The Crimson traveled to the Lone Star State to play its toughest opponent of the season in the Houston Cougars at Hofheinz Pavilion. Riding a three-game winning streak, the Crimson were hot. Harvard’s previous three wins over the Rams of Fordham, the Huskies of Northeastern, and the Eagles of Boston College were impressive; but this Cougar team was a whole different animal. While Houston didn’t come in boasting any signature wins, they were not to be taken lightly. According to KenPom, Houston possesses the nation’s 16th-ranked offense – and it’s not hard to see why. Houston is one of the 25 slowest teams in the country, while still averaging 83 points per game. With the inexperienced Crimson still trying to get its defense together, the matchup posed a unique challenge.
This one Ivy League season has been worthy of a shrug. The funk began when Yale junior guard and Ivy Player of the Year candidate Makai Mason was declared out for the season due to injury, and it deepened when it became obvious that Harvard coach Tommy Amaker had more tinkering than expected to do with his impact freshman-heavy roster. Preseason favorite Princeton, meanwhile, got clipped at Lehigh and is 0-3 against higher-ranked teams in KenPom. And league losses to Binghamton (Cornell), Army (Columbia), Longwood (Dartmouth), Navy (Penn) and Bryant (Yale) have suggested that the league has a lot of room for improvement. As a result, the Ivy League has fallen from 14th in KenPom’s preseason Division I conference rankings to 18th in just three weeks.
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.
To call Alex Rosenberg’s buzzer-beating pull-up elbow jumper to win Saturday night’s Columbia vs. Harvard game “redemption,” as many have been doing on social media, is odd to me. It is of course a callback to the end of the Columbia vs. Harvard game at Levien on Valentine’s Day 2014, when Rosenberg hit what would have been a game-winner against the Crimson but was called for an offensive foul, an extremely controversial (read: bad) call that ended up cratering Columbia’s hopes of competing for an Ivy title. To call Saturday night’s shot “redemption” implies that Rosenberg did something wrong to cost Columbia in that game two years ago, which is unfair to him. Saturday night’s shot marked the completion of two comebacks: Columbia’s from down 20 in the first half, and Rosenberg’s from a pair of injuries which cost him all of last season and part of this one. To talk about one without the other renders the story incomplete.
Yale 77, Brown 68
As it did last season, Brown gave Yale a scare in New Haven, but not a loss.
Late free throws by Makai Mason and Jack Montague iced the game for the Elis, and Mason led Yale with 20 points in 32 minutes. Brown overcame an early 21-4 deficit to cut Yale’s lead to 37-31 at halftime. Cedric Kuakumensah, Tavon Blackmon and JR Hobbie combined for 50 of Brown’s 68 points and 15 of its 20 field goals. Brown and Yale combined for 49 fouls and 36 turnovers in what turned out to be a sloppy game.
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?
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.
With Harvard’s matchup at Boston College less than 24 hours away, it’s time to go behind enemy lines with Arthur Bailin, hoops writer at BC Interruption, the SB Nation Washington Huskies community.
Ivy Hoops Online: The Eagles came into this season with nine vacant roster spots. Is there anything resembling a general rotation around senior guard Eli Carter and freshman guard Jerome Robinson yet, and what are general expectations for the team this season?
BC Interruption: would say that they both have really good chemistry when they are on the floor. Both are bona fide scorers that are a threat whenever they are on the floor. They complement each other really well. For example, last Thursday night Eli Carter had a lot of trouble from the field in the first half. Jerome Robinson was able to keep BC afloat and when Carter caught fire in the second BC was solid. They complement each other really well, and that gives them dangerousness.
IHO: Harvard had beaten Boston College six straight times before last season’s 64-57 overtime loss to the Eagles, in no small part due to the fact that the Eagles outscored the Crimson 38-16 in the paint. What does BC’s interior offensive attack look like this season?
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.