A year removed from the first season that saw Harvard fail to win at least a share of the Ivy League title for the first time since 2010, the Crimson enter its conference slate nearly unrecognizable from the squad that went 6-8 in the Ivy League just a year ago.
Entering its first conference matchup of the season, against Dartmouth, Harvard (6-5) is led by a combination of young and veteran talent—its two leading scorers come in the form of freshman Bryce Aiken and classmate Seth Towns. Aiken comes in averaging nearly 15 points a game while Towns has added 12 points per contest.
While the two have anchored the Crimson on offense, much of Harvard coach Tommy Amaker’s offense still runs through senior point guard Siyani Chambers. Through 11 games, the Minnesota native has averaged 6.8 assists per game, good for seventh-best in the nation.
Despite Chambers manning the floor for the Crimson, Harvard will still likely turn to the freshman class as a whole to score. In its matchup against Vermont last week, the Crimson’s rookies combined for 56 of Harvard’s 71 points. Before that, playing against Howard, the Crimson’s freshman went for 48 of Harvard’s 67. In total, every one of the Crimson’s freshmen has seen the floor this season, with five of the seven averaging over 15 minutes a game.
“It’s understanding that this is what it’s going to be like in the league and having that mentality,” said co-captain Corbin Miller after a grind-it-out win against Fordham. “The key, this year with some of the young guys too, is just understanding how the college game works.”
As Harvard squares off against the Big Green (3-10), it will be a facing off against a squad that is perhaps a bit more seasoned.
While Dartmouth brought in six freshmen this year, none start or see significant playing time for first-year coach David McLaughlin. Instead the Big Green has looked to sophomores Evan Boudreaux and Guilien Smith, who have combined to average 28.6 points per game.
Despite the standout performances from the two sophomores, Dartmouth comes into tonight’s matchup having struggled in non-conference play. The Big Green lost its first nine games to kick off the season before a win at LIU Brooklyn on December 18th. Since then, Dartmouth is are 2-1 and coming off a loss to Cal State Bakersfield.
The Crimson for its part has seen mixed results in its non-conference slate. At one point 1-4, Harvard won five in a row including wins against Boston College and Houston. The Crimson last saw action on January 2nd in an 82-71 loss to Vermont. While it couldn’t pull the late upset, Harvard had five players in double figures for the first time this season.
Dartmouth comes into the matchup averaging just over 66 points per game while allowing its opponents to score 73. The Crimson, for its part, comes in averaging 69 while allowing nearly 66.
In most of its losses, and on display last week against Vermont, the difference for Harvard has been its defense. In its loss to the Catamounts, the Crimson was outrebounded, 34-21, and 15- 5 on the offensive end.
While the Crimson has gone hot and cold on defense, senior Zena Edosomwan’s presence in the paint will be key to the outcome against Dartmouth. In games in which he collects seven or more rebounds, Harvard is 3-1. Coming into tonight’s matchup, Boudreaux leads the Big Green with nine rebounds per game. Ultimately Edosomwan’s presence in the paint will be key to holding off Dartmouth on the inside.
“Guys are definitely growing, getting better, getting more experience,” said Edosomwan following the Fordham game. “Hopefully we can keep progressing and getting things done.”
Notably new to the Ivy League this season, however, will be a conference tournament. While in years past a nearly unblemished record was the key to dancing come March, a four-team conference tournament will decide the winner of the Ivy League for the first time in history.
—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.