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. 14 Oklahoma State Cowboys from the Big 12.
Record: 24-8 (13-5 Big 12)
Best Wins: at Kansas, Kansas State, North Carolina State
Worst Losses: at Baylor
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 21
Projected seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 5
Currently ranked as a five seed by Joe Lunardi, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are an unlikely opponent for the Harvard Crimson. However, with Stephen F. Austin being upset in the Southland final Saturday—and with myriad upsets around the nation in other conference tournaments—nothing is out of the question.
The Cowboys revolve around the performances of star freshman guard Marcus Smart, who is ranked third in ESPN analyst Chad Ford’s latest NBA Mock Draft. Smart does it all for the Cowboys, leading them in scoring, steals and assists and ranking third on the team in rebounding. Smart is a physical 6-4 guard who would provide a strong challenge for Crimson freshman Siyani Chambers.
Since the Crimson’s offense revolves around Chambers as the primary ball handler—the freshman plays nearly 38 minutes a game and has no true backup—the key to defeating the Cowboys would be winning the point guard matchup. To do so, Chambers would have to defeat Smart off the dribble and force the larger guard to chase him around screen after screen in hopes of opening up looks for Harvard’s numerous three-point shooters.
The Cowboys are a guard-heavy team—they rank 96th in the nation with 36.4 rebound per game and their top rebounder averages only a hair about six a game. Additionally, they do not shoot the long ball well as a team, averaging 32 percent from beyond the arc with only junior guard Markel Brown averaging more than 35 percent from deep. Both are good signs for the Crimson, who boast a huge advantage behind the arc with a quartet of shooters in senior Christian Webster, junior Laurent Rivard, sophomore Wesley Saunders, and Chambers. With no true size inside—Harvard’s tallest starter is the 6-8 Kenyatta Smith—the Crimson stands a better chance against the Cowboys than a forward-centered team like Michigan State or Wisconsin.
Although Harvard will need Chambers to hold his own against arguably the best freshman in the nation in Smart, the key matchup the Crimson will need to dominate is Saunders-Brown. Saunders is a rangy 6-6 who can hold his own against any shooting guard in the country, and Brown is no exception. Brown is the Cowboys’ second leading scorer and their only legitimate three point shooter, and Harvard will need its top perimeter defender to shut him down. If Saunders can hold Brown to thirty percent shooting or less, the Crimson can pack the paint and dare the mediocre Cowboys shooters to beat them. If both happen, Harvard stands a fighting chance of shocking the Cowboys in what would have to be a 4-13 first round matchup.