Why Harvard won’t win the Ivy League this year

 

Tommy Amaker should be very afraid. (ESPN)
Tommy Amaker should be very afraid. (ESPN)

The Harvard Crimson are predicted to win the Ivy League. Led by senior standout Wesley Saunders and the highly touted head coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard has enjoyed immense success over the last several years. To the schooled eye and on paper, Harvard is the Ancient Eight’s best team.

But sports are not about who is better on paper, and nobody came here to play school. Anything can happen on the hardwood and nothing is a foregone conclusion. Harvard has not locked up anything yet—and it’s not going to. Come March, Harvard, like you and me, will be sitting at home. Here’s why:

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Crimson conquer first Ivy Foe, Miller lethal from long range

Harvard stifled Dartmouth for a 57-46 win in Hanover on Saturday night to move to 1-0 on this young Ivy League season. The win is the Crimson’s third straight, and their eleventh straight versus the Big Green. In Harvard’s most important tilt thus far, it took care of business. Out of the gate, the Crimson shined, making their first three shots. However, they only made one field goal in the next seven minutes of play, letting Dartmouth tie the score at eight. Then Corbin Miller got hot, posting the next 11 points for the Crimson. Harvard looked very streaky offensively in the first half, but Dartmouth’s shooting woes (27 percent from the field), coupled with Harvard’s stout D, gave the visitors a seven-point lead at halftime.

Harvard traded blows with Dartmouth in the second half, with the Crimson’s lead eventually reaching eleven, three minutes into the half. However, Dartmouth stayed within reach and was able to cut the lead to five only a few minutes later. With Saunders out due to foul trouble, Kenyatta Smith, Siyani Chambers, and Corbin Miller stepped up scoring Harvard’s first 22 points of the second half (that’s every point for the first 18:17 of the half). Strong late-game performances from the charity stripe by Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders sealed the Crimson’s first Ivy League victory. Though at the time the game seemed well in hand, clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch will be crucial to Harvard’s success against tougher Ivy League foes.

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Watch out for Harvard’s Corbin Miller

Corbin Miller has scored in double figures in three of Harvard's past five games. (gocrimson.com)
Corbin Miller has scored in double figures in three of Harvard’s past five games. (gocrimson.com)

On Monday night, Harvard’s tough defense and late-game toughness pushed the Crimson over Boston University, 70-56, at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge. For the first thirty minutes of the game, Harvard and BU traded leads and the scrappy Terriers just would not go away. Then halfway through the second half, Harvard pulled ahead for good on a Wesley Saunders three-pointer, and the game was never in doubt after that. BU’s head coach, Joe Jones, noted after the game that Harvard played like a “winning team” down the stretch, and BU simply did not.

Once again, Saunders had an outstanding night, with 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Great performances from Saunders are becoming the norm (he is currently the only player in the NCAA averaging at least 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game), so it was another Harvard player’s performance that caught the attention of Crimson fans.

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Saunders, Crimson squeak by Minutemen

Wesley Saunders notched 27 points in Harvard's victory over UMass Saturday. (ivyleaguesports.com)
Wesley Saunders notched 27 points in Harvard’s victory over UMass Saturday. (ivyleaguesports.com)

In what seemed like a home game for UMass (half of the fans at Lavietes Pavilion were cheering for the Minutemen), Harvard eked out a much-needed win in the final seconds against a very good non-conference opponent. This victory, Harvard’s third in a row, was exactly what the Crimson needed as they continue to rebound from their tough early-season loss to Holy Cross. And in terms of their potential seeding in the NCAA Tournament (if they are fortunate enough to get there again), this game was huge. Harvard is starting to look like the national contender they were predicted to be going into the season. Individual performances in the UMass game, however, may provide the greatest reasons for the Crimson faithful to rejoice.

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Harvard Roster Preview – 2014-15 Edition

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.

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Harvard Bows Out in Instant Classic

Michigan State 80, Harvard 73, Final.
Michigan State 80, Harvard 73, Final.

Down 16 in the second half against Tom Izzo’s mighty Spartans, Harvard stormed back, capturing the lead and the nation’s attention on Saturday night before ultimately falling short in a 80-73 Round of 32 defeat.

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Harvard Tops Yale to Clinch 3rd Straight NCAA Bid

Four straight Ivy title claims. Three straight NCAA bids. The best team in the Ivy doesn't always win the title, but this year the Crimson made sure that it did.
Four straight Ivy title claims. Three straight NCAA bids. The best team in the Ivy doesn’t always win the title, but this year, the Crimson made sure that it did.

The Harvard players celebrated and pointed to their fans as the TV cameras gazed admiringly upon the champs as they whooped it up after the buzzer sounded on yet another banner season for the Ivy’s newest dynasty. Meanwhile, silent Yale fans gritted their teeth, the inhumanity of their arch rival celebrating on their home court too much to bear. Tommy Amaker happily took in the moment, pointing to the stands and clapping briefly before moving swiftly and purposefully toward his team, directing them to the locker room. The message was clear. Winning the Ivy (again) is a great accomplishment, but Harvard’s work is not done. The Crimson have an eye on bigger things.

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Weekend's Winners

Harvard swept its home weekend in dominant fashion, clinching a share of its fourth straight crown. Princeton got an impressive sweep of its own as the Tigers surge towards the top half.
Harvard swept its home weekend in dominant fashion, clinching a share of its fourth straight crown. Princeton got an impressive sweep of its own as the Tigers surge towards the top half.

After the Yale loss and the Columbia 2OT game, Harvard seemed like a squad bound to falter at least once more this season. The Crimson wasn’t playing like the infallible Ivy dream team that they had been hyped up to be. Ancient Eight fans from outside Cambridge felt the hopeful possibility that someone would be able to dethrone the defending champs.

But since then, Harvard has buckled down and blown out their last five opponents with margins of 23, 20, 12, 25, and 33. Those two widest margins came this weekend as Yale fell at Princeton, putting Harvard on the verge of its third straight solo title and a return to the Big Dance. On to the weekend’s big winners…

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Weekend’s Best

Spring cleaning came early in New England as Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale got out the brooms and swept away the rest of the league.
Spring cleaning came early in New England as Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale got out the brooms and swept away the rest of the league.

 

Please put your hand up if you had Dartmouth sweeping the weekend without Gabas Maldunas and Columbia dropping two at Yale and Brown. You in the back? No, you’re just scratching your head? Yeah, me too. It was that kind of weekend in the Ivy League. On to the weekend’s big winners…

Home Court Advantage: We know it’s hard to win on the road in the Ivy League, but wow. Home teams went 8-0 this weekend as all four New England teams swept their back-to-backs. Through 15 Ivy contests, only two away teams have come away victorious (Columbia at Cornell and Harvard at Dartmouth).

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NCAA Round of 32: Arizona Stops Harvard, 74-51

Harvard was overmatched against Arizona, falling 74-51 in the Round of 32.
Harvard was overmatched against Arizona, falling 74-51 in the Round of 32.

Harvard was overmatched from the tip against Arizona, as the athletic Wildcats sprinted out to a 17-2 lead and never let the Crimson back in. Mark Lyons was unstoppable, scoring 27 points on 12-17 shooting. Harvard struggled to find open looks all day, shooting an icy 27.6% from the field. Wes Saunders, who has carried the load for the Ivy champs all season, could not find the bottom of the net on this day, going 1-11.

Read moreNCAA Round of 32: Arizona Stops Harvard, 74-51