With Harvard’s tournament fate decided—the Crimson will head to Salt Lake City to take on the University of New Mexico Lobos (Thursday, 9:50 ET)—David Freed profiles the matchup from every angle.
Harvard’s matchup with New Mexico doesn’t look good on paper and is worse the more you dig through the matchups. Although the Crimson caught a couple of breaks—namely with the suspension of the Lobos’ best bench player, Demetrius Walker—the size of New Mexico up front will be a big challenge for Harvard. By looking at each matchup, one can see the Crimson will need its backcourt to outplay the Lobos’ to have a shot at pulling the upset.
Point Guard: Siyani Chambers vs. Hugh Greenwood
For the Crimson to shock the world, Chambers needs to dominate this matchup. Greenwood is a big guard and at six-three he has the length to close off the freshman’s angles and cut off driving lanes. The onus will be on Chambers to find ways to the hoop and to contain Greenwood, who shoots 36 percent from deep and averages seven points a game. With Greenwood expected to play more minutes than usual (see below), Chambers may have a chance late in the game to exploit his opponent’s fatigue.
Shooting Guard: Wesley Saunders vs. Kendall Williams
Easily the most important matchup on the floor, Harvard needs Saunders to contain Williams in order to have a chance at a victory. Saunders is Harvard’s best player and perimeter defender and boasts outstanding range (52.6 percent from beyond the arc) and hands (1.9 steals per game). Williams is famous for his 46-point game against Colorado State in late February, and he can fill it up from anywhere on the floor. Saunders is bigger than Williams (6'6" to 6'4") and will attempt to use his length to force Williams into errant shots. On offense, Saunders’ ability to drive and finish in traffic will be invaluable for a Crimson offense that struggles when it cannot produce open three-point looks.
Small Forward: Laurent Rivard vs. Tony Snell
Snell is the second best player on the Lobos’ roster and their best shooter. It is appropriate, then, that he is matched up with Rivard. Rivard and Snell both shoot about 40 percent from deep, and have nearly identical free throw conversion rates (84.3 percent for Snell, 84.4 percent for Rivard). Snell has two inches on Rivard and can back down the smaller guard. At times this season, Crimson opponents have isolated Rivard on defense and the Canadian will have to hold his own against the athletic Snell.
Power Forward: Steve Moundou-Missi vs. Cameron Bairstow
Although usually Christian Webster’s spot, the Crimson may be forced to go big early against the large front line of the Lobos. Bairstow, the six-nine Australian, averages nearly 10 points and six rebounds a game and would overpower the smaller Webster. Moundou-Missi does not provide the floor spacing of the senior, but his versatility and quickness allows him to get out in the open court and let the Crimson play its preferred fast pace. If Webster plays, look for him to front the taller Bairstow and try to deny entry passes on defense and force the Australian to guard him on the perimeter on defense, where Bairstow has to respect Webster’s 37 percent stroke from behind the arc.
Center: Kenyatta Smith vs. Alex Kirk
Going up against a seven-footer, it is hugely important that Harvard’s sophomore forward not draw fouls. Smith is the only true insider defensive presence on the Crimson roster and when he leaves the floor, Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis cannot fill the same void. Smith’s long wingspan makes him a tremendous shot blocker, but he will be going up against a much larger opponent on Kirk, who averages nearly a double-double. On the offensive side on the floor, look for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker to go to Smith early to force the Lobos off the Crimson shooters.
The Lobos play only about eight rotation players, one more than the Crimson. But with junior Demetrius Walker being suspended, the Lobos lose a backup for point guard Hugh Greenwood—who usually plays only about 28 minutes a game—and a valuable 40 percent shooter from behind the arc. This cuts New Mexico to a seven-man rotation, much like the Crimson, who bring only sophomore forward Moundou-Missi and Travis off the bench. With Greenwood having no true backup, combined with Amaker’s tendency to ride Chambers, expect Chambers to play the entire game against the Lobos. Likewise, Saunders will be counted on to defend Williams for every minute the junior Lobo forward is on the floor. Also expect a larger role from Moundou-Missi and Travis against the larger New Mexico front line.
The matchup between Harvard and New Mexico is a clash of styles. The smaller Crimson likes to spread the floor with shooters and use Smith as a way of opening up shots. The Lobos’ feature a star guard in Williams and a strong supporting player in Snell, but its main strength is its large front line. Kirk and company will keep Harvard focused on denying the ball inside, daring the Lobos to beat them from the outside. At almost every position, Harvard will be outsized. While the Crimson are used to this—both Penn and Princeton’s big men dwarf Harvard’s inside presence—it will need to overcome these barriers once again to move to the round of 32.