SPOKANE, Wash.—On Thursday afternoon (2:10 EST, TNT), the Harvard men’s basketball team will take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In part II of his two-part preview, staff writer David Freed looks at the individual matchups of the competing squads.
Point Guard: Ge’Lawn Guyn v. Siyani Chambers:
After being the first guard off the bench for two consecutive years, Guyn has started every game for the Bearcats this year. Like the rest of the Cincinnati backcourt, Guyn is a feisty defender, who ranked fourth on the team in steals during the regular season. His offensive game, like most of his fellow Wildcats, can’t hold a candle to his defensive effort, but he has improved his three-point shooting efficiency in each campaign (31.5 percent in 2013-2014).
Although Guyn has already defended the likes of Louisville’s Russ Smith and UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright in conference play, Chambers is a different matchup as he is more of a facilitator than a score-first point guard. The 6’2” Guyn will need to use his length to bother the generously listed 6’0” Chambers and disrupt the pick-and-rolls that the Crimson love to run with its sophomore point guard.
Shooting Guard: Sean Kilpatrick v. Wesley Saunders:
This is definitely the matchup to keep your eye on heading into the game. Kilpatrick, the Bearcats’ leading scorer at 20.7 points per contest, is a finalist for the Naismith Award. Like Saunders, who was named Ivy League Player of the Year, Kilpatrick logs big minutes (nearly 34 per game) while leading his team on both ends of the floor. The tenacious fifth-year senior is an excellent individual defender who Cronin counts on to lead the Cincy offense.
Saunders doesn’t take nearly the volume of shots that Kilpatrick—who takes 27 percent of his team’s field goal attempts and 29 percent of its free throws—does, but he is a similarly large cog in a balanced Crimson attack. Coach Tommy Amaker counts on Saunders to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player while creating for both himself (14.0 points per game) and others (4.7 assists per game) on the other end.
Both teams’ hopes rest on their respective stars being able to shut down the other while continuing to contribute on the offensive end. Harvard and Cincinnati are just 11-8 when their stars make less than 35 percent of their shots, and a combined 42-2 otherwise.
Small Forward: Shaquille Thomas v. Laurent Rivard:
The two small forwards could not be more different. Thomas clawed his way into the starting lineup after playing single-digit minutes in six of eight contests in the middle of the season; Rivard has been an established starter since his freshman year. Thomas makes his living inside, crashing the offensive glass, while Rivard prefers to hang around the perimeter and make opponents pay for leaving him open behind the arc.
The way this matchup swings could be a huge factor in the game. If Thomas and Cincinnati cannot impose themselves inside, they will struggle to score against a good cadre of Crimson perimeter defenders. Likewise, if Rivard cannot shake Thomas, Harvard will lose a crucial dimension of its offense.
Power Forward: Titus Rubles v. Steve Moundou-Missi
One of Cincinnati’s three starting seniors, Rubles does a little bit of everything for the Bearcats. Although he is not a great shooter at 40 percent from the field, Rubles pulls down almost seven rebounds a game, chipping in two assists, one block, and a steal per contest to boot.
He will be asked to defend Harvard’s most polished post presence in Moundou-Missi, who has developed into a double-digit scorer in his third year. The Yaoundé, Cameroon native shot a career-high 54.4 percent from the field this season, while playing exceptional weak-side defense. The junior’s ability to establish himself inside early will be crucial as Harvard tries to implement its inside-out attack.
Center: Justin Jackson v. Kyle Casey