Trio of Bigs will be Key Against New Mexico
Opening the 2012-2013 basketball season, Harvard’s success depended almost entirely on wing Wes Saunders and point guard Siyani Chambers. The sophomore-freshman duo came out hot, with Chambers’s vision and distribution complimenting Saunders’s speed off the dribble and ability to finish in the paint.
For a team with no clear identity after the loss of co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, the Saunders-Chambers combo seemed like the Crimson’s best shot to do offensive damage at the beginning of the season.
However, early non-conference losses highlighted Harvard’s weakness in the paint, and strong interior players like Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels exploited the Crimson’s relative lack of size and strength. With no established power forward—let alone center—and a tough non-conference schedule ahead, the young team struggled to find its rhythm and spell Saunders, who was limited on offense when he was tasked with defending the opponent’s strongest scoring threat.
Then came the bigs.
The evolution of sophomore forwards Jonah Travis, Kenyatta Smith and Steve Mondou-Missi—who all averaged fewer than 14 minutes per game as freshmen—has been key to the Crimson’s late-season success. Though the three have developed distinct roles and identities, their playing time has been inexorably linked to each other’s success in a lineup that tends to employ four perimeter players, leaving space for one inside presence.
Heating up at different times and in key situations throughout the season, the trio has combined to hand the Crimson some of its most important wins—and will be even more crucial when Harvard takes on New Mexico in the NCAA tournament.
“[The Lobos] are big and that’s the thing,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said, after learning about the matchup on Selection Sunday. “They are a big, strong and powerful team. Their guards have size, and you are looing at six-seven on the perimeter.”
The Lobos favored starting lineup includes seven-foot center Alex Kirk and a backcourt that ranges from 6’3” to 6’7”.
Throughout the season, the Crimson has struggled to contain tall teams like New Mexico, but if there’s hope for Harvard, it lies with the bigs and their development through Amaker’s season long search for a consistent post presence.
Moundou-Missi came into the season with the most experience of the three—averaging five points in 14 minutes per game as a freshman—and was thrust into a starting role at the beginning of the year, starting the first five games. But, foul trouble plagued the forward and limited his effectiveness as it forced him to play conservatively.
Moundou-Missi fouled out after only 11 minutes in the Crimson’s win over Manhattan and racked up four personals in two of his other four starts. After failing to make the impact Amaker was looking for, Moundou-Missi went to the bench, where he was able to make a bigger impact, scoring in double digits in half of Harvard’s conference contests—including a 17-point night at Yale.
However, as chants of “Steeeeeeve” began to fill Lavietes, Moundou-Missi had one more hurdle to overcome—his free throw shooting.
During Harvard’s first Ivy home stand, the forward went eight for 18 at the stripe, missing key opportunities down the stretch in close wins over Brown and Yale. But Moundou-Missi adapted, and never shot below 75 percent from the line for the rest of the season.
Like Moundou-Missi, Smith started the first fives games but quickly took a secondary role after struggling to finish in the paint. Smith waited in the wings for the majority of the season, averaging 14 minutes per game, until Amaker put him back in the lineup for the Penn-Princeton homestand.
Smith’s breakout weekend could not have come at a better time for the Crimson. Having dropped a road contest to Columbia, the matchups against the Killer P’s were must wins at home if Harvard were to remain in contention for the title.