone that Princeton coach Courtney Banghart curiously called a “junior high school” level zone after the game.
Super proud for our team. Resilient , determined and played together. Loved our effort. Special shoutout to our 2-3 zone👍👍!!
— Mike Mclaughlin (@MikeMcLaughli) January 10, 2016
Lately, Harvard has been a completely different team than it was back in November. After a close loss at Kansas and a nice win at Boston University, the Crimson traveled to Hawaii to partake in the 2015 Diamond Head Classic. The Crimson drew BYU in the first round. The tournament was a huge test for Harvard: would the Crimson revert back to its November self? Or would Harvard build on its two previous good performances and play well?
Even after five straight Ivy titles and two NCAA Tournament wins, leading this year’s Harvard team to another title would probably be the greatest accomplishment of Tommy Amaker’s career. It’s not that Harvard doesn’t have talent – but other teams may have much more proven talent. Here are my thoughts about the ‘15-’16 Harvard basketball team, taking into account the players’ performances on October 16 at Crimson Madness (the season’s kickoff practice and scrimmage at Lavietes Pavilion, which is open to the public) and how last season unfolded.
Harvard guard Siyani Chambers will declare for June’s NBA Draft, a source at the NBA league office tells Ivy Hoops Online.
Chambers averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 assists per game as he started all 28 of the Crimson’s games this season. His points per game declined for the second straight season, but Draft Express projects Chambers as a late second-round player who should be taken by one of Philadelphia’s 13 second-round picks in the draft.
Chambers declined comment for this story but reviews from NBA executives are mixed at best, with one Western Conference general manager telling IHO “Siyani Chambers is “certainly a guard” and a scout who works for an Eastern Conference team asking, “Seriously? Am I being punked? Is that still a topical reference?”
With Chambers declaring along with seven seniors graduating including Wesley Saunders, Steve Mondou-Missi and Jonah Travis, Harvard’s projected 2015-16 lineup as of now is Corbin Miller, Agunwa Okolie, Patrick Steeves, an advanced basketball-playing android developed at MIT named Wendell and Kevin Love.