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:
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.
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:
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.
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 Jonah Travis is a master Tweeter.
With 28 seconds remaining in March 7’s Yale-Dartmouth game, Harvard had a 0.41 percent chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament (according to KenPom). The Crimson needed Dartmouth to pull out a miracle victory to force a one-game playoff between Harvard and Yale, and even then the Crimson would need to win that game to earn an NCAA bid. By the time those 28 seconds elapsed, Dartmouth had taken care of the “miracle victory” part of the equation, setting the stage for an epic Ivy League battle at the Palestra between two archrivals who had split the season series.
The past five years have been incredible for the Ivy League. Two forever memorable Ivy playoff games, two NCAA Tournament wins, nine top 100 KenPom finishes and a clear uptick in athleticism throughout the conference.
But who have been the greatest players in the league in that timespan? A countdown, with the caveat that only players who played at least two seasons from 2010-15 were considered.
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:
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.