Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Harvard Teaser

The Harvard Crimson are a disciplined, veteran basketball team.  They return four starters from a team that won a Tournament game over New Mexico, and two former starters who withdrew from the university prior to last season in the wake of a cheating scandal.  Ignore the Ivy League patches on their jerseys, the Crimson boast mid-to-high-major talent and capability.
If you don't know about the Crimson, you soon will.
Harvard has yet to face a really difficult opponent, and this will be their first game played outside of Massachusetts.  The start of a two week western swing which will lead them up to Anchorage and the Great Alaskan Shootout, tomorrow's game marks an important opportunity for the small league school to make some RPI waves before their conference slate begins.  They'll be looking at the Colorado game as one of the biggest games of their season, and should bring their best effort to the table.

The Crimson eschew taking hasty three-pointers (only about 24% of their shots come from deep) in favor of working the clock (2/3rds of possessions feature shots after 11 seconds or more) for a good shot at the rim (47% of their shots are at the rim, 15 points higher than the national average).  It's an offensive style meant to probe for weaknesses, and leverages second chances (45.6% offensive rebound rate, 8th in the nation) and foul shots (2nd nationally in FTA/FGA ratio in 2012-13) to take the wind out of opponents' sails.  The aversion to the three-point shot may, however, be suspended for this game, as any team should be capable of finding some open outside jumpers against the Buffs.

Defensively, they've been limiting outside shots and assists (3rd nationally in defensive A/FGM ratio). Somehow, they allow even fewer three point attempts than they take, doubly surprising when you consider three of their four games on the season have been blowouts with opponents playing catch-up for much of the action.

The roster is lead by emerging swing guard Wesley Saunders.  The 6-5 junior from LA has an early season offensive rating over 130, and has a true shooting percentage near 65%.  He can create his own shot, and is an excellent finisher through contact.  Unsurprisingly, he reached double-figures in scoring 29 times last season, and is, by far, Harvard's best pure scoring talent.  He's already up to 17.3 points per game on the young season, and could see those numbers rise with more minutes in closer games.  
Saunders is one of the best mid-major performers in the country.
With projected starting point guard Brandyn Curry still fighting off a foot injury, primary point guard duties have fallen once again to Sylvani Chambers.  When Curry sat out last season due to the cheating scandal, it was Chambers, then a freshman, who grabbed the reins with a composure beyond his years, posting an assist rate near 33%.  A 2012-13 selection to the All-Ivy League team - a first for a freshman - Chambers has a strong command of the offense, and will be a dangerous opponent against CU's often times forgetful defense.

Upfront, Harvard relies on the excellent combo of senior Kyle Casey and junior Steve Moundou-Missi.  The pair has combined for 21/12 in the early going, with both posting rebounding rates over the 10%/20% benchmarks.  Moundou-Missi, from former Buff Stephane Pelle's hometown of Yaounde, Cameroon, is a great shot blocker, as well, notching an average of two per game this season.  Both will scrap and annoy underneath, and pose an interesting challenge for CU's youthful front court.  One way around them: get them to commit fouls.  They're averaging a combined 13 per 40 minutes played.
Casey will push Scott and Gordon tomorrow afternoon.
Many in BuffNation are rightfully worried about this game.  Harvard is a legit team, easily one of the top-50 nationally, and on the fringes of the top-25.  With a veteran core and post-season experience in bunches, they are right up there with Baylor for the best team CU has seen.  Whereas the Bears are full of juicy five-star talent, however, Harvard gets by with discipline and belief in head coach Tommy Amaker's system. They won't beat themselves, and would easily beat a CU team playing like they have been the last two weeks.

If I read the tea leaves correctly, the Buffs recognize this, and are significantly more focused on the task at hand then they were in the days leading up to Thursday night's 'lackadaisical' effort against UCSB.  I'm not ready to predict a victory - right now I think Harvard is simply the better team - but I don't think the Buffs will be pushed around completely.  Let's say a close loss, with work left to be done as CU embarks on their first true road trip of the season.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 2:30pm tomorrow afternoon.  Breaking the Pac-12 Networks trend, the game can be seen on ESPNU, with the radio call on AM 760.  The Broncos have the late kickoff, so suck it up, and get to the stadium.


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