Despite having ups and downs during its non-conference schedule, the Harvard men’s basketball team (18-14 overall, 12-2 Ivy) played consistently great defense (Adjusted Efficiency of 98.3; 55th in the nation). In conference action, the team was able to solidify its rotation, improve its outside shooting (three-point percentage increased from 30.0 to 42.2 percent), and weather a major injury to its leading player to win a share of the regular season title and claim the league’s top seed heading into the Ivy Tournament. A road game with co-champion Penn and an injury to the Ivy Player of the Year late in the second half may have been the only things keeping the Crimson from winning Ivy Madness. With a healthier 2018-19, Harvard will look to stay on top of the Ancient Eight and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
When Harvard lost six out of its first seven games against Division I opponents last season, you could hear them. When Harvard started out Ivy play 2-7, you could hear them. When Harvard finished the season 14-16 with a 6-8 record in the Ivy League, you could really hear them.
Maybe you even started hearing them last August when it was announced that Siyani Chambers had torn his ACL, and that he would miss the entire 2015-16 season. Or maybe they became audible on Jan. 18, 2015, when Harvard landed Chris Lewis, the first of seven recruits who, on paper, comprise the best recruiting class on paper in Ivy League history. Or maybe they started five years ago when current Harvard senior Zena Edosomwan became the first ever top-100 recruit to commit to an Ivy League school.
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.
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:
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).
Harvard senior guard Siyani Chambers will take a voluntary leave of absence from school this year after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee, the school announced Wednesday.
Chambers is taking a leave of absence because the Ivy League does not permit graduate students to play. Chambers, who has been a starter for the Crimson each of the past three seasons and is a three-time All-Ivy selection, is expected to return for the 2016-17 season.
Harvard will make a bid for a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015-16, but without Chambers and factoring in the losses of top two 2014-15 leading scorers Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi to graduation, such an achievement seems unlikely, particularly given the greater roster experience enjoyed by Columbia, Princeton and Yale.
Chambers has averaged 11.1 points, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game in his Harvard career, including 9.9 points per contest last season, as Chambers struggled early in the season on offense.
Harvard backcourt players such as junior Corbin Miller, sophomore Andre Chatfield and freshmen Corey Johnson and Tommy McCarthy will have to pick up the slack left by Chambers.
It was about 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in late January. Harvard had just suffered a crushing defeat to Dartmouth at home. The Crimson’s record was 1-1 in Ivy play. The Ivy season was still young, but to many this loss proved that Harvard was not the team it once was. The door was left wide open for Yale – in fact, the door had swung off its hinges. A few minutes after the buzzer sounded, the distraught Crimson players came back onto the floor to sign autographs for their young fans. At the time, the smiles on these kids’ faces made them look naive – but knowing how insignificant that loss seems now, perhaps those kids’ prophetic smiles proved they knew more about the Crimson’s future than the rest of us.
That hypothesis is supported by the next day’s headlines and the initial reaction to that second Harvard-Dartmouth game. A trusted source for Ivy basketball on Twitter ripped into Tommy Amaker for his lineup decisions and then stated, “When [Harvard] loses the league, this will be why.” A writer for our own Ivy Hoops Online wrote in a piece about Yale that “Harvard is not that good.” In the face of all of this negativity, Harvard basketball’s mantra became “regroup and respond,” and over the last month (during which the Crimson have won eight straight Ivy games), that’s just what this team has done. Harvard’s two wins this past weekend over Penn and Princeton, combined with Columbia’s victory over Yale on Saturday night, have placed Harvard in sole possession of first place (9-1), one game ahead of Yale (8-2).
Much in the way that the frenzy around MLB’s winter meetings and the NBA’s star players hitting free agency captivate fans as much as or more than regular season games, so too do the machinations of the summer and winter transfer windows in soccer. As the winter transfer window opens on Thursday, I thought about an alternate reality where the NCAA also had a transfer window to deal with in between the fall and spring semesters. While English teams are roughly halfway through their round-robin season when the window opens, Ivy basketball teams have nearly completed their nonconference schedule and will have an opportunity to correct weaknesses, address injuries, or move the focus completely towards next year without worrying about getting relegated.
Along with IHO resident soccer expert Peter Andrews, I thought up moves each team could make in this hypothetical, never could, would or should happen situation. We will also be ignoring that in reality, Duke, Kansas or Kentucky would buy up all of the good players anyway.
BROWN: LOANS Kendall Jackson from Columbia and Andre Chatfield from Harvard No Bear averages more than 3.5 assists per game and no starter has an assist/turnover ratio better than 1.1. Thus, the Bears bring in two guards buried on their respective team’s depth charts in the hopes that one sticks as the ball handler of the future and a permanent transfer can be worked out after the season.
COLUMBIA: BUYS Gabas Maldunas from Dartmouth. Columbia remains weakest in the frontcourt, where Cory Osetkowski has put together an inconsistent campaign in scoring and on the glass. They”d pay a hefty transfer fee to pry Gabas Maldunas away from Dartmouth, a team going nowhere fast this year. Maldunas would instantly upgrade the post presence for Columbia. In addition to cash, the Lions would send monstrously tall center Conor Voss on a loan to Dartmouth, in the hopes that some regular playing time will reveal basketball skills.
Sorry, rest of the Ivy League. Harvard’s still Harvard.
Laurent Rivard, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey may be gone, but Harvard’s ranked No. 25 in the nation and appears to be locked in cruise control en route to a fourth straight NCAA appearance, even in a loaded Ivy League. But let’s start with the negatives. Where is the perimeter depth now? 2013-14 Ivy Player of the Year Wesley Saunders is back and so is Siyani Chambers, who we’ll get to below. Agunwa Okolie, two-year Mormon church mission hiatus-taker Corbin Miller and rookie Andre Chatfield will all be stepping up to provide that depth. The frontcourt boasts the return of shot-blocking phenom Kenyatta Smith as well as the very well-rounded Steve Moundou-Missi. If the Crimson can find a potent three-point shooting wing who can complement Saunders and Chambers, they’ll be just as good as last year. Even if they don’t, they’ll win the Ivy League anyway.