The picture was blurry. The Harvard men's basketball team had lost its two senior captains, both of them 1000 point career scorers.
In the early season, the squad was either losing by 40 points to Duke or some other national power, or being upset by such dwarfs as Division II Merrimack.
But little by little, the film began to come into focus. The results were just taking their time halfway through the season, Harvard Coach Pete Roby sees a team that may be beginning to jell.
"I think we're starting to establish an identity," Roby says. "Some of the pieces we were hoping to fall together are starting to fall into place."
The key development has been the improved play in the low post, mainly by Co-Captains Kyle Dodson and Bill Mohler. Not known for their offensive prowess, the two have provided much needed offense down low.
In the last five games, Dodson has scored 40 points and grabbed 27 rebounds. while Mohler has scored 46 points and grabbed 37 rebounds.
While those numbers may not seem exactly awe-inspiring, they are an improvement from earlier this year when Harvard's inside game consisted of shots just inside the three-point line. As always, Mohler has played especially well on defense, but his improved offensive production is a bonus.
"That's the way Billy Mohler played at the end of last year," Roby says. "That is what we are expecting out of him."
Roby is also pleased with the way junior forward Kevin Collins and freshman point guard Dana Smith have played off the bench. Despite not starting a single contest this year, Collins is the squad's third leading scorer, averaging 7.4 points per game.
Smith, who backs up junior Tri-Captain Mike Gielen at point guard, has established himself as well.
"Dana's played really well in a limited role," Roby said, "He will probably play some more in the second half of the season."
Block that Shot: Mohler has blocked 24 shots this year, and now has 93 in his career. The 6-ft., 8-in. center has 79 rebounds this year, and is 30 short of 400 boards in his career.
The `Nowhere Land' Home Field Advantage: The long trip to Ithaca January 16, on the heels of Harvard's 64-57 victory over Columbia, played a major factor in the Crimson's unimpressive, 75-50 loss to Cornell.
"Fatigue was a factor," Roby said. "It was the final game of seven games in fifteen days. We just ran out of gas."
Still, Roby was happy with the split decision. "Anytime you get a split on the road in the Ivy league, you have got to be happy," Roby said.
While Cornell and Columbia have the advantage of facing opponents who have just been taken for a ride, the Crimson has the advantage of having Dartmouth as its travelling partner.
The Big Green, which was the consensus favorite of the basketball experts in the pre-season, has jumped into the lead in the early going with a 3-0 league record. While Cornell's foes may be beat from the Big Ride, Harvard's may be beaten by the Big Green.
Passin' Through: Gielen led the Crimson in assists a year ago with 106, and the 5-ft., 10-in. junior has picked up where he left off. Gielen has dished off a team-leading 69 assists in 14 games this year, and has also picked off 35 steals.
Climbing the Ivy Walls: While the Crimson players have spent the last week and a half knocking off their exams, the rest of the Ivy League has been knocking off each other.
Last weekend, Yale defeated Brown, 87-77, in New Haven, while the Big Red toppled Columbia, 73-60, in Ithaca.
Eli Captain Paul Maley, who garnered first-team All-Ivy honors a year ago, led the charge against the Bruins, scoring 34 points and nabbing 10 rebounds. Maley shared Ivy Player-of-the-Week honors with Cornell's Greg Gilda, whose 19 points dropped the Lions to the Ivy cellar.
Yale and Cornell have established themselves as legitimate challengers for the Ivy crown, although Dartmouth, at 3-0, remains atop the heap.
Penn and Princeton open their league seasons this weekend with games against Brown and Yale.