Harvard season preview: Slew of sophomore studs looks to lead Crimson

Last season, Harvard lost to Yale in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. The Crimson graduated Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan, both of whom made indelible impacts on the program. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a successful Harvard season without Siyani Chambers. And yet, the Crimson comes into the 2017-18 season as the preseason favorite, according to the Ivy Preseason Media Poll. While the poll predicted an incredibly close race between Harvard and familiar foes Yale and Princeton, the sentiment of the voters is clear: No one expects Harvard to take a step back this year. Here are the details on how Harvard hopes to turn high expectations on paper into actual success on the court:

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Harvard Season Preview – Crimson in clover

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.

The murmurs.

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.

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Harvard all-time moment No. 1: Crimson capture first ever Ivy title

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We did the Crimson next because, hey, it”s their dynasty.

When Harvard players awoke on the morning of March 5, 2011, they were part of a basketball program that had never won an Ivy League basketball championship. That night, however, they would have a chance to make history. One win over Princeton would give the Crimson their first title and bury the demons of the past 50 years.

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Harvard all-time moment No. 2: Harvard stuns New Mexico

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because the Crimson wreak havoc on 10-year contracts.

Harvard won its third straight Ivy League title in 2013, but the Crimson were happy just to be mentioned on the nationally televised Selection Sunday Show, as this would be only its second NCAA Tournament appearance. When the matchup with the 11th-ranked, third-seeded Mountain West Champion New Mexico Lobos was finally announced, Harvard players and fans gulped at the daunting challenge that lay ahead. Then they sat on the edges of their seats to hear the CBS analysts’ take: “I like this New Mexico team to go to the Final Four!” Doug Gottlieb said enthusiastically. With that, the Crimson headed to Salt Lake City as 11-and-a-half point underdogs.

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Harvard all-time moment No. 4: Harvard Defeats Cincinnati in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because its students are “fraudsters and liars” … according to 1968 Penn alumnus Donald Trump.

In 2014, the Crimson capped off a fourth consecutive “Ivy banner” season with a third straight trip to the Big Dance. A year after being huge underdogs versus New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament, however, the Crimson were a popular upset pick in the always interesting “twelve-five game.” Harvard was looking for a second straight first-round win, but Cincinnati, which had shared the American Athletic Conference regular season title with Louisville and had knocked off eventual national champion UConn, was no pushover.

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Harvard all-time moment No. 10: Clinching second NCAA Tournament appearance

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because a Harvard study has predicted the Miami Dolphins are going to the Super Bowl, and that’s totally going to happen.

Going into the final weekend of the 2013 Ivy League season, Princeton led Harvard by half a game, after Harvard had been swept by the P’s only a weekend earlier. The Tigers were in control of their own destiny: three wins and they would be in the tournament. However, Friday night had yielded a Harvard win and a Princeton loss, essentially tying the two teams atop the conference. A Crimson win over Cornell and a Princeton loss to Brown would clinch the tournament for Harvard, but if both teams won out – as was expected –  another Ivy playoff would ensue.

Harvard vs. Cornell began at 5:30 p.m. in Cambridge, while Princeton vs. Brown began a half hour later in Providence. Harvard led Cornell all game and won by nine points, behind 16 points from Siyani Chambers and 17 points from Laurent Rivard. Then all attention turned to Providence, where Brown led Princeton by four points at the half, leading many Harvard fans and players to stick around Lavietes Pavilion in case something miraculous happened. One fan was able to turn on the PA system, and he announced the score every time a bucket was scored. As the game wound down, Brown gained a commanding lead. The Harvard crowd became giddy with excitement as the Crimson clinched their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance (more on that later).

Check out the last few seconds of this video to see the Harvard fans’ reaction.


Final thoughts on the 2014-15 Harvard season

Harvard took North Carolina to the wire last week in Jacksonville, bowing 67-65 to the Tar Heels in the Crimson's sixth NCAA tournament game since 2012. (Rob Crawford)
Harvard took North Carolina to the wire last week in Jacksonville, bowing 67-65 to the Tar Heels in the Crimson’s sixth NCAA tournament game since 2012. (Rob Crawford)

A few days after watching Harvard’s season end in Jacksonville with Wesley Saunders’ final shot clanking off the rim and backboard, it seems an appropriate time to look back on the Crimson season that was. Amid the shock and nostalgia comes perspective … and withdrawal. Here are my final thoughts on Harvard’s memorable 2014-15 season:

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How Harvard can beat North Carolina

1. Play to your strengths

The only way Harvard can win this game is if they continue to play stingy defense and to rebound exceptionally well. UNC boasts the 44th-best defensive efficiency in the country (with the second-toughest “strength of schedule”), so Harvard has practically no chance of winning a high-scoring game. Also, the Crimson must limit Carolina’s scoring opportunities by not allowing the Tar Heels any offensive rebounds. At the other end of the court, offensive rebounds would be a bonus for the Crimson, but second chances against this UNC defense (which held Duke’s Jahlil Okafor to his lowest offensive rating of the season) won’t be easy to come by. If the Crimson’s defense isn’t clicking, the Tar Heels will be headed to the round of 32.

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Should you root for Harvard?

Don”t you just love watching Harvard celebrate? Oh right, you probably don”t. (gocrimson.com)

With Harvard set to take on North Carolina Thursday in the Crimson’s fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, Peter Andrews and I debate whether non-Harvard Ivy hoops fans should root for the Crimson to win their third straight opening NCAA tourney game.

MT: Look, I know you probably hate Harvard. And you have every reason to.

The cheating scandal that forced Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to withdraw from the team in 2012-13 only to win another Ivy title the following year.

The loosening of academic standards for basketball players.

The sending of an assistant out on “unethical recruiting trips.”

The way Harvard teases Ivy fans every year by getting entangled in close games against underdog conference competition only to emerge victorious almost every time. (The Crimson have won five straight games this season decided by three points or fewer.)

But Harvard beating UNC wouldn’t be so bad.

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Yale-Harvard: The matchups that matter most

It used to always be this simple. Two teams — archrivals head and shoulders above the rest of the league — battle through the long slog of a 14-game tournament, rising above the Other Six to meet in an epic finale. With condolences to the P’s, this season, we return to that reliable formula under the New World Order as, for the second consecutive year, Harvard and Yale enter the final weekend as the only two teams still with a shot at the Ivy title.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups in this winner-take-all grudge match (though Brown and Dartmouth may have a few things to say about that on Saturday):

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