Big East Contest Awaits

Two seasons ago it was Michigan. Last season it was Boston College. Will Connecticut be next?

This Sunday the Harvard men’s basketball team travels to Storrs, Conn. to take on the No. 13 Huskies (5-1) in an attempt to come away with what would be the biggest upset in the Crimson’s (6-1) history.

But this Harvard team is no stranger to the role of underdog.

Over the past two seasons, the Crimson has emerged victorious in two contests against elite non-conference opponents, defeating Michigan in 2007 and Boston College in 2009 by double-digits.

If Harvard is to have a similar outcome this Sunday against a team fresh off a berth in last season’s Final Four, several things will have to fall in place.

“For us to be on the road against a talented team like [UConn], it’s going to take a tremendous effort and performance,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “It’s going to take an effort and performance out of them that would be less than stellar. We understand the dynamics that have to shape up and go our way, but those things have happened.”

Despite losing its nucleus of Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and A.J. Price from last season, the Huskies return an athletic lineup with arguably one of the best backcourts in the nation.

Led by guards Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson, UConn is a team that likes to push the ball on offense and provide full court pressure on defense.

“We can’t give them a lot of fast break opportunities,” said sophomore point guard Oliver McNally. “Defensively, [we must] stay in front and make them take tough shots—can’t give them the lanes and let them just have layup drills all the time. If they’re going to hit tough shots, then you got to tip your hat but try to make it hard for them.”

Jeff Goodman, senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com, believes the Crimson’s best shot is to pack a zone in an attempt to force the Huskies to take shots from outside.

“You don’t want to run with [UConn],” Goodman said of Harvard’s game strategy. “Obviously you’re not nearly as athletic.”

Thus far this year, the Crimson has relied on its bench to wear down opponents with less depth such as Holy Cross and Boston University. Led by a strong class of freshmen and senior forward Pat Magnarelli, the Harvard bench has averaged 31.4 points per game.

This does not appear to be a viable strategy against the well-conditioned Huskies, who average more points in the second period than the first.

Despite being outmatched athletically, the Crimson enters this weekend’s matchup with a great deal of confidence after jumping out to its best start since it began the 1984-85 season 8-0.

“I think our kids are playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and I think they have the right to play that way based on what they’ve been able to do thus far,” said Amaker after Wednesday’s victory over Rice. “We’ve played a tremendous schedule thus far. It only gets incredibly tougher for us from this point forward.”

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