The Harvard men's basketball team will try to salvage what is becoming an increasingly lost season tonight at Princeton and tomorrow night at Penn.
The Crimson (4-16 overall, 2-6 Ivy) has taken a disastrous turn of late, losing 13 out of its last 14 games. And in a particularly malevolent twist, Harvard has added new meaning to the old adage "it is worse to lose by one than by thirty" by making most of those losses excruciatingly close.
Harvard had hoped to build confidence going into this weekend's two tough road games by playing well last weekend at home, but that wish was summarily squashed by the team's come from ahead losses.
Against Brown last Friday, the Crimson had as much as a nine point advantage in the second half and was still leading, 62-60, with under four minutes remaining before falling 66-62. And versus hated rival Yale the next night, Harvard was up by 12 in the first half and still led by six points with under eight minutes to play before losing 73-65.
Add these tales of woe to five Harvard losses when tied at the half, and three more Crimson defeats after leading with under five minutes to play, and a clear pattern emerges. One is reminded of the young Ivan Lendl before he beat John McEnroe by coming back from two sets down in the 1984 finals of the French Open--talent to take the early lead, but lacking the intangibles to close the win.
But there is honey on the rim of the medicine glass. Close losses do show that the team has the ingredients to be a winner, but merely lacks the consistency to chalk up the 'W's. This is certainly the case with the young Harvard club, which displays definite talent.
Kyle Snowden, a sleek 6'5" forward, is the prototypical example of this. Only a sophomore, he is second in the Ivy League in field goal percentage (54.9 percent), third in rebounding (7.3 boards per game), eighth in scoring (13.3 points per game), and ninth in free throw percentage (71.9 percent). Moreover, he leads Harvard in blocked shots.
Snowden is joined in the frontcourt by Mike Gilmore, a 6'6" marksmen who is closing in on Mike Gielen's '89 all-time Crimson record for three pointers made. Gilmore is averaging 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Harvard's backcourt is anchored by senior Dan Morris, who is second in the Ivy League in steals at 2.3 per game (behind teammate captain Jared Leake at 2.5) and second in assists at 4.6 per game.
The Crimson have turned to two new youngsters in the other two starting spots in recent weeks. Freshmen Paul Fisher--who was the Ivy Rookie of the Week on February 4--is starting at center in place of the injured Darren Rankin, and sophomore David Demian is starting at the off-guard.
In the four games prior to tonight's, Fisher averaged 8.8 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game, and Demian averaged 11.3 points per contest and 3.8 boards per game.
The Harvard engine will have to fire on all pistons this weekend. Princeton, a perennial Ivy powerhouse, is 4-3 in the league and 10-9 overall. The Tigers swept Columbia and Cornell last weekend, and are a balanced team, with no scorer in the Ivy top ten.
Princeton junior forward Chris Doyal has had the hot hand of late. He was named to the Ivy Honor Roll last week based on a 30 point, 17 rebound, and six steal weekend.
Penn, on the other hand, is like no other Ivy team in recent memory, save perhaps a few vintage Princeton Kit Mueller teams of the late 1980's.
The Quakers (7-0 Ivy, 15-3 overall) are led by lottery candidate Jerome Allen. Their only weakness is in the middle, but Harvard does not exactly posses a Phi Slamma Jamma Olajuwon-Micheaux-Young frontcourt.
Harvard was blown out in its earlier meeting with Penn, 90-63, on January 6 at Briggs Cage. In that contest, the Crimson let the game slip away at the beginning of the second half.
This time, Harvard will need to keep the game close to have a chance. Like Villanova proved against Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Finals, an underdog needs to stay close to win.
In order to pull off the upset, Harvard will have to throw a wrench at the Allen-Matt Maloney Quaker backcourt. Maloney lit up Brown for 36 on February 4, and he and Allen form what some pundits have called the best two guard combination in the land.
With this in mind, Morris and Demian will have to be at the top of their games. Although improbable, if they come up big, and the Crimson roll in with some momentum from a win the night before at Princeton, and Gilmore finds his rhythm from the arc, and Snowden steps up against the best the Ivies have to offer....
As Tony Kubek always says, "Anything under the sun is possible."
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