This weekend’s homestand will pit Harvard against two conference foes. First up will be a Friday night showdown against Penn. On Saturday, Harvard will take on arguably its biggest threat in the Ancient Eight, its rival Princeton. The Crimson’s basketball beat writers answer five questions about this weekend’s matchups.
1) Is Penn a sleeper threat?
DF: Although it's very hard to take a 5-17 team seriously as a 'sleeper' threat, the Crimson need to be prepared for a dogfight on Friday. A classic trap game after a tough loss and before possibly Harvard's biggest game of the season against Princeton on Saturday, the Quakers can provide trouble for the Crimson. Penn recently defeated Brown by 23 at home, the same team the Crimson needed double overtime to beat. The Quakers are not a particularly good three-point shooting team by Ivy League standards (34% as a team) but it is deep, with 11 players averaging over 13 minutes a game. Harvard is typically solid at Lavietes but will need to come out strong against a Penn opponent that’s hot off its best win of the year.
2) What are the keys to success against Princeton?
JSG: Limiting the Tigers to one shot.
Princeton averages over 46 percent from the field, second to only Harvard in the Ivy League. But turnover statistics lie in the Tigers’ favor, with the Crimson averaging two more mistakes per contest than its New Jersey counterparts. As Princeton does not cough up the ball on the regular and shoots well from the field, Harvard will need to limit its opponents chances to score by minimizing Tiger offensive rebound opportunities.
Pressure Hummer on both ends.
Princeton’s leading man, Ian Hummer, averages almost twice as many turnovers on the road as he does at Jadwin Gymnasium. Increasing the defensive pressure on the forward, especially when he has the ball, will likely lead to more of these away-game fumbles, and, as a result, transition points for Harvard. On the other end, driving to the basket both more and in a more aggressive fashion will place Hummer in a position where he may need to foul to stop an easy score. Right, all that is obvious, but what’s in it for Harvard? In the six games thus far this season that Hummer has accumulated more than four fouls, the Tigers have lost four—including one to a Yale squad that is considered much inferior. By increasing the offensive drives, Harvard will create a catch-22 for Princeton: would it rather give up easy lay-ups or risk sending its star player to the sidelines in foul trouble?
3) What can Harvard do to contain Ian Hummer?
ARM: This was a problem Coach Amaker addressed in his weekly media session on Wednesday. At 6’7,” Hummer is of comparable size to the biggest guys on Harvard’s roster. But his speed and ability to hit jump shots makes him a near-impossible for the Crimson’s interior defenders, like Jonah Travis and Steve Moundou-Missi, who will be needed in the paint to combat the rest of Princeton’s sizable front line. Wesley Saunders and Laurent Rivard, both 6’5,” are other possible candidates to check Hummer, though they’ll be hard-pressed to counter his raw strength in the post. Amaker said that defending Hummer wouldn’t come down to the efforts of one player, but would require total team defense, with everyone chipping in and being aware of him at all times. How they defend Hummer might also depend on the results of Friday’s game against Penn; perhaps the fresher bodies with more energy to expend will take the bulk of the assignment.
4) Who will come up big for Harvard this weekend?
CEC: It’s more of a question of who needs to come up big, rather than who definitely will.
Although Crimson coach Tommy Amaker made it clear at this week’s press conference that the Penn game is a point of focus for his team, there is no doubt that the biggest Ivy League matchup of the weekend is Harvard v. Princeton—a contest that pits the conference’s top two teams against each other for the first time this season. And given the significance of that matchup, the Crimson needs to step up its interior defense against the Tigers.
I’m sure, by now, you’re heard of this guy Ian Hummer—the Princeton forward who, along with Crimson sophomore Wesley Saunders, is a frontrunner from Ancient Eight Player of the Year honors. Hummer averages 15.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. And his presence inside, coupled with the fact that the entire Tigers’ lineup stands at least 6’5” (for comparison, the 6’6” Jonah Travis is Harvard’s biggest starter), means a tall task for the Crimson squad.
For Harvard to come out on top Saturday night, it’s going to need a huge game from the sophomore trio of Jonah Travis, Steve Moundou-Missi, and Kenyatta Smith down low.
5) Is this weekend make-or-break for Harvard?
MK: Yes and no. Harvard can drop a contest this weekend and still control its destiny. That being said, if the Crimson falls to Princeton, Harvard will likely need to top the Tigers on the road—a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 1989.