Does Harvard have a shot? Kansas

Published by David Steinbach on March 17, 2013 at 3:13AM

To defeat Kansas, Harvard will need plays like this one from sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi

With Selection Sunday just around the corner, the Harvard men’s basketball team will know who it will be matched up with in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament soon enough. But sometimes speculation is more fun than reality, so we at The Back Page decided to look at what we consider to be the Crimson’s potential opponents in the NCAA tournament and to try and speculate what chance—if any—Harvard will have at pulling the upset. Here, we take a look at the No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks from the Big 12.

Record: 28-5 (14-4 Big 12)

Best Wins: No. 7 Ohio State, No. 10/11 Kansas State (three times), No. 14 Oklahoma State

Worst Losses: at TCU, at Baylor, at Oklahoma

RPI: 10

Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 8

Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 2

Star Players: Ben McLemore (Fr. Guard) 16.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, Jeff Withey (Sr. Center) 13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, Travis Releford (Sr. Guard) 11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg

After reaching the national championship game last year and falling just short against Kentucky, Kansas entered the season with its gaze set on another Final Four appearance. But the team’s roster had two big holes, as forward Thomas Robinson, who averaged nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds last season, and guard Tyshawn Taylor, who put up 17 points and five assists per game, were both lost to graduation. Despite the absences of the departed seniors, the Jayhawks have lived up to the ever-present high expectations for the program by capturing a Big 12 regular season co-championship with rival Kansas State. It represents the fifth straight Big 12 title by coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks.

Part of the reason for Kansas’ success this year has been the production of freshman guard Ben McLemore. Hailing from nearby St. Louis, MO, the six foot five inch guard leads the team with just under 17 points per game and is shooting nearly 44 percent from beyond the arc. Although McLemore has provided a spark for the Jayhawks, veteran leadership still makes up the core of the squad. Indeed, after McLemore, the team’s next four leading scorers are seniors—including Defensive Player of the Year candidate senior center Jeff Withey.

In addition to a potentially exciting showdown between McLemore and Crimson guard Wesley Saunders, another particularly tough matchup for Harvard would come in the paint with Withey, who stands a large seven feet and 235 pounds. Sophomore center Kenyatta Smith would be in for a challenge against Withey, who is averaging 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Kansas has played consistent basketball all year long – with one glaring exception coming in early February. The Jayhawks suffered a close, five-point loss to Oklahoma State, which snapped KU’s 33-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Four days later, Kansas incurred its worst loss of the season against TCU. The Horned Frogs, which ended with only two conference wins on the year, held the Jayhawks to under 30 percent shooting. The losing streak continued in their next game against Oklahoma, and Sooners fans joyfully stormed the court when the Sooners emerged with a 72-66 victory.

The Jayhawks quickly returned to their former selves after the three losses, and (except for a 23-point loss at Baylor) rattled off a number of resume-building wins. But as is the case with any team, if Kansas struggles shooting the basketball, especially from long range, anything can happen – as TCU can happily attest to. The pressure-packed atmosphere of March Madness can only add to the potential for a team’s relapse into bad old habits.