Three Things to Watch: Harvard-Dartmouth

Published by David Freed on January 23, 2016 at 12:14PM
Steady Steeves

Senior Patrick Steeves is averaging 9.6 points per game, second on the Crimson behind junior Zena Edosomwan.

{image id=1311913 size=full caption=true align=center}

After winning just its second true road game of the year, the Harvard men’s basketball team (9-8, 1-0 Ivy) will put its three-game winning streak on the line when it travels to Hanover to take on Dartmouth (6-9, 0-1) in the second half of its conference-opening home-and-home with the Big Green. Beat writer David Freed lists three things to watch.

TURN TO UPPERCLASSMEN

As the calendar turns to the Ivy League season, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker is notorious about shortening his bench and relying on upperclassmen. With the exception of the 2012-2013 season, when the team had just two upperclassmen (Laurent Rivard ’14 and Christian Webster ’13) in the rotation, Harvard has frequently limited its underclassmen to spot duty during Ivy League play. Even junior Zena Edosomwan, a starter last year, played just 13.5 minutes a game during Ancient Eight play. In the last seven contests of the year, he played more than 10 minutes once.

The emergence of senior Patrick Steeves brings up questions about how Amaker will manage the minutes of his youthful squad. The coach has already proved willing to yank freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy early for junior Corbin Miller, who provides steadier, albeit less creative, play. Increased playing time for Steeves, whose 9.6 points a game rank second on the team behind Edosomwan, may knock both sophomore Andre Chatfield and freshman Weisner Perez to the fringes of the rotation.

CHANGING IN THE GUARD

One of the dominant early-season trends for the Crimson has been the change in offense from last year. After having only three passable three-point threats a year ago—all of whom rarely saw playing time together—Harvard has significantly improved spacing a year later. Miller and freshman Corey Johnson have been long-range machines, shooting a combined 41 percent on 12 attempts a game. With Steeves shooting 53 percent and McCarthy boasting a respectably 36 percent mark, Harvard has had excellent spacing.

The improved spacing has put teams in a defensive bind regarding Edosomwan, the only Ivy League player averaging a double-double. Throwing double teams at Edosomwan, as Dartmouth did in the last matchup, has not proven successful. The junior has evolved into a more adept passer, ranking fourth on the Crimson in assists per game, and excels at finding the open man. In the last matchup with the Big Green, he had six assists as Harvard shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in one of its best offensive performances of the year. In the rematch, look for Dartmouth to stick more closely to the Crimson’s shooters.

A THIN BENCH

When the two teams last met, Dartmouth got 65 percent of its production from its two stellar underclassmen—sophomore wing Miles Wright and freshman forward Evan Boudreaux. The early favorite for Ivy League rookie of the year took it to Edosomwan and captain Evan Cummins inside, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds, including a pair of late threes to keep the Big Green in the game. Wright shot a blistering five of eight from three and took advantage when senior wing Agunwa Okolie came off the floor, making all four of his shots.

In the rematch, Dartmouth will need more production from the rest of its team, however. Senior Connor Boehm will especially be called on to shoot better than his one for eight performance in Cambridge.

-Staff Writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com

Three Things to Watch: Harvard-Howard

Published by David Freed on January 16, 2016 at 11:06PM
Feed the Z

The Crimson will look to feed junior forward Zena Edosomwan on Saturday against a Howard front court that lacks depth. Edosomwan's production has slowed since Harvard's return from Hawaii, with just one double-double in the last four games.

The Harvard men’s basketball team (8-8) will try to make its way above .500 for the first time since the season’s first game Saturday against Howard (8-9). Beat writer David Freed highlights three things to watch as the Crimson go for its second road win of the season.

STARTING UP FRONT

During Harvard’s last three games, the Crimson has not received the production from junior center Zena Edosomwan that they are accustomed to. After turning in an All-Tournament performance in Hawaii that included a 25-point, 16-rebound effort against No. 2 Oklahoma, Edosomwan has just one double-double in four games since returning. He played just 22 minutes against Dartmouth due to foul trouble and was stifled for the first half against Ryerson before breaking through in the second. Howard has a thin front line after center Marcel Boyd, so look for Harvard to feed Edosomwan early and often to get him going.

BEST MAN UP

To stop Howard, you have to stop James Daniel. The junior from Hampton, Virginia averages over a third of the team’s points and nearly half its assists, scoring almost 29 points a contest. Daniel has a tendency to hijack the team’s offense at times, taking 36 shots in a double overtime loss to Radford earlier this year. When opponents stop Daniel, they typically stop the Bison, as Howard has won just two games all season when Daniel shot under 40 percent from the field.

This puts the defense of senior Agunwa Okolie on center stage. Always tasked with guarding the best opposing perimeter player, Okolie has gone up against a distinguished slate so far this season. He has guarded four potential All-Americans in Kansas’ Wayne Selden, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, and BYU’s Kyle Collingsworth. None of the four average as much as Daniel, however, and Okolie’s defense will be the key to stopping the Bison attack.

TURNOVERS, TURNOVERS

During Harvard’s two-game winning streak, coach Tommy Amaker has consistently singled out the same area of improvement: turnovers. With two freshmen starting in the backcourt, the team has struggled to take care of the ball all year. However, Harvard will play a mirror image of itself in Howard. The Bison rank 240th in the country in turnovers, averaging just over 14 a game, and generate only seven steals a contest. This minimizes their ability to exploit Harvard’s Achilles heel, a boon for Amaker’s squad.

Three Things To Watch: Harvard-Ryerson

Published by David Freed on January 11, 2016 at 4:17PM
Evan Wonders of the World

Captain Evan Cummins has increased production in recent weeks, scoring in double digits in four of the team's last five games. The senior has benefitted from increased pressure on junior forward Zena Edosomwan.

{image id=1311820 size=half caption=true align=left}

After winning its Ivy League opener, the Harvard men’s basketball team (7-8, 1-0) looks to get back to .500 in the final contest of its five-game homestand against Ryerson (7:00 EST). Beat writer David Freed has three things to watch for in the Crimson’s penultimate non-conference game of the year.

CHANGE OF THE GUARD

Through the team’s first eight games, it appeared that freshman Tommy McCarthy had sown up the leading point guard spot for Harvard. After junior Matt Fraschilla went down with an ACL tear in the team’s second game, McCarthy and junior Corbin Miller were the only true point guards left on the roster. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker responded by giving his freshmen a longer rope, giving him at least 25 minutes or more in all but two of the first 10 games through long stretches of turnover-ridden play.

Recently, however, Amaker has begun to tighten the rotation. Since a six-turnover, zero-assist effort against Auburn, the freshman has struggled to get on the floor. Either because of foul trouble (Oklahoma, Wofford) or injury (Vermont), the freshman has not hit the 25-minute mark since the Auburn game. Backup Corbin Miller, by contrast, a steadier presence on the floor, has played at least 24 minutes in each of the last six games after hitting that mark just three times in the first nine contests. Against Ryerson, it will be interesting whether Amaker chooses to stick with the youngster if he struggles early.

LEADING FROM THE BACK LINE

In a Dartmouth game where his classmates exploded for career highs and 49 combined points, captain Evan Cummins’ contributions were a footnote. However, the unheralded captain has excelled recently, scoring in double digits in four of the last five games after accomplishing the feat just twice in the first 10 contests. He has developed good chemistry with junior forward Zena Edosomwan, who found Cummins four separate times for baskets against Dartmouth. Versus a small Ryerson front line, Cummins and Edosomwan should be able to be dominant.

CROSS-BORDER BATTLES

Ryerson is the second Canadian team that the Crimson has played in 2015-2016. In an earlier scrimmage against McGill, Harvard struggled, scrapping out a 66-63 victory on Nov. 7. Ryerson, who beat McGill by three in October, has been the better team thus far this season. The Canadian squad beats opponents behind the arc, shooting an average of 34 threes a game and converting 35 percent. More than half of their attempts come from behind the three-point line, as guards Ammanuel Diressa and Roshane Roberts take nearly 12 combined treys a game. The Crimson holds opponents to just 26.6 percent shooting from behind the arc while shooting 41.4 percent themselves, and the game will likely be decided behind the arc.

-Staff writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com.

Three Things to Watch: Harvard-Vermont

Published by David Freed on January 03, 2016 at 4:24PM

Men’s Basketball beat writer David Freed highlights three things to watch ahead of Harvard’s matinee with Vermont (2:00 PM EST). The Crimson (6-7) looks to get to .500 on the season after winning four of its last five games.

BENCH AND BALANCE

As the calendar turns to January, it typically means two things for Harvard: the beginning of Ivy League play and the shortening of the rotation. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker typically plays just two or three players off the bench each game, preferring to rely heavily on his starters in a conference where (cliché alert!) every game matters.

During this spell, he constantly preaches the need for both “bench and balance.” Fittingly, after the departure of four starters and the team’s most trusted reserve, Harvard has better balance (and bench play) this year than last. While junior Zena Edosomwan—like Wesley Saunders ’15 a year ago—is the clear offensive focal point, six other Crimson players average between seven and 10 points a contest.

The depth and balance has allowed Amaker to mix and match lineups all year. No player averages more than 30 minutes a game, but seven average more than 20, leading to improved flexibility. Not three weeks after using a three-freshman lineup down the stretch against Kansas, Harvard played five upperclassmen for the majority of the second half against Oklahoma. Against Vermont, a team that plays a lengthy nine-man rotation and pushes the pace, Harvard’s depth will come in handy.

CONTRAST OF STYLES

Thrice at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, the Crimson found itself playing an opponent that liked to run. When Harvard controlled the pace, it surged—taking a 19-3 lead against BYU, dominating Auburn, and leading Oklahoma at half. When the game turned into a track meet, the Crimson’s penchant for live ball turnovers caught up with them. The dichotomy will be a theme in nearly every Harvard contest of the year as the team currently plays at the 276th pace in the nation, per KenPom. Vermont is a good match for the Crimson, as it turns opponents over under 12 times a game and registers just 5.3 steals a game. Both marks are outside the top 250 nationally and good signs for a Crimson team that occasionally has problems taking care of the ball.

THE CHATFIELD CONUNDRUM

After struggling with injury for a month, sophomore Andre Chatfield returned to the lineup against Wofford and registered only two fouls in nine minutes. Barring health complications, his reintroduction to the lineup poses interesting questions for Amaker. Senior Patrick Steeves has taken over Chatfield’s role and excelled, averaging nearly eight points and three assists while shooting 48 percent from three in just 20 minutes a game. With the rotation shortening, Chatfield and classmate Chris Egi—the team’s first big off the bench—are at risk of being cut to the fringes. Vermont will be a chance to see if Amaker is dedicated to continuing to give them playing time.

Three Things to Watch: Harvard-Wofford

Published by Stephen J. Gleason on December 31, 2015 at 1:46PM

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.

HOME COOKING

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.

STARTING STRONG

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.

EMERGING FORCE

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.