An open letter to Harvard women's basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith:
Coach K., I know you are the Ivy League Coach of the Year, and you probably don't need any help scouting North Carolina. However, I thought I'd offer some suggestions for a game plan on how to kick some Tar Heel tail.
Let's start with your team's strength this season--defense. Everyone knows your squad can light up the scoreboard, but your defense is what sets up that explosive offense.
Harvard held its opponents to 62 points per game this season by putting excellent pressure on the ball, forcing turnovers and converting steals into easy buckets at the offensive end. Those fast break layups become crucial in tough games.
Keep in mind, however, that Carolina has excellent team speed, particularly in Marion Jones, Tracy Reid and Chanel Wright. Take the easy buckets when you can, but be careful of turning the game into a track meet--that is the Tar Heels' type of game.
Defensive rebounding will also be important in preventing UNC from getting second-shot opportunities. The Crimson matches well with the Heels in terms of height, and you must take advantage of that on the defensive glass.
The crucial aspect of your defense, however, will be stopping Carolina's dribble penetration. Jessica Gelman, Suzie Miller, Alison Seanor, Sarah Brandt and Megan Basil have to pressure the Tar Heel guards on the perimeter and your frontcourt players need to play good help defense.
Your team has been doing these things very well all season, Coach, and I imagine this game will be no different. In fact, look for your players to step the defense up a notch in the tournament.
Offensively, the Great Triumverate of All-Ivy honorees Gelman, Kelly Black and Allison Feaster must lead the way as usual.
Your point production has to begin with Feaster. She is the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, and, because UNC does not have a dominant post player, Feaster must go to town on the blocks.
Likewise, second team All-Ivy selection Black must assert herself down low. If Feaster and Black take the ball up strong in the paint, you might get the Tar Heels into some early foul trouble.
All-Ivy first teamer Gelman needs to do what she does best--get her teammates the ball, especially down on the blocks. She may have the toughest assignment against Jones, but Gelman has the quickness off the dribble to penetrate against any defender.
With Gelman dishing the rock inside, the UNC defense will need to collapse into the paint or take its chances with Feaster. If it takes that chance, ride Feaster's back into the second round. If the defense collapses, though, that will set up your perimeter shooting.
The three-point shot was your strength last season, but it's been lacking for much of this year--until your final regular-season game against Dartmouth when your team hit 13 treys.
That's the kind of shooting performance it takes to beat the No. 4 team in the country. Gelman, Miller, Seanor, Brandt, Basil, even Black and Feaster, need to spot up and drain shots from downtown. They can't be tentative.
While Gelman, Black and Feaster are the core of Harvard's team, other players will have to step up as well. The play of shooting guards Seanor, Miller and Brandt might make the difference if the game goes down to the wire.
Finally, there's the mental factor. Right now, Harvard is playing its best basketball of the season (in case the NCAA selection committee didn't notice); UNC might be playing its worst.
Coach, you said, "I believe, if you believe, if I can get them to believe, anything can happen." Well, I know you believe and you know I believe and we both know your players believe. Now go make it happen.