Keys to a Harvard NCAA Tourney Victory

Published by Martin Kessler on March 14, 2012 at 3:12AM

Vanderbilt freshman Shelby Moats warms up at Wednesday's open practice in Albuquerque.

The odds are certainly stacked against the Harvard men’s basketball team heading into its matchup with fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Thursday afternoon.

The Commodores, which entered the season ranked No. 7 in the country, are coming off a victory over No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC championship and boast an experienced, talented, and athletic lineup.

But as history has shown, crazy things happen in college basketball during the month of March. Here are three keys for a Crimson victory Thursday afternoon.

1. Crash the Boards

Rebounding is not something the Crimson is known for, but Harvard might want to change that if it hopes to emerge from Thursday’s matchup victorious. During the 2011-12 season, controlling the glass has been crucial to the Commodores’ success. In games that Vanderbilt outrebounded its opponents the Commodores went 18-2. In games in which it was outrebounded, Vanderbilt was just 5-8. The onus for getting on the boards will fall not just on the shoulders of forwards Keith Wright and Kyle Casey. Commodores’ wings Jeffrey Taylor and John Jenkins are second and fifth on the team in rebounding, respectively, meaning Harvard’s Christian Webster and Oliver McNally will need to box out.

2. Close Out on Shooters

In addition to helping on the glass, the Crimson’s wings will also need to clamp down defensively. Vanderbilt enters Thursday’s matchup as one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, connecting on 39.1-percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Especially crucial will be preventing John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, from getting hot. Jenkins is shooting 44.8 percent from deep and has knocked down at least four triples in 20 of 33 games.

3. Attack Festus Ezeli

I would say the Crimson should aim to contain Ezeli, but I think the only way that’s really possible is to have him far, far away from the court sipping Gatorade on the bench. The Commodores’ 6’11, 255-pound center presents a serious matchup problem for the Crimson. With the senior boasting a three-inch advantage on Wright, expect Ezeli to look for his shot early and often on offense and to make things difficult for Wright on defense. But in addition to being known for his strength in the post, Ezeli is also known for his propensity to pick up fouls; in four of his past five games, the center has been whistled for at least four fouls. If the Crimson can get Ezeli in foul trouble, it will open up Wright in the post and allow Harvard to run its inside-out offense.