This weekend marks the first of back-to-back road stints for the Crimson. First on deck this week is a Friday night game against Brown. Then, Harvard will travel to New Haven to take on the Bulldogs in a Saturday showdown. The Crimson’s basketball beat writers answer five questions about this weekend’s matchups.
1) How does Harvard keep the momentum going from last weekend's wins?
JSG: One of the biggest keys for the Crimson on this road trip will be treating these games as it did its last contest—that is, viewing Brown and Yale as just as big of threats as Princeton. While we all know that neither the Bears nor the Bulldogs have the same level of the talent that the Tigers do, having a let-down game after a big win is all too common in sports. If Harvard wants to keep the momentum rolling from last week, it must throw some early knock-out punches—it must come out with energy and passion in the first halves of the respective games, and not rely on the previous success it has had coming back from large deficits against lesser teams. It is all about energy for the Crimson—whether it be that of sophomore Kenyatta Smith on the defensive end or that of freshman Siyani Chambers on the offensive side of things—they must show early on that they care and that they take this weekend’s match-ups seriously.
2) Is Harvard's stingy interior defense sustainable for this weekend's games?
DF: After sophomore center Kenyatta Smith’s emergence on the defensive end last weekend, the Crimson has a defensive anchor to pair will its four quick perimeter defenders. Smith and sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi protected the paint well against Penn and Princeton and should have no problem continuing the same this weekend against Brown and Yale. Brown’s top two scorers—Sean McGonagill and Matt Sullivan—are both guards who play more from the perimeter (a combined 273 three-point attempts on the year). Similarly, the Bulldogs are led primarily by guards Austin Morgan and Javier Duran—who combined for 18.5 of the team’s 66 points a game. Moundou-Missi and Smith excel when allowed to roam the paint and help on smaller guards; their struggles come when faced with elite back-to-the-basket talent. With two guard-heavy teams on the schedule this weekend, the Crimson will continue to protect the paint.
3) Who should get the most minutes this weekend: Steve, Jonah, or Kenyatta?
CEC: After this past weekend’s performance, you have to go with Kenyatta Smith.
Despite starting his first game since Nov. 27, the sophomore made his presence felt against Penn, shattering Harvard’s all-time single-game blocks record with 10 against the Quakers. Not to mention he had 20 points and nine rebounds—just one board shy of a triple-double. One night later, against the Crimson’s toughest in-conference competition, Smith had 14 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks—two of which came on shots by Ian Hummer, who is arguably the top forward in the conference. The effort skyrocketed Smith into second place in the Ivy League in blocks per game, while simultaneously helping the Crimson to a 1.5-game lead in the conference standings.
In my opinion, Smith has earned a spot in the starting lineup—at least against Brown. That said, Jonah Travis and Steve Moundou-Missi could also see considerable minutes this weekend, and if past games are any indication, at least one of them will. Although his performance was overshadowed by that of his classmate, Moundou-Missi scored in double-digits in both contests last weekend, with 11 and 14 points against the Quakers and the Tigers, respectively. He averages 7.0 ppg and 4.9 rpg, while Travis has contributed 7.6 and 3.5 so far this year. You haven’t seen the last of either of these two guys.
4) What can Harvard do this weekend to avoid a repeat of its last close call against Brown (a double OT win)?
ARM: Simply put, the Crimson just needs to keep its composure. In terms of talent, Harvard is leagues above the Bears and should win this matchup nine out of ten times. But as we saw the last time these two teams met, crazy things can happen in that other ten percent. Coach Amaker spoke last week about his team’s penchant for making things interesting at the end of games, and he mentioned that his team was still very raw. The Crimson regularly starts two sophomores and a freshman and depends on production from two more sophomores off the bench. Still, there’s a reason those players get so much playing time—they’re the reason Harvard sits atop the Ivy standings. If they have used those close calls from earlier in the year as learning experiences, the Crimson should skate by Brown easily. The team’s raw ability will make sure of that.
5) Last time Harvard visited Yale, it was a 20-point blowout. Can Harvard dish out another big win this weekend against the Bulldogs?
HS: After nearly blowing it against Yale at Lavietes earlier this season, the Crimson has the capacity to put the close win in the past and come up with a big victory when it travels to New Haven on Saturday. Last time Harvard was at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, junior guard Laurent Rivard led the team with 18 points, but this year Harvard was plagued with foul trouble as freshman point guard Siyani Chambers was forced to sit out for half of the second period, allowing Yale to mount a near comeback in the first meeting between the two teams. If the Crimson plays clean basketball, there’s no reason that the team should not roll over the Bulldogs. Last time out, Yale had only one scorer—Armani Cotton—in double digits with 15 points, but since then Cotton has slowed down, putting up a combined 15 points in his last three games. If Harvard shows even a fraction of the interior defense it displayed this weekend, it should be able to shut down a Yale offense with no true sparkplug, even with the return of leading scorer Austin Morgan, who sat last time out and is averaging only 11.3 points per game.