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Harvard has gone from hunter to hunted

December 22, 2011 Columns No Comments
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Coming off their first loss of the season, Harvard responded the way a ranked team would be expected to the last time out. They headed across town and had a complete effort in blowing out Boston University 76-52, with a balanced attack and a showing of why they should win the Ivy League this year. With that, they look more and more like a team that has made a transition.

 

The Crimson first did the job defensively, limiting the Terriers to just below 31 percent shooting. Brandyn Curry was the first key to that, as he so often is, as the junior point guard never let BU point guard D.J. Irving get going. He didn’t let Irving get driving opportunities, and also read the offense well to steal and deflect passes while off the ball.

 

“There aren’t a lot of guys that can guard the way Curry can,” said Boston University head coach Joe Jones. “He’s a very good defender, did a very good job on D.J., and he was able to keep him out of the lane.”

 

In addition, Kyle Casey and Keith Wright played like the dynamic duo they are capable of being inside. Casey had a big second half offensively, but he and Wright combined for 18 rebounds as Harvard had a 39-30 edge on the backboards, rebounding nearly half of their own misses. They dominated the Terriers’ inside players, although Patrick Hazel nearly had a double-double.

 

The win over BU showed how deep the Crimson are. Wright and Casey are the guys known to be all-league candidates, and Curry has long been a key as the point guard and for his defense. Against the Terriers, the wing was a big source of offense from long range, as first Christian Webster and then Laurent Rivard had big games for the Crimson.

 

Webster started last season playing very well and was a big part of the Crimson’s season. While he has still started every game thus far this season, his minutes are down and so are his shooting numbers to this point. He’s basically been in a reduced role and did not score in double figures in a game until they played Boston University. There, he wasn’t in such a role at all, as he scored 14 points on 6-10 shooting, doing much of that damage in the first half as he was 5-8 from the field and the best player on the floor.

 

Rivard, for his part, looks more and more like the classic “instant offense” player off the bench. He certainly provided that against the Terriers, going 6-7 from long range in 27 minutes off the bench. The team’s third-leading scorer made sure they didn’t miss a beat when Webster went out or when they were on the floor together. With post threats like Wright and Casey, it’s clear Rivard understands how to benefit from them as he has been able to get his share of open looks.

 

The Crimson have gone from being the hunter to the hunted. In the past, they and everyone else in the Ivy League have had to chase Penn and Princeton, and more recently Cornell. With their success last season and the returning players this time, along with their non-league success, the Crimson will enter Ivy League play as the clear team to beat. In addition, this team will be favored to win every game left on the schedule except possibly their road date with Princeton.

 

Head coach Tommy Amaker said he has talked with his team about how this changes things, and the early returns indicate they have at least a basic understanding of it.

 

“We’re going to have to get accustomed to how hard people are going to come after us every night,” Amaker said. “If we aren’t having that kind of energy and effort and intensity about us, it’s going to be tough for us, no matter who we play. We’ve become a target for many folks now, which is what we want. It’s a compliment to us, but we have to know how much work we have to put in to face those kinds of opponents night in and night out.”

 

A complete effort like the thorough domination of the Terriers is indicative of the Crimson understanding where they are now. The next test comes on Thursday after a long break for final exams, when Florida Atlantic comes to town in a homecoming for head coach Mike Jarvis. Not only is there that angle, as well as the angle of Jarvis having been interested in the job when Amaker got it, but his team will have something to prove as they won their division in the Sun Belt Conference last year but have yet to get untracked thus far this season.

 

Harvard is happy to remain in the rankings, but their attitude is that the rankings don’t matter. They understand that it’s nice from a program marketing standpoint, but doesn’t drive what they do. After their first loss, the Crimson responded the way a good team would, as they showed why they have ascended to the rankings and to being talked about as one of the best mid-majors this season.

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