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As Harvard coach Frank Sullivan has already said on numerous occasions this year, the Crimson men’s basketball team is the youngest in recent memory and has no veteran or “rudder” to steer the team on the correct course.
And at 0-3—its worst start since Sullivan took over the head coaching job during the 1991-92 season—it’s not hard to tell that Harvard’s ship is a little off its mark.
But it’s going to take more than just a favorable breeze if the Crimson hopes to get that elusive first win when it hosts Maine (3-1) at 7 p.m. tonight.
A good start to its game would be, well, a start.
Harvard has developed a trend of coming out sluggishly, creeping back within striking range and then ultimately falling. In the first halves of its games, the Crimson has been outscored by 18 points (100-82), while essentially breaking even in the second halves (113-112).
“We just need to start the game off the way we’ve been finishing,” sophomore forward Matt Stehle said. “If we just start the game off strong and play the game the way we can play, we’ll get there.”
Statistically speaking, the numbers back up this claim. However lopsided 0-3 may look, Harvard has only been outscored by an average of 6.3 points, outrebounded by 4.3 per game and out-shot by 16 percent. The Crimson has actually committed fewer turnovers than its opponents (54-57).
Such small differences on paper seem to indicate that Harvard just has to improve its quality of play a little bit, but in a wide range of categories. And although the Crimson may hold the overall edge in turnovers this season, it managed to commit 24 in its most recent contest against New Hampshire.
The men in crimson aren’t lost at sea, they just need a little more time on the water.
And while Harvard may be in a bit of downswing, the Black Bears appear to be in the exact opposite position, having won three straight. Leading Maine are sophomore guard Kevin Reed with 14.5 points per game and junior forward David DuBois with 7.8 rebounds per game.
One player the Crimson should try to exploit is Black Bears point guard Eric Dobson, who has offset his 7.0 assists average with a rather unimpressive 6.8 turnovers per game.
Harvard must also improve its rebounding capabilities, an area of particular concern, especially before Saturday’s game against UNH, which it came into having been out-rebounded 87-74.
Maine has out-rebounded its opponents 171- 133 overall and 123-82 on the offensive.
Sophomore guard Mike Beal leads the team in rebounding, but he’s only 6’4. It’s going to be tough to combat the Black Bears’s towering tandem of DuBois (6’9) and forward Mark Flavin (6’10). The pressure will be on junior 6’8 forwards Graham Beatty and Stehle, who are only pulling down a combined eight boards per game, despite being the tallest healthy members of the team.
“We need to out-work them, out-hustle them,” Stehle said. “Clearly they’re a little taller, but that doesn’t mean we can’t out-rebound them.”
Any hopes of the return of Harvard’s standout big man, seven-foot sophomore Brian Cusworth, should be put on ice.
“We’re not sure at this point [of the return date],” said Cusworth, the Crimson’s tallest player and best low-post threat. “They said at first four to six weeks, but the doctors said six to eight on crutches. It’s been four weeks already. It might be more weeks of rehab. After that, well see what the doctor says.”
The Crimson must also avoid focusing too much of its defensive efforts against the Black Bears’ big men. Against UNH, Harvard managed to effectively shut down Ben Sturgill, the team’s center and leading scorer coming into the game.
But the defensive concentration left the Crimson vulnerable at the perimeter, and the Wildcats hit ten three-pointers during the game and shot 77.8 percent from behind the arc during the first half.
Most important for Harvard, however, will be playing the first half as well as it has been playing the second.
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