In a new weekly series by The Back Page, Harvard beat writers will discuss topics about a Crimson athletics team. In this edition, basketball beat writers Hope Schwartz and David Freed discussed the men’s basketball team’s future in the Ivy League as well as their frontcourt rotation and ability to close out games.
David Freed: What worries me about this team is that they always seem to play down to the level of its competition and that they can't hang onto leads. It happened in the first game of the season against UMass and again this weekend against Brown. Luckily, the Bears aren't as good as Chaz Williams and co. but it did cost them against St. Mary's and they needed a huge comeback against Dartmouth just to win that game. I see Harvard having trouble when it can't push the ball or Siyani needs to take a rest just because the offense really revolves around his drives. Also, free throw shooting has not been up to par recently. Thoughts?
Hope Schwartz: On the flip side of playing down to its competition, we've also seen this team play up in amazing ways. While it definitely worries me that they needed an epic comeback and a whole lot of luck to beat Dartmouth (literally the worst team in the Ivy League... sorry Gabas Maldunas, but facts are facts), Amaker and co. need only to look back to the end of 2012 to remember what this team is capable of. In an upset win against Cal, we saw Wes Saunders step up on defense against Bears top scorer Allen Crabbe, and a strong offensive showing by the Crimson allowed the team to overcome Crabbe's 27 points. Against St. Mary's, Jonah Travis came through huge with 19 points and a dominant post presence, something the team has been lacking all season. The point is that all the pieces are there, but it remains to be seen whether it can all come together.
DF: Speaking of Travis, to me he's probably the most interesting players on the team. Catherine Coppinger’s feature on him last week does justice to the way he hustles and scrapes for loose balls, even though he's a six-six center. However, down the stretch Travis rarely will see the floor. Against Dartmouth, the entire comeback was essentially made with Steve on the floor and Travis riding the pine. I get that Steve is a better defensive player and compensates a little bit more for Harvard's lack of length on the outside, but Jonah is a more polished offensive player and, crucially, he shoots 65% from the line against Steve's 57%. Especially looking forward against Princeton and Ian Hummer, one of the two has to step up for Harvard to take down the Tigers in two games that will probably decide the Crimson's season. On that note, what do you make of Princeton? They were really underwhelming in nonconference play—they could only score 42 points in 45 minutes against Wagner—but they've gotten out of the gates strong with three straight wins. Hummer leads them in literally every offensive category (points, boards, assists, etc.) but is he good enough to beat Harvard—essentially—on his own or will they need other players to step up and make room? Hummer matches up with the weakest part of Harvard's team, interior D, so moving forward it'll be important to try and make other Tigers beat the Crimson.
HS: The Travis vs Moundou-Missi debate is one of the most underrated story lines of the season so far. After starting Mondou-Missi in the first five games of the season, Amaker didn't seem too impressed with him averaging fewer than five points per game. Travis is clearly the more powerful post presence, but--and here I would disagree with you--he lacks the polish necessary to be a consistent impact player down the stretch in close games. Travis' scrappy style of play puts him at risk for foul trouble, and he's fouled out three times this season. Moundou-Missi, on the other hand, seems to be the more balanced player, coming down with nine key rebounds against Brown and averaging more than twice as many as Travis during conference play. However, going up against a player like Hummer, it may be necessary to take a risk with Travis to compensate with power on the other end. What would you do in Amaker's situation?
DF: Much like what the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics did against Howard, it might be worth it to start with Travis and let him get fouls and then just sub in Steve and Kenyatta as needed. Between them there are 15 fouls Harvard can use to bother Hummer. That might be the most effective strategy since the Crimson can try and tire him out of the course of the game and take him out of the action. With Missi being the less foul-prone of the two, I agree that it probably makes sense to use him to end games, especially in close games where fouls can really harm us. With Princeton losing Saturday, if Harvard can win the game at home Saturday, it doesn't even need to win in Jadwin. But that only makes this game—and Amaker's strategy going forward—that much more important.