Harvard Basketball Talks Vanderbilt in Pre-Tournament Media Session

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Meredith H. Keffer

Harvard co-captain Oliver McNally (left), forward Kyle Casey, and co-captain Keith Wright speak at a news conference at the NCAA tournament Wednesday.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—With just about 24 hours to go before the Harvard men’s basketball team faces No. 5 seeded Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Crimson coach Tommy Amaker gave the media his thoughts on the Commodores and the tough test ahead.

After the interview, Harvard took to the court for an open practice in New Mexico’s University Arena, better known as “The Pit.”

And according Amaker’s scouting report, athleticism is one of Vanderbilt’s defining features.

“[The Commodores are] a veteran team, a team that can score,” Amaker said. “[They’re] very athletic, more athletic than people give them credit for being in the SEC conference with incredible, athletic teams.

“It didn’t surprise me they were able to make that run through the SEC Tournament,” he added. “We’re just hopeful that we can match their intensity.”

Vanderbilt—coming off of a win against No. 1 Kentucky in the finals of its conference tournament—also boasts good size, headlined by 6’11” center Festus Ezeli. But Ezeli, the Commodores’ all-time leader in blocked shots with 199, won’t be the only challenge that the Commodores’ balanced lineup presents.

“That’s something we talk about our ballclub a lot, is having great balance,” Amaker said. “They’re incredibly balanced with front line, strength, athleticism, scoring and incredible perimeter shooting. There are no holes with this basketball team.”

One of the more unsung contributors for Vanderbilt is senior Lance Goulbourne, who leads the Commodores in rebounding and has scored at least 10 points in 18 contests so far this year.

“[Goulbourne] is very athletic, 6’8”, an older player, veteran player, and very experienced player,” Amaker said. “He really relishes his role in…setting screens, getting offensive rebounds, keeping balls alive, sprinting the floor, blocking shots, doing a lot of things that…are sometimes overlooked.

“I think he’s a big piece of the puzzle for their ballclub.”

On the offensive end, Vanderbilt’s has shooting guard John Jenkins, who led the SEC for the second year in a row with 19.9 ppg.

“He’s as good of a shooter as we’ll face in our tenure at Harvard,” Amaker said. “He has deep range.... They do a number of things to get him shots, get him open. He has good size [and] he’s a terrific basketball player. You don’t lead the SEC in scoring and win the conference tournament without being an outstanding player and one of the top players in the country.”

But the Harvard players seem unfazed by the Commodores’ strong post lineup and outside shooting threats.

“They’re big, they’re strong and athletic,” junior forward Kyle Casey said. “But I think we’re prepared. We’ve played teams this season who have had a good frontcourt. I think if we just stick to our principles, we’ll be fine.”

And although the Crimson has a tough test ahead of it, the team says it’s ready to take on the upcoming challenge.

“We’re going to face a really talented team and hot team in Vanderbilt,” co-captain Oliver McNally said. “But we’re not just happy to be here and win our first solo Ivy title and just throw in the towel. We’re here to win, and that’s what we’re expecting to do.”

—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at ccoppinger@college.harvard.edu.

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