Does Harvard Have a Shot? North Carolina

Published by Andrew Farber on March 15, 2014 at 11:12PM
Captain Clutch

Harvard men's basketball co-captain Laurent Rivard will be key in the Crimson's foray into March Madness.

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. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels from the ACC.

Record: (23-8, 13-5 ACC)

Best Wins: #3 Louisville, #1 Michigan State, #5 Duke, #11 Kentucky

Worst Losses: Belmont, UAB, Miami

RPI: 20

Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 23

Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 4

Star Players: Marcus Paige (So. Guard) 17.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, James Michael McAdoo (Jr. Forward) 14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg

As the tournament approaches, bracketologists often revert to the transitive property to help pick upsets. If this property has any glimmer of verity, Harvard could be projected to beat North Carolina, as the Crimson’s margin of victory over Boston College is greater than UNC. Additionally, the Tar Heels have even recorded losses against second-tier teams, such as Belmont and University of Alabama at Birmingham.

But these contests don’t give the full picture. That’s because UNC plays best when the lights are the brightest. On November 24, with the a national audience on ESPN, the Tar Heels exploded with a 93-84 win over #3 ranked Louisville behind 32 points from guard Marcus Paige.

And that wasn’t enough. North Carolina then trounced the No. 1 team in the country by double digits, Michigan State, on the road at the Breslin Student’s Center. Once again the Tar Heels were explosive on national television, showing the country that its early losses were a fluke. UNC then marched into Lexington and beat #11 Kentucky to continue its hot streak.

But the Tar Heels are still beatable, as losses to unranked Texas, Wake Forest, and Miami mar its schedule. The key to shutting down UNC will be containing Paige. The sophomore averages 17.1 points per game, leads his team in assists, and is incredibly efficient with a 44% field goal percentage. Harvard’s own sophomore standout, Siyani Chambers, would likely draw this defensive assignment if the two meet.

Though Paige may lead the team in scoring, the real mismatch will be junior forward James Michael McAdoo. A serious NBA prospect, McAdoo stands at 6’9’’ and averages 14.2 ppg. McAdoo, who came to college as the #5 players in the country according to ESPN, is one of the most explosive players in the country, as he can handle the ball, attack the basket, and score in bunches. However, McAdoo has flown under the radar of many college basketball fans this season, as ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that the junior “has gone from overrated to underrated.” The only player on Harvard’s roster with the size, strength, and athleticism to guard McAdoo is freshman Zena Edosomwan (6’9’’). Edosomwan would have his hands full though, as he has only averages 5.7 minutes per game and is not nearly as developed as McAdoo.

The size of North Carolina extends beyond McAdoo, as sophomore forward Brice Johnson towers at 6’9’’ and forcefully protects the rim. Though Harvard has athletic big men in junior Steve Moundou-Missi and senior Kyle Casey, both only measure at 6’ 7’’. The absence of junior center Kenyatta Smith would play a huge role in the outcome of this contest, as his size would be terribly missed in the paint and on the glass.

Nonetheless, perhaps the greatest matchup to watch will be on the sideline. UNC’s head coach Roy Williams is a mastermind. Williams has coached the ACC powerhouse for over a decade, winning two National Championships and visiting the Elite Eight six times—not to mention his 14 tournament appearances as head coach of Kansas. On the other side of the hardwood will be Tommy Amaker, who is no stranger to the Tar Heels. As a player and assistant coach, Amaker starred in the Tobacco Road Rivalry for Duke. Amaker has revitalized Harvard’s program, bringing the Crimson from anonymity into the national spotlight. If these two teams are slated to meet, the chess match between Williams and Amaker, two former rivals, will have intrigue written all over it.

Though beating UNC would not be as a big of an upset as Harvard pulled off last year against highly-touted New Mexico, a win would certainly leave many people with busted brackets. With the three-point shooting of senior co-captains Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry, it shouldn’t come as a shock if the Crimson knock off the Tar Heels and make a push towards the Sweet 16.

—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at andrewfarber@college.harvard.edu.