Does Harvard Have a Shot? Kentucky

Published by Andrew Farber on March 16, 2014 at 12:31AM
Curry

Co-captain Brandyn Curry and fellow veterans will be instrumental if the team takes on a young Kentucky squad in the NCAA tournament

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 Kentucky from the SEC.

Record: 24-9, 12-6 SEC

Best Wins: #6 Louisville, Tennessee, Missouri

Worst Losses: Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina

RPI: 15

Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 19

Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 6

Star Players: Julius Randle (Fr. Forward) 15.4 ppg 10.6 rpg, Willie Cauley-Stein (So. Center) 7.4 ppg 6.3 rpg 2.9 bpg, Andrew Harrison (Fr. Point Guard) 10.8 ppg 3.7 apg

If Harvard draws Kentucky in tomorrow’s Selection Sunday Show, they will already be leading Wildcats in one category: age. Kentucky’s average age is 18.75 years, as the team is stacked with nine freshmen. This isn’t a new phenomenon in Lexington, however, as Wildcats coach John Calipari is notorious throughout college basketball for providing a one-year trampoline to the NBA for the country’s top incoming freshmen.

This year, the Wildcats starting lineup has often featured four freshmen and a sophomore. In September, Calipari ushered in a class that featured six McDonald’s All-Americans, all of whom were ranked in the top 15. Meanwhile, the Crimson was celebrating over the addition of the No. 72 recruit, Zena Edosomwan.

This highly-touted recruiting class drew comparisons to Michigan’s Fab Five, with newcomers James Young and Julius Randle were projected as potential number one draft picks this June. Andrew Harrison was seen as having the potential to be the best point guard in the country, while his twin Aaron was hyped as the best scoring guard and a marksman that could shoot the lights out of the gym. For Harvard fans, Andrew is comparable to sophomore Siyani Chambers, only five inches taller. And Aaron is similar to junior Wesley Saunders, but can also shoot from distances that would leave senior shooting guard Laurent Rivard wide-eyed.

But hype is only hype. While Randle was named SEC Freshman of the Year, the rest of his class has certainly not lived up to the lofty expectations. While the Wildcats have played better as of late, with their backs against the wall, the team has looked abysmal at times. In fact, the brightest spot on the team has arguably been Willie Cauley-Stein, who towers at 7’0’’ and can change games on both ends of the floor.

Kentucky has dropped games to Arkansas (twice), LSU, and South Carolina, all of whom were unranked. The Wildcats, whom many thought could go 40-0, dropped nine contests and left many Lexington faithful questioning the $5.2 million dollars a year that were being spent on Calipari.

Nonetheless, Kentucky still has one last chance to prove itself. The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back wins and will face No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship Game. If Kentucky’s freshman can pull off the upset, the momentum it has gained from the conference tournament might be enough to spur a run into late March.

If Harvard hopes to upset Kentucky, it will have to learn from the Wildcats early season miscues. The knock on Kentucky is twofold. First, it can forget to defend. Cauley-Stein was named to the All-SEC defensive team, but that doesn’t give the whole picture. The Harrison twins are often caught asleep and disengaged on their defensive end. Saunders has the innate ability to score at will, and with Chambers pushing the pace, the Crimson could cause some trouble. Chambers plays with a speed that is surprisingly unrivaled in the SEC, and that could catch the Wildcats off-guard. In addition, Harvard is known for its high-octane offense, with co-captains Brandyn Curry and Rivard firing three pointers. Meanwhile, Kentucky is 0-4 when giving up 80 or more points, a mark that Harvard has reached an astounding 10 times this season.

Then, there is the age factor. Harvard’s experience could be the key advantage if this matchup comes to fruition. While Kentucky won the National Championship two years ago, only four of its players were on that team (none of them saw any action in the tournament). The rest of the lineup has never even played in a tournament game, as this will be their first trip to March Madness. Besides its freshmen, Harvard’s entire roster has been dancing in March and many recall its bracket-busting performance against University of New Mexico only a year ago. In a first-round matchup, the youth of Kentucky on such a big stage could cause the squad to get flustered, panicking in its first-ever postseason contest.

Don’t be shocked if Harvard coach Tommy Amaker’s squad calmly marches into the gym, controlling the pace of play, and using its experience to dictate the outcome of the game.

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