Does Harvard Have a Shot? UMass Amherst

Published by Andrew Farber on March 15, 2014 at 11:15PM
Saunders is Ivy Player of the Year

Junior wing Wesley Saunders will look to exact revenge should Harvard draw UMass Amherst to open up postseason play.

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 UMass Amherst from the Atlantic 10.

Record: (24-7, 10-6 A 10)

Best Wins: #19 UNM, #23 VCU,

Worst Losses: St. Bonaventure, Richmond, George Mason

RPI: 16

Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 48

Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 8

Star Players: Chazz Williams (Sr. Guard) 15.6 ppg, 7.0 apg, Cady Lalanne (Jr. Center) 11.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg

Sampson Carter is a name that most people won’t know before they fill out their brackets this year. In fact, the only real storyline about the senior heading into March Madness is that older brother, Shyrone Chatman, is his assistant coach. But if Harvard draws UMass Amherst in the first round, you can be sure Carter’s name will be weighing on the minds of Crimson fans for much more than his family ties.

In Harvard’s opening game of the 2012-2013 season, the squad traveled to UMass to take on the Minutemen on ESPN. Having already been thrust into the spotlight as a result of last season’s cheating scandal, the game drew a wide audience. Nobody probably remembers the result better than junior wing Wesley Saunders. With just 1.2 seconds remaining, the then junior Carter drilled a three in the face of Saunders. The play was broadcasted repeatedly on SportsCenter the following day, serving as a welcoming mat for the drama that is college basketball.

Now, a year later, Carter is a senior playing and no higher than the third option on his team. Saunders is the Ivy League Player of the Year, and nothing would be sweeter for the versatile guard than a chance at redemption. Saunders is now his team’s leading scorer for the second consecutive season and nearly unstoppable when he penetrates the lane.

UMass is led by senior guard Chaz Williams, who is averaging 15.6 points per game and posted a double-double when the two teams last met. Though undersized for the Atlantic 10 conference at 5’9’’, Williams is an explosive floor general who shines brightest when the cameras are on. For a team that hasn’t been to the tournament since 1998, Williams is revered on campus and by the UMass faithful. ESPN.com’s Chad Ford even projects Williams as a late second round pick in the draft.

Stopping UMass will mean stopping Williams. The assignment would likely go to Harvard’s sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers, the reigning Ivy League Freshman of the Year and named All-Ivy this season. Chambers certainly has the quickness to keep up with Williams, but Williams can be more electric at times. It is tough to garner any true knowledge about the matchup from their previous contest, as Chambers was a freshman, starting his first collegiate game in a season where he had barely expected to see the floor. Offensively, Chambers has greatly developed greatly over the past two season, and, with four inches over Williams, could look to take him to the basket with his left hand that has become so feared in the Ancient Eight.

Nonetheless, while Williams may be undersized, his teammates don’t fit the description at all. Williams is surrounded by junior forwards Cady Lalanne (6’10’’) and Raphiael Putney (6’9’’). Both big men average close to double-doubles and can make driving the lane very difficult for the Crimson. Lalanne leads the team in shot-blocking and can cover a wide area of the paint. With junior center Kenyatta Smith out for the season, Harvard will have to lean on senior Kyle Casey and junior Steve Moundou-Missi, both of who would give up two inches. As a result, rebounding would have to be a team effort, with Harvard’s taller guards, senior co-captain Laurent Rivard and Saunders, looking to crash the boards.

UMass, which reached as high as #13 in the country, has shown the capability to run up the scoreboard, notching 80-plus in at least 14 contests. The key to beating the Minutemen would be slowing down the pace of play, something that Harvard is capable of when it needs to be. Chambers, who is often an extension of Harvard coach Tommy Amaker on the floor, is excellent at pushing the ball up the court and running through all of the offense’s progressions before attacking the basket. This offensive patience should let the Crimson limit UMass’s possessions and could take Williams out of any rhythm.

While UMass did have an impressive win against No. 19 University of New Mexico (which Harvard beat in last years tournament), the Minutemen lack any other quality win. In fact, their high-octane offense has even fallen off as of late, as No. 17 Saint Louis showed that efficient shooting and closing out on three pointers can limit UMass’s offense. Harvard has the length on defense to compete, which could make this game a very tight contest. Either way, you can be sure that a part of Saunders and his Crimson are hoping to draw UMass, with revenge on their minds.

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