After winning the first round of the tournament, the Crimson will take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday (6:10 EDT, TNT) in the round of 32. With a Sweet Sixteen bid on the line, staff writer David Freed breaks down the individual matchups at stake for the Crimson.
As detailed in the previous part of the preview, the Crimson stands a better chance against the Wildcats than it did against New Mexico. While all the odds were thrown out the window in Harvard’s 68-62 victory over the Lobos, the Crimson match up better with the smaller, less defensive-minded Wildcats.
Point Guard: Siyani Chambers vs. Mark Lyons
The individual battle that leaps off the page is the freshman Chambers against the senior Lyons. This will be Lyons’ ninth tournament game and Chambers’ second. Lyons plays in a tougher conference for a team ranked 75 spots ahead of Harvard by Ken Pomeroy, but the statistics favor Chambers. The senior is an excellent free throw shooter (85 percent), but from the field (42 percent) and the arc (32 percent), he is below average. Chambers, in addition to being Harvard’s floor general and emotional leader, shoots 44 percent from both the field and deep. Although both guards turn it over at a similar rate (2.8 per game for Lyons, 3.4 for Chambers), Chambers averages nearly three more assists per contest and has a better assist to turnover ratio (1.7 to 1.1).
The key will be Chambers' ability to beat Lyons off the dribble. Lyons got to the hoop at will against bigger Belmont guards, using his speed to get past the slower Bruins. He is excellent at using his body to create space between defenders and intentionally drawing contact to prevent shot-blockers from rejecting his attempts. Chambers will need to stay in front of the Xavier transfer and make him take shots from three, where the Crimson can live with the occasional make. On the offensive side of the ball, Chambers must do the opposite to Lyons—crashing into the lane at will and opening up avenues for Harvard’s shooters on the outside.
Shooting Guard: Wesley Saunders vs. Nick Johnson
If neither coach shuffles around their lineups to adjust for his opponent, this is a matchup Harvard has a chance to dominate. Johnson is not a large two guard at 6'3" and 200 pounds, and will be going up against Saunders, who, in addition to being the Crimson’s best defender, is Harvard’s best player off the dribble and excels at absorbing contact and creating space in midair. Johnson will have a hard time stopping Saunders from driving past him without help—help that Arizona can ill afford to give with the shooters surrounding Saunders.
Johnson is an excellent shot in his own right, however. The sophomore marksman hits more than 37 percent of his threes and nearly 45 percent of his shots overall. He scored in double figures in 17 of the Wildcats’ first 20 games and is a more efficient and complete scorer than Lyons. He will test Saunders’ ability to challenge shots on the perimeter. To get Johnson open looks, Wildcat coach Sean Miller will likely run Saunders ragged through a number of off-ball screens. If Johnson can take advantage and stretch the floor, it will add yet another dimension to the Wildcat offense.
Small Forward: Laurent Rivard vs. Kevin Parrom
Rivard followed up his stellar 2012 introduction to tournament play (20 points, six of seven from behind the arc) with a 17-point performance against the Lobos. His early treys gave Harvard momentum and he stopped a New Mexico run by drawing a foul on a three-pointer attempt just before the under-eight-minutes media timeout in the second half. Rivard’s three-point shooting keys the Crimson offense, opening up the floor for drives by Chambers and Saunders. When he gets going, the team is hard to beat. It’s no coincidence that Rivard has made four or more threes in each of Harvard’s biggest four wins (California, New Mexico, vs. Princeton, vs. Cornell).
Parrom, a rangy 6'6" wing from the Bronx, will try to outmuscle Rivard and knock him off his spots on the floor. New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow admitted after the game he lost track of the Quebec native twice in the corners, leading to open looks Rivard knocked down. Parrom cannot let that happen and must force Rivard to pass the ball. On the offensive end, the stronger Wildcat can most effectively attack Rivard by posting up and attacking the smaller Crimson defender in isolation.
Power Forward: Christian Webster vs. Solomon Hill
In a matchup of two seniors, the ability of both to rebound will be crucial to the outcome of the game. Webster is not a prolific rebounder—the Washington, D.C. native averages only three a game—but will have to mitigate Hill’s effect on the boards by effectively boxing out. Hill averages just five rebounds this season but averaged 7.7 a year ago. Against the smaller Webster, Hill will have a chance to dominate the interior against a weak rebounding Crimson squad. If he can do so, Arizona can get away with going big on offense, which allows it to match up better with the Crimson shooters on defense. Webster recently passed 1,000 total points for his career and is a prolific three-point shooting threat the Wildcats will need to account for. He tends to drift to the corner for kick-outs from Chambers and Saunders and, much like Parrom, Hill must take away those corner threes for the Wildcats to execute its game plan on defense.
Center: Kenyatta Smith vs. Kaleb Tarczewski
Harvard doesn’t face the size disadvantage against the Wildcats across the board that it did against the Lobos but Tarczewski may evoke memories of the Lobos’ seven-foot interior terror, Alex Kirk. The freshman averages only seven points a game but had 12 against Belmont and didn’t miss a shot from the floor against the undersized front line of the Bruins. Smith was the only Crimson defender strong enough to stand up to Kirk in the round of 64, and Harvard will count on him to stay out of foul trouble and counter a second seven-footer against Arizona. Smith’s defensive rebounding and block percentages, according to Ken Pomeroy, would be best in the country if he had enough minutes to qualify and he is an excellent interior defender. Tarczewski benefits from guards that can drive the lane at will, setting him up with easy looks. It will be up to Smith to seal off the lane and force Tarczewski and the Wildcat guards away from the basket, forcing them to beat the Crimson on the perimeter. If the sophomore can do that, Harvard will nullify one of the strongest parts of the Wildcat offense.
As with most every matchup, the Crimson are at a disadvantage when it comes to bench play. Coach Tommy Amaker is not shy about running his big dogs (Saunders, Chambers, Rivard, etc.) 35 or more minutes a game if the situation depends on it, and there is no true guard to back any of them up. Sophomore big men Steve Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis help spell Smith on the interior and allow Amaker to experiment with two-big lineups, but the rotation is capped at seven. The Wildcats, by contrast, have nine players who have played in at least 27 games this season. Forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett provide valuable bench minutes for Miller, helping to spell Tarczewski, who only plays about 22 minutes a game. Jerrett is the best three-point shooting threat the Wildcats have at 41 percent and little-used Gabe York also provides 35 percent accuracy from deep for Sean Miller.
With two guard-heavy teams taking the court on Saturday, the battle will be decided on the perimeter. To slow down the potent Wildcat attack and keep the quick Arizona guards in front of them, Harvard needs Chambers and Saunders to dominate their matchups against Lyons and Johnson, respectively. For Arizona, the key will be for Hill and Tarczewski to beat the Crimson to loose balls and win the rebounding battle. Harvard is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country and if the Wildcats can exploit that, they can extend possessions and test the occasionally impatient Crimson perimeter defenders. Each team has a simple blueprint for success; to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, one must simply out-execute the other.
This post has been revised to reflect the following corrections:
CORRECTIONS: March 23, 2013
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Harvard guard Wesley Saunders was the Ivy League Player of the Year for the 2012-2013 season. In fact, that honor went to Princeton senior forward Ian Hummer. The post also incorrectly stated that the Crimson's Saturday NCAA tournament game against Arizona will begin at 6:10 p.m. EST. In fact the game begins at 6:10 p.m EDT.