With apologies to Charles Dickens this year's Harvard basketball season has been a tale of two teams.
One team, a mediocre squad at best, played the first 10 games, and produced a lowly 4-6 record, which included losses to Division II Merrimack and Manhattan. Those were the worst of times.
But that Harvard team disappeared after the 10th game. Its replacement squad has played solid basketball, and has kept virtually every game close.
The main difference between the two teams has been defensive play. Initially the Crimson used a high-pressure defense up and down the court. Then Harvard Coach Pete Roby began to use a 2-3 zone defense to get additional rebounding help. The switch worked.
After its 10th game, Harvard was yielding an average of 89.4 points per game. But in the next 14 games, the Crimson's 2-3 zone defense has worked extremely well, keeping its opponents to an average of less than 70 points per game.
Phil Erupts: Once again, forward Neil Phillips was the big man for the Crimson this weekend, leading the team in scoring against Princeton and Penn. The junior's course of improvement has followed his team's.
Phillips came into the season shooting like he was still wearing his football helmet. The part-time splitend shot 14-for-39 (28.5 percent) through his first 10 games, including a horrid 1-for-12 (8.3 percent) from three-point range.
But then Phillips got his basketball hands back, and he's been one of Harvard's top players ever since. Since his slow start Phillips has shot 76-for-164 (44.3 percent) and has burned plenty of opponents from three-point range, shooting a torrid 53.6 percent (30-for-56). Now the forward has pulled his scoring average into double figures.
And shooting hasn't been the only part of the junior's game that has improved. Over the last 12 games, Phillips has handed out 45 assists.
Phillips is also making a strong bid for post-season All-Ivy honors. He is averaging 13.2 points and 3.1 assists per game in the league.
Chip Off the Old Block: Harvard's win over Penn Saturday spoiled the efforts of Quaker Walt Frazier Jr., the hottest player in the Ivy League. The son of the former Knick, who had been stereotyped as the point-guard-who-can't-shoot, has suddenly emerged as one of the finest offensive players in the League.
"He looks just like his father," Roby said. "He's got that big caboose. He backs you all the way in, and turns around and shoots."
After averaging around 10 points a game on less-than-prolific shooting, Frazier exploded for 28 points in two successive matches against Brown and Yale, and then fired in 30 against the Crimson on 11-for-16 shooting from the field.
"He must have been watching a few old Knick films," said Tri-Captain Mike Gielen, who had the unenviable task of guarding the Penn junior.
Frazier, however, attributes his sudden success to confidence.
"The coaches have more confidence in my shooting ability," the junior said. "They feel more comfortable with me shooting from three-point range, and I'm also concentrating more." Harvard Men's Basketball Statistics 11-13 Overall, 6-6 Ivy League
Name FG FGA PCT 3FG 3FGA PCT FT FTA PCT A RPG PPG Ralph James 128 319 0.401 17 42 0.405 80 103 0.777 41 5.8 14.7 Mike Gielen 96 252 0.381 36 124