Thoughts On Hoops





Saying it a lot doesn't make it any better.

Yes, that's right, the men's basket-ball team is 3-13 overall. And yes, that is quite a bit below .500. A long, long, ways below .500, to be precise.


Normally, being 3-13 (hereafter referred to as "That Record") would automatically qualify the Crimson as one of the worst sports teams at Harvard.

"Hey Eric," someone says to me, "you're covering the men's basketball team? What are they, [That Record]? Wow, they really stink!"

I don't really know how to adequately respond to this statement, even though I've heard it many a time. It's a difficult notion to refute easily, but I nevertheless feel that it should be done.

As silly as it may sound, I don't think that the team's really that terrible.

I am fully aware of the facts stacked against me. Besides That Record, there is also That Streak--nine losses in a row, and 11 losses in Harvard's last 12 games. A loss is a loss, the conventional wisdom goes, and teams that get a lot them are, well, bad.

However, I'm going to go out on a limb and not follow that wisdom. I'm gonna say that even though Harvard has That Streak, if you look at each of the losses separately, none of them are that abysmal.

A double overtime loss to Princeton, for example. The Crimson could have--and perhaps should have--won this game, but Harvard didn't play terribly. Yes, the free throw shooting was particularly gross, but the defense did a great job of holding down the Tigers. At worst, it was a subpar game, not an abomination to Dr. Naismith.

There were so many other games during That Streak in which Harvard had a decent chance of winning. Harvard led Hartford and Dartmouth at the half, but fell to both teams. The Crimson were tied with Vermont, B.U., and UNC-Greensboro, but all of those games ended up with L's.

For all of these, there were good reasons that the Crimson didn't win. For instance, in the most recent Dartmouth game on January 14, the Crimson committed 31 fouls (as it did Tuesday in its loss to UNH). Essentially, in the first half--when all those fouls didn't matter too much--Harvard captured a 35-33 lead.

But in the second half, the Crimson had to worry about the infractions piling up and forcing players out of the game. The defense was forced to play a little looser, and the Big Green subsequently ran off with the 73-65 victory.

Giving up 31 fouls is inexcusable, and the Crimson knows that as well as any team. It makes a victory practically impossible.

Nevertheless, such problems are not a sign of acute suck-itude. Saying that a basketball team sucks means that the players have difficulty dribbling with their opposite hands.

The Crimson does not have a problem with those kinds of things. It simple has made a fundamental error in each game during the streak--such as bad free throw shooting against Princeton, or fouling like crazy against Dartmouth--that has out-weighed an otherwise decent game.

The problem is with composure. To win these types of games, Harvard has to play a complete ballgame--something that they have not done yet this year, but have come close to at times.

The team doesn't suck. The Crimson isn't going to beat Kentucky, but it also isn't that all that bad.