Men’s Basketball beat writer Stephen Gleason highlights three things to watch ahead of Harvard’s New Year’s Eve matinee with Wofford (2:30 PM EST). The Crimson (5-7) is coming off a second-place finish in last week’s Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic while the Terriers (3-8) are riding a four-game losing streak dating back to Dec. 6. Thursday will mark the first meeting between the two schools.
Harvard returns to Lavietes Pavilion for a home game for the first time since Nov. 25. The Crimson is 2-1 this season in Cambridge, with wins coming against MIT and Bryant. Thursday’s contest marks the start of a four-game homestand for Harvard. Since the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, the Crimson is 63-6 at Lavietes. The .913 home winning percentage is the eighth-highest in the country over that span. Harvard went 12-2 at home last season and has not had more than two home losses in a season since the 2008-2009 campaign.
Wofford has struggled away from Benjamin Johnson Arena this season, winning just one of its eight road contests. Last year’s Terriers rode a 10-5 road record to a Southern Conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Crimson’s success in Hawaii last week was spearheaded by hot starts on the offensive end of the floor. In the first halves of its three games in the Diamond Head Classic, Harvard outscored its opponents, 108-93. The Crimson rode double-digit first half leads to victories over BYU and Auburn. The average of 36 points in the first half was more than five points above the team’s average in its first nine games of the season. In its last six games, Harvard is averaging 73.3 points per game. The Crimson’s starters are averaging nearly 57 points per game in its last three contests while reserve guard Corbin Miller averaged 10.7 points per game in Hawaii.
On the season, Wofford is averaging just 27.9 first half points per game while the Terriers are allowing over 33 points a game.
The Diamond Head Classic may have been the performance Harvard has been looking for from junior forward Zena Edosomwan since the highly touted Los Angeles native committed to the Crimson in 2012. Edosomwan was named to the All-Tournament team and received Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
The junior averaged 20.3 points and 13 rebounds in Hawaii and is averaging a double-double on the season (14.6 points, 10.8 rebounds). Edosomwan’s presence on the glass will be key for Harvard against Wofford. On the season, the Terriers are being outrebounded by its opponents by 4.4 rebounds per game.
Junior guard Corbin Miller has provided a boost of the bench for the Crimson during the Diamond Head Classic, filling in as freshman Tommy McCarthy has struggled with turnovers and fouls. Miller had a season-high 17 points in Harvard's first round game against BYU.
Following a dominant 69-51 victory over Auburn in the semifinals of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, Harvard (5-6) will turn its attention to No. 3/2 Oklahoma (10-0) in the tournament championship game on Friday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN2). Men’s basketball beat writer Stephen Gleason analyzes the individual matchups in what may be the Crimson’s toughest game of the season.
Point guard: Tommy McCarthy vs. Isaiah Cousins
It’s the freshman who has played in all of 11 collegiate contests going against the tested senior who has started 92 in his career and is the glue for a team with national title aspirations. While senior wing Buddy Hield will be the best player on the floor whenever he is on it, McCarthy will need to neutralize Cousins, who is second on the team in points and leads the Sooners in assists. As is always the case with McCarthy, the key on the offensive end will be limiting turnovers. The freshman has averaged 6.5 turnovers in Harvard’s two games in Hawaii. Oklahoma’s opponents average 11.2 turnovers per contest, which is one fewer turnover than the Sooners average. Harvard has turned the ball over less than 12 times in just three games this season. The Crimson is 5-0 this season when it wins or ties the turnover battle and ball control starts with this matchup.
Shooting guard: Corey Johnson vs. Jordan Woodard
Oklahoma is averaging over 87 points per game this season and has been in that neighborhood for both of its Diamond Head Classic contests. For Harvard to keep pace, it will need a strong offensive game from the freshman sharpshooter, who went four-for-nine from three-point range in both of the team’s tournament games. That task will be easier said than done as the Sooners’ defense has limited its opponents to 27.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc this season. The Crimson is 4-2 this season when Johnson posts double-digit scoring outputs. After being the starting point guard for his first two seasons in Norman, Woodard began flanking Cousins in the starting lineup last month. The junior is the team’s third-leading scorer, is almost automatic from the free throw line, and is one of three Oklahoma starters who shoots over 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Small forward: Agunwa Okolie vs. Buddy Hield
This will be the matchup to watch on Friday night and will ultimately dictate whether Harvard can hang with the Sooners. The Crimson senior will be tasked with covering a Naismith Award finalist, but this is nothing new for Okolie. The Ajax, Ontario native has already squared off with the likes of Providence’s Kris Dunn, Kansas’ Wayne Selden, BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth, and Auburn’s Kareem Canty, holding all but the BYU co-captain below his average field goal percentage. During Wednesday’s broadcast, color commentator Cory Alexander noted that Okolie ought to be considered one of the best perimeter defenders in all of college basketball, and the former Virginia star has a point. Okolie utilizes his 6’8” frame to alter shots and the senior’s size is not an inhibition off the dribble. Hield is averaging 28.8 points per game in his last four contests, but the senior may have the best supporting backcourt of any of the four superstars Okolie has had to guard.
Power forward: Evan Cummins vs. Ryan Spangler
While junior Zena Edosomwan stole the show against BYU on Tuesday, Cummins capitalized on the double-teams Auburn threw at his front court partner to set a career-high with 13 points. If Oklahoma looks to double-team Edosomwan, as most teams have this season, Cummins will need to convert offensively and knock down his free throws (52.6 percent on the season). Spangler leads the Sooners in minutes and rebounds and has a jump shot that can be extended out past the three-point line. While the guards run the show for Oklahoma, Spangler has had six double-digit scoring games this season. Cummins will have to prevent offensive rebounds and stay out of foul trouble against the versatile Sooner big.
Center: Zena Edosomwan vs. Khadeem Lattin
In order for Harvard to stand a chance, the team’s best player must set the tone. Edosomwan posted the best offensive performance of his collegiate career on Tuesday against BYU and will need to put up similar numbers against Lattin, especially if Oklahoma decides not to double the 6’9” Los Angeles native. If Sooners coach Lon Kruger decides to call for defensive help, Edosomwan will have to find Cummins underneath or sharpshooters Johnson and Corbin Miller on the perimeter. Edosomwan oftentimes discusses setting the tone on the glass and letting his offense stem from there, and the junior will certainly need to attack the glass as Oklahoma is outrebounding its opponents by 8.5 boards per contest. While Lattin is the fifth option offensively for the Sooners, the sophomore leads the team in field goal percentage and as Hawaii will tell you, he can score if too much attention is put on Hield and the other Oklahoma guards.
In its two Diamond Head Classic games, the Crimson bench has averaged 21 points and avoided a dropoff in production when Edosomwan and McCarthy struggled with foul trouble. Miller has played more minutes in the two games in Hawaii than he has in any other games this season and has established himself as a viable backup for McCarthy. Like Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, Kruger typically utilizes a four-deep bench in close games. Freshman forward Dante Buford, freshman guard Christian James, junior center Akolda Manyang, and senior guard Dinjiyl Walker combine to average almost 16 points, nine rebounds, and three assists off the bench. Spangler, Hield, and Cousins each average around 30 minutes a game for the Sooners. The Crimson is still trying to discover who its third big man will be this season. Sophomore Chris Egi has seen action in both Diamond Head Classic games but has not scored and has made just 22.2 percent of his free throws this season. Freshman Weisner Perez, an undersized power forward, has seen limited action since his 15-point performance against Kansas. Senior small forward Patrick Steeves has been a bright spot for Harvard in Hawaii, finding open teammates and hitting free throws down the stretch against BYU and making two three-pointers and corralling seven rebounds against Auburn.
The first few minutes of Friday’s contest will most likely set the tone for the entire contest. Oklahoma is coming off its first single-digit victory since its season opener against Memphis. Hawaii provided the wake-up call that the Sooners had not had all season and Oklahoma figures to be hungry from the opening tip. The Crimson has gotten off to uncharacteristically hot starts at the Diamond Head Classic, holding double-digit first half leads in its two victories on the island, but Oklahoma has been excellent all season in the first half, never having trailing at the break thus far.
In slowing down two potent offenses, Harvard forced BYU and Auburn to play the half-court style Amaker and company favor. Oklahoma thrives in transition and shoots a blistering 47.2 percent from beyond the arc. Even if Okolie shuts down Hield, the supporting cast of Cousins, Woodard, and Spangler is talented enough to overcome the Crimson. While Harvard is the 11th-youngest team in the nation, The Sooners are led by upperclassmen, many of whom led the team to last March’s Sweet Sixteen. Size-wise, the Crimson and Oklahoma are very similar. Okolie has four inches on Hield, but the two starting front courts are identical in height. The Sooner defense is not particularly good at forcing turnovers, but McCarthy and company will have to take care of the ball to upset Oklahoma and bring home Harvard’s third straight regular season tournament championship.
Published by David Freed
on December 25, 2015 at 12:54AM
Junior forward Zena Edosomwan may be Harvard's leading scorer, but his free throw shooting has plagued him this season. The Los Angeles native has shot 10-for-22 from the charity stripe during the Diamond Head Classic.
After earning its two best victories of the year, the Harvard men’s basketball team (5-6) will take on the No. 3/2 Oklahoma Sooners (10-0) in the final of the Diamond Head Classic (8:30 EST, ESPN2). Men’s basketball beat writer David Freed previews the matchup with a quick primer on the Sooners and three things to watch.
Best Wins: Villanova, Wisconsin, Hawaii
Worst Losses: N/A
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 1
Tournament Results: Beat Washington State 88-60 in quarterfinals, defeated host Hawaii 84-81 in semifinals
Star Players: Senior guard Buddy Hield (24.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg), senior guard Isaiah Cousins (13.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.0 rpg)
A quick inspection of the Sooners’ resume reveals why Ken Pomeroy’s system considers them the best team in the country. Oklahoma has not only gone undefeated; it has barely come close to losing, with Thursday’s Hawaii scare the first single-digit margin of victory for the Sooners since their opener against Memphis.
Three Things to Watch
1. Playing Up a Level — One reassuring fact for Harvard fans is that the Crimson has already hung with KenPom’s second-ranked team, Kansas, for 40 minutes. The 75-69 loss, Harvard’s last, was a turnaround game for freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy, who had 11 points, five assists, and four rebounds in the losing effort. One crucial factor in keeping the game close was how McCarthy held his own against opposing point guard Frank Mason, Jr., preventing Kansas from getting out and running in the open floor. He will need to do the same against Cousins, the engine that gets the Oklahoma offense going. While Hield gets most of the headlines, Cousins’ ability to space the floor (51 percent three-point shooting on four attempts a game) gives the Sooner offense another dimension. Senior Agunwa Okolie, Harvard’s defensive ace, will likely get the call on Hield, and whether he and McCarthy can frustrate their matchups defensively will go a long way towards deciding the game.
2. Guarding The Line — Seemingly every game for the Crimson comes down to the three-point arc. After holding BYU to just three makes on 13 attempts, Harvard limited Auburn to just six makes in 25 tries. In both games, the Crimson outscored its opponent from behind the line, sinking a combined 19 threes in the two games. It could not be more crucial that Harvard complete the hat trick: Oklahoma launches 21 threes a game at a 47 percent clip. Four Sooner starters shoot better than 45 percent from behind the arc, three better than 51 percent. Against Kansas, a similarly strong jump-shooting team, the Crimson limited the Jayhawks to just 14 shots and six makes. If it can get similar results Friday, it will have a great shot at victory.
3. Making The Freebies — Amazingly, Harvard has been winning despite a lack of regression to the mean on its free throw shooting. The Crimson is the eighth worst free throw shooting squad in the country, converting just under 60 percent from the charity stripe. The statistic is deceptive, since only three Harvard players—forward Zena Edosomwan, Chris Egi, and Evan Cummins—shoot worse than 72 percent. Unfortunately, the three have taken half of the Crimson’s free throw attempts and both BYU coach Dave Rose and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl took to hacking Edosomwan at times in the last two games. The forward made just 10 of his 22 attempts, continuing a season-long regression that has him at 46 percent after shooting 60 percent or better in each of his first two years. The tactic, used in the NBA to help make up huge deficits, could be a crucial ploy down the stretch for Oklahoma against a Crimson team that hasn’t shown that it can overcome it.
Click here for Part II.
Men’s basketball writer Theresa Hebert picks three things to watch in Wednesday’s contest between Harvard and Auburn in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii (4:30 EST, ESPNU). The Crimson (4-6), took down Brigham Young in overtime Tuesday to advance, while Auburn (6-3) beat New Mexico in a back-and-forth affair to win its first round game.
Coming into the first round, it was BYU senior Kyle Collinsworth who was Harvard’s biggest concern. Turning to Auburn, the Crimson will once again look to senior Agunwa Okolie to bottle up Tiger point guard Kareem Canty, who had 27 points against the Lobos on Tuesday.
Canty is especially threatening from behind the arc, hitting five treys in the first round game. Perimeter defense was a strong suit for Harvard against the Cougars, limiting BYU to 3-of-13 shooting from deep, and it will need to do the same to keep Auburn in check.
MAKING THE EASY SHOTS
Though it hit them when it counted, the Crimson has struggled all year from the free throw line, and it continued Tuesday. Harvard shot just 61 percent from the charity stripe, including 5-of-12 shooting for junior forward Zena Edosomwan.
Edosomwan scored 23 points and snagged 17 rebounds against BYU, both career highs, but consistently clunked shots off the front of the rim from the free throw line. The junior has been Harvard’s most dominant player all season and is currently the only Ivy League player averaging a double-double, but free throws have been his Achilles heel.
Buckets from the charity stripe sealed the victory for Harvard against the Cougars, with Okolie sinking four in the last 17 seconds of the game, but clutch free throw shooting has not always been the case for the Crimson. Against a tough competitor like Auburn, Tommy Amaker’s squad can’t afford to leave easy points behind.
NOT SO EGI-CELLENT
While Edosomwan has taken the brunt of the work in the paint for the Crimson, sophomore forward Chris Egi has been lackluster off the bench when filling in for Edosomwan. Egi failed to score in his 13 minutes on the floor Tuesday, but was flagged for four fouls in that time frame.
Egi, who was a four-star recruit coming into Cambridge, has averaged just 2.2 points per game this season. Especially glaring is his free throw shooting percentage, which makes Edosomwan look good. Egi has hit just 25 percent of his shots from the line compared to Edosomwan’s 46 percent shooting.
With Okolie likely spending his time guarding Canty, if Edosomwan finds himself in foul trouble, the Crimson needs someone it can turn to in the paint.
Men’s Basketball beat writer Stephen Gleason picks three things to keep an eye on going into tomorrow’s Diamond Head Classic quarterfinal between Harvard and BYU (4:30 PM, ESPNU). Before a two-week break for finals, the Crimson (3-6) defeated Boston University, 75-69. The Cougars (7-3) have won three of their last four contests.
Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth is the focal point of the BYU offense and was an honorable mention All-American last season. The Cougars’ co-captain had 12 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds in BYU’s win last Friday against Central Michigan. The triple-double was the eighth of his career, the most in NCAA history. On the season, Collinsworth is averaging nearly 15 points a game to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
Tuesday will not be the first time Harvard has squared off with an elite wing this season. The Crimson has already seen the likes of Providence senior Kris Dunn and Kansas junior Wayne Selden. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker will likely task senior forward Agunwa Okolie with covering Collinsworth. Despite giving up 32 points to Dunn, Okolie has held his matchups to outputs well below their season averages, with Selden only going for nine points and Boston College guard Eli Carter shooting 3-for-14 from the field.
While Collinsworth contributes to all facets of the Cougar offense, BYU may be the most balanced and deepest team the Crimson has faced this season. The Cougars have four players averaging double-digits in points and nine players logging at least 10 minutes a contest.
Harvard’s slow start to the season could be attributed to a lack of production on the offensive end. Through the team’s first six games, the Crimson was averaging just under 62 points per game, but in its last three, Harvard has topped that mark by nearly ten points a contest.
While the Crimson has lost two of its last three games, both contests were against teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season. The team has shot over 43 percent in all three of those games and has had a different leading scoring in each contest. Harvard posted its best ball control game of the season two weeks ago against BU, turning the ball over just 10 times.
In order for Harvard to compete with BYU, the Crimson will have to continue its recent offensive surge while also shutting down a potent and balanced BYU offense. The Cougars are averaging nearly 83 points a game and are outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.5 points. BYU has been held under 75 points just twice in 10 games.
The game will certainly be a clash of two styles. Harvard has not scored 83 points in a game this season, but the Crimson has conceded more than 75 points just twice this season. Harvard ranks 295th in the nation in possessions per game while the Cougars are 17th. Like the Crimson, BYU has struggled with turnovers, averaging more than 13 a contest.