Though the Crimson hasn’t played in three weeks, the Harvard men’s basketball team is still feeding off the enthusiasm of its victory over Penn on Jan. 12.
“The initial jubilation has worn off,” junior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman said. “But the long-term resolve, which is more important, is still there.”
Harvard (10-6, 3-1 Ivy) returns to the scene of that jubilation this weekend, when it faces off against league foes Brown and Yale. All three teams stand in second place at 3-1 in the Ivies, but have yet to play each other.
Tonight’s game against Brown will be televised nationally on DirecTV channel 611, the first time a game at Lavietes Pavilion will be televised around the country.
“[Being on TV] is not something that has come up in the locker room yet, but it will definitely add some excitement,” junior center Brian Sigafoos said.
Brown poses an immediate challenge for a team coming off of the long rest imposed by final exams. The Bears boast two of the league’s best scorers, guard Earl Hunt (21.3 points per game) and forward Alai Nuualiitia (11.9 ppg). Six times this season, Brown has scored over 90 points.
Last season, Harvard spanked the Bears at home, 91-69, before dropping a eight-point decision, 90-82, in Providence. Brown was the surprise team in the conference last season, finishing in second place with a 9-5 record. Already, the Bears have defeated major conference powers such as Rhode Island and Providence. Brown and Yale also split their series this season.
Hunt and Nuualiitia may soak up most of the attention, but the supporting cast and improved team defense have been the keys to a 12-5 start. Freshman guard Jason Forte, an early candidate for Rookie of the Year, has averaged 10.5 ppg off the bench. Guard Mike Martin has taken on the role of three-point specialist, connecting on 42.6 percent of his shots from long range.
The way to stop Brown, according to the Crimson, is to limit its offensive opportunities.
“Brown gets a lot of points off transition,” Prasse-Freeman said. “We have to be cognizant of getting back on defense. A 90-100 point game is more their style.”
Harvard’s style has been instead to limit opponents to 62.4 ppg, and as the Penn-Princeton weekend proved, the Crimson defense is as solid as ever right now.
There won’t be any television cameras on Saturday night, but the excitement should come from facing Yale, a team that swept the Crimson last year.
“We have to pay them back,” Sigafoos said.
The Bulldogs are coming off of an exciting win over Brown, 80-77, in Providence. Earlier in the season, Yale scored upsets over Penn State and Clemson, perennial major-conference powers. Averaging 78.9 ppg, the Elis only fall behind Brown in that category. Yale is also one of the deepest teams in the Ancient Eight. Nine different players have led the Elis in scoring this season.
Sparking Yale’s offensive attack is the young backcourt combination of freshmen Edwin Draughan and Alex Gamboa. Both starters have averaged double-digits in points per game. Both are legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates, though Gamboa is shooting better from beyond the arc (44.1 percent) and sports a 1.29 assist-turnover ratio.
“I’ve been impressed with both of them,” Prasse-Freeman said. “We’re definitely going to have put a lot of pressure on them.”
Veterans also have starring roles on the squad. Forward Paul Vitelli scores 12.5 ppg and also leads the team in rebounds with 8.6 per game. His matchup with Harvard’s big men, senior Tim Coleman and junior Sam Winter, could prove to be the difference in the game.
Yale also has been encouraged by the return of junior guard Chris Leanza, who missed most of the nonconference schedule recovering from shoulder surgery. While Leanza has not returned to his former position as a starter, Crimson players remember his efforts against them in 2001 and refer to Leanza as the “x-factor” in the contest.
With all these teams clumped together at the top of the Ivy standings, this weekend’s games will be key contests for Harvard.
“We have the perfect situation at home to control our own destiny,” Sigafoos said.
Considering the way the Ivy race tends to go, that’s hardly an understatement.