When the Harvard men’s basketball team takes the court against MIT this Friday night, it will be a very different group than the one the Engineers encountered a year ago.
For starters, the Crimson enters its 2012-13 campaign coming off a hallmark year in which Harvard set a school record with 26 wins, captured its first outright Ivy League title, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for only the second time in program history.
But many of the familiar faces from the past season’s squad are gone. Last year’s co-captains Oliver McNally and Keith Wright have graduated to the professional ranks, and the team will also be without seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who both withdrew from the College for the year.
Having lost many of the veterans from last year’s squad, this year’s Crimson is young, and according to its coach, full of fresh faces and potential.
“We are really excited to kick off a new year, a new season,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Anytime you have a new season, it becomes a whole different group. Obviously for us, we had a number of different moving parts. It’s exciting to see where we can go.”
The Crimson’s home opener against MIT is the beginning of the team’s strong non-conference schedule.
“We know we have a very challenging schedule. [We’re] playing some quality [opponents] right out of the blocks, starting on Friday,” Amaker said.
Like Harvard, MIT enters its first contest of the year coming off its most successful season in program history. The Engineers reached the final four of the Division III NCAA Championships and finished the season 29-2.
Currently ranked first in Division III, MIT returns four starters from last year’s squad.
Senior guard Mitchell Kates finished his junior season with fourth team All-American and first-team All-NEWMAC accolades after averaging 14.2 points and 5.4 assists per game. Center Noel Hollingsworth led the Engineer offense with an average of 17.2 points per game, while guard Jamie Karraker had a school record 111 three-point baskets in his junior season. Forward Will Tashman was also named to the First Team All-NEWMAC.
MIT coach Larry Anderson will look to his veteran lineup as a source of leadership both on and off the court this coming season.
“They’ve been with the program for quite some time,” Anderson said. “What we try and do is establish a culture here. Those guys understand that culture. They understand what it means to wear MIT across their chests. [They] come into practice each and every day and try and get better.”
Despite the Crimson dominating the teams’ all-time series, 49-9, this season’s matchup may be more competitive than recent games between the crosstown rivals. Harvard has come out on top the last nine times the two teams have faced off, but the experienced MIT squad, with four seniors at the helm, looks more apt to give Harvard a run for its money this time around.
“I think this is the year, if they are looking at a chance to come over here and knock us off, this is probably one of the better opportunities that they will have in front of them,” Amaker said.
But the Crimson will have plenty of firepower of its own to bring to the court. Junior co-captain Laurent Rivard looks to be a key contributor to the Crimson offense. In his sophomore season, the guard averaged 10.1 points per game and shot 41.0 percent from beyond the arc.
In last year’s matchup against MIT, Rivard propelled the Crimson offense to its 76-49 win over the Engineers, racking up 16 points on the night.
Co-captain Christian Webster will likely also step up to play an important role as a scorer and leader for the Harvard this season. The guard nabbed seven points in last year’s contest against MIT but averaged just 4.5 points per game last season.
The sophomore class will also look to play a similarly larger role in the team’s home opener. Forward Steve Moundou-Missi put up six points in 25 minutes of playing time against the Engineers last year, while forward Jonah Travis was a key reserve player for the Crimson in his freshman season. Moundou-Missi and Travis, along with center Kenyatta Smith, will be expected to contribute more in their sophomore season.
This offseason, the big three have helped ease the transition of the freshman class into college basketball. The Crimson’s Class of 2016 features four fresh faces, including guard Siyani Chambers, who will play immediately this season as he looks ahead to his first collegiate basketball game—a game that is full of anticipation, not only for the rookie, but for the rest of the team as well.
“Days keep counting down,” Chambers said. “[We] are just excited to get the season underway.”