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It's becoming a kind of ritual: warm-up, play, lose.
The Harvard men's basketball team lost to Colgate Monday, 83-70. Harvard has played and lost 11 times in a row.
This has been the worst start in the history of Harvard basketball. In fact, the 1990-91 team has a legitimate shot at being the worst Harvard team of all time.
Harvard's worst team was the 1948-49 squad, which Coach William Barclay led to a 3-20 (1-11 Ivy) record in his last season as a coach.
To avoid this distinction, the team must win four of its next 15 games. A reasonable goal, but first the Crimson must extract itself from the quicksand that is its 11-game losing streak.
What's it going to take to break the streak?
"We need to take our play to another level," Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said.
High school talk, but true nonetheless. Every time the Crimson takes the floor, it leaves some part of its game on the bench.
Against Colgate, the perimeter shooting failed to show up. Converted guard Tyler Rullman and forward Peter Condakes combined to shoot 1 for 7 from three-point territory.
But even when all the talent shows up, the Crimson can't put it together. Choking in key situations cost Harvard wins against Boston University and Dartmouth.
Even worse has been the defense, as Sullivan has tried to convert his team from the wild, open-court style former Coach Peter Roby preached, to the methodical, half-court offense, man-to-man defense Sullivan favors.
"It's been a really tough adjustment for the players," Sullivan said. "Most of the starters have played three years under zone defenses."
Playing the half-court game Sullivan wants is made more difficult by the personnel he is able to field.
Harvard is loaded at forward and weak at guard, forcing Sullivan to start a freshman point guard and four forwards.
The need for a second guard, a backup to Jared Leake at point guard is pressing. Now, when Leake sits down, Rullman shifts to the point position.
In Harvard's loss to Fairfield, Rullman turned the ball over six times while running the point. Clearly, he is not the solution to the ballhandling problem.
Neither are guards James White and Dave LaPoint. While they are both good shooters, they are not yet skilled enough at dribbling and passing to spell Leake.
It's enough to make Sullivan yearn for last year's point guard, academic casualty Tarik Campbell.
"If Tarik, without ever having practiced, got straight off the train and onto the court, I tell you he would make a huge difference for us," Sullivan said.
Campbell's not due back until next season, though. In the meantime, the Crimson needs to work some magic.
The cards are stacked against the players. New system, new philosophy, one point guard.
It's up to the players to raise their game to overcome these obstacles. And to do it soon--before this season goes down as a monument to futility.
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