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PREVIEW: Men's Basketball Challenges In-State Foe UMass

Getting Those Minutes
Junior forward Robert Baker has seen more consistent playing time early on this season.
It is New England Atlantic 10 week for Harvard men’s basketball, with two challenging games against UMass and the University of Rhode Island before Harvard-Yale. The Rams await the Crimson on Friday night, but it is a trip westwards on the Mass Pike Tuesday that is the central focus for coach Tommy Amaker’s side. Those early afternoon class stragglers should hurry, as even an early encounter with the rush hour exodus outwards of Boston will simply be a nightmare.

And fun fact — on the call for Tuesday night’s intra-state bout on NESN at 7 PM will be Red Sox radio play-by-play announcer Tim Neverett alongside Amaker’s predecessor, 17-year Crimson head coach Frank Sullivan. Some Bostonian flavor indeed.

The Minutemen(2-0) will trot out a radically different line-up than the team which fell to Harvard (1-1) early last season, thanks to the last-minute heroics of then-sophomore guard Bryce Aiken. More on the Crimson squad in a bit, but for UMass, coach Matt McCall no longer possesses the depleted roster that hobbled to a 13-20 record in his inaugural campaign at Amherst.

This revamped Minutemen squad includes several transfers who were required under NCAA policy to sit out last season. Two of those transfers are now starting for UMass, namely redshirt juniors Jonathan Laurent and Curtis Cobb, originally playing at Rutgers and Fairfield respectively. Cobb was the sixth-ranked high school recruit coming out of Massachusetts in 2015 and averaged 11.5 points for the Stags in his two seasons there, while three-star prospect Laurent started 23 out of 58 appearances with the Scarlet Knights.

Two redshirt sophomores round out McCall’s transfer class. Kieran Hayward, a 6’ 4” guard who previously suited up for the LSU Tigers, joins former Memphis product Keon Clergeot as key bench contributors for the Minutemen.

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This is of course not to discount the potent trio of returning players for UMass, including junior playmaking maestro Luwane Pipkins, sophomore scoring weapon Carl Pierre, and voluminous fifth-year big Rashaan Holloway. In last season’s overtime thriller at Lavietes Pavilion, this threesome accounted for 40 of the Minutemen’s 67 total points.

Although Pierre had a quiet game against the Crimson, the Boston College HS product finished his rookie season averaging 12.3 PPG and shooting an astounding .472 mark from deep. Last Tuesday against UMass Lowell, Pierre tallied 21 points converting on nine field goals. Pipkins, a crafty 5-foot-11 ball handler, was nabbed as the A-10 Most Improved Player after a second year campaign in which he averaged 21.1 PPG alongside 4.0 APG. Holloway, a 6’ 11” 310-pound “big”, gave the Crimson issues in the paint last season and will look again to muscle his way against the likes of Chris Lewis and Henry Welsh.

UMass is coming off a 104-75 breezewalk over the University of New Hampshire, which witnessed a 9-of-11 textbook display of Holloway’s interior dominance. Complementing the big man’s 18 points included double-digit tallies for four other Minutemen, including a perfect 3-of-3 from long-distance threat Cobb. Prior to this game, UMass officially opened its season against UMass Lowell in a tight 83-75 victory. Pierre and Pipkins led the team in scoring with a combined 40 points in the contest.

THINGS TO WATCH ON THE HARVARD SIDE

With arguably the team’s two most dangerous weapons still sidelined with knee injuries (juniors Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns), it will be interesting to see given UMass’ presence down low how dependent the Crimson will be on junior big Chris Lewis’s interior offense. First year Noah Kirkwood was severely restricted by foul trouble last game after amassing three personals in the span of less than one minute. A slew of three-pointers (11-of-23) defined Friday’s loss against Northeastern, so much hangs in the balance of Harvard’s streaky shooting.

But the narrative around the team remains its need to make defensive improvements. Allowing 35 points from the Huskies’ Jordan Roland was deemed as “unacceptable” by the team. Northeastern employed a heavy horns-style pick-and-roll offense and generated a plethora of opportunities for open threes in the corners. With its main offensive weapons still sidelined (outside of Lewis), the Crimson simply cannot afford to let up another 80-plus point mark on the defensive end.

The lines give this one to UMass at 3.0 points. Expect another tight game, but the edge looks to be with the Minutemen in this one.

Current KenPom Rankings:

100-Harvard

136-UMass

— Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at henry.zhu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Zhuhen88.

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