The Harvard men's basketball team will look to start this year's Ivy League season with a win tomorrow afternoon when it takes on Dartmouth at Lavietes Pavilion at 2 p.m.
It has been an uneven year so far for the Crimson (3-3), who is setting out to better the 7-7 conference record that it posted last year.
Dartmouth (1-5) has struggled through a rough start, with its lone win coming against Division III Haverford in its last outing.
Harvard expects the Big Green to come out and play tough, however.
"Traditionally, they finish their exams a week before this game, and are always energized and prepared when they come here," Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said in an e-mail. "Being the opener for the entire league makes the game a bit special for both teams."
Harvard will look to its defense to pick up its play against the Big Green. Dartmouth likes to set up the three-point shot on offense and boasts a true marksman in senior guard Greg Buth.
Buth, who led the nation in field-goal percentage from beyond the arc two years ago, is coming off a 20-point performance against Haverford, when he nailed 5 of 6 threes.
"It's always been the defense with us," captain Dan Clemente said, referring to the part of the game Harvard needs to improve most. "We know we can play, we just have to shut down the threes."
Harvard will try to pressure the ball up top, forcing the Big Green out of its game. Without the long-range field goals, Dartmouth usually struggles.
Sullivan emphasized that he wants a solid effort out of his defense.
"We still have not been consistent and tough enough on defense to win in our league," he said.
Junior guard Andrew Gellart could have a field day on defense if the Crimson pressures well enough up top. Averaging three steals per game, he can spark fast breaks by intercepting Dartmouth's passes around the perimeter.
Clemente is no stranger to three-pointers himself--he tied a Harvard record for all-time treys against Colgate last week--and will drive Harvard's offense. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, with averages of 19.7 ppg and 7.5 rpg.
The Crimson offense has been running well this year, shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Sophomore point guard Elliot Prasse-Freeman has distributed the ball masterfully, averaging 7.2 assists per game, which leads the league and ranks him 13th in the nation.
Turnovers, however, have been a recurring problem and can lose games. Sullivan would like to begin to better the ball-control situation as quickly as possible.
"Our assist to turnover ratio needs to be turned to a positive number," Sullivan said.
Sullivan is also concerned about Harvard's recent foul troubles. Among the most important statistics from Harvard's game against Colgate last Saturday was the Red Raiders' 27-point edge from the free-throw line.
Harvard needs to be intense on defense without eliciting whistles from the referees.
"[Colgate] made 27 more free throws than us, a tough deficit to overcome without the defensive stops," Sullivan said.
If the Crimson defense does make the same errors against the Big Green, it could fall victim to a Dartmouth team that is coming off its best effort of the season.
Aside from Buth's impressive performance, two juniors have begun to step up their games for Dartmouth. Point guard Flinder Boyd dished out a season-high 10 assists, and forward Mark Kissling registered his second double-double of the year.
As a team, the Big Green shot a season-high 49 percent from the field. The team's poor record is no indication of what this talented team can do.
"They have three legitimate All-Ivy players (sophomore forward Ian McGinnis, Boyd, and Buth)," Sullivan said. "They simply have not shot the ball as well as they have in the past in their early games."
The Crimson is looking to end Dartmouth's short era of good feeling tomorrow, and wants to focus on putting together a solid effort on both sides of the ball.
"We want to come out and play real tough the whole time," Clemente said. "This is just another game, and we need to look at the whole season that way."
But surely opening his last Ivy season has to mean a little more to the senior captain, right?
"Sure, there's a little extra meaning to this one," Clemente said.