Monday, October 3, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 25 Harvard Crimson

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 23-7, 12-2 (t-1st Ivy), lost to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NIT

Head Coach: Tommy Amaker

Key Losses: None

Newcomers: Kenyatta Smith, Wesley Saunders, Corbin Miller, Jonah Travis, Steve Moundou-Missi, Max Hooper

Projected Lineup:

- G: Brandyn Curry, Jr.
- G: Oliver McNally, Sr.
- F: Christian Webster, Jr.
- F: Kyle Casey, Jr.
- C: Keith Wright, Sr.
- Bench: Laurent Rivard, So.; Kenyatta Smith, Fr.; Wesley Saunders, Fr.; Corbin Miller, Fr.; Steve Moundou-Missi, Fr.

Outlook: Last season was, arguably, the greatest in the history of Harvard's basketball program. But you would be hard-pressed to find a fan of the Crimson that wasn't left with a bad taste in their mouth when the 2010-2011 season came to an end. After clinching a share of the Ivy League's regular season title for the first time in school history, Harvard fans rushed the court. But it was all in vain, as Princeton beat Penn later that day to force a one-game playoff for the Ivy's bid to the NCAA Tournament. Princeton won on a buzzer-beating floater from Douglas Davis.

The good news for Harvard fans? They play in the Ivy, which means that a team without a senior on the roster will bring back everyone of consequence from last season while also adding a talented incoming recruiting class, one that includes players that show up on Top 100 lists.

Last season, Harvard was as balanced as any team in the country, but they weren't terribly deep. Using a rotation that rarely went further than the sixth-man, each of those six players averaged between 9.6 ppg and 14.8 ppg. The Crimson's perimeter attack is going to be loaded this season. It starts with Brandyn Curry, the guy that averaged 9.6 ppg last season. Curry, a junior, is the team's starting point guard and one of the best distributor's in the country, ranking 26th nationally with a 35.2% assist rate while averaging 5.9 apg. He can stand to cut down on his turnovers a bit (2.4 per game). Curry is more than just a distributor, however. He's a tough defender and a guy that made a lot of key plays late in games for the Crimson.

Joining him in the starting line up will, once again, be senior Oliver McNally and junior Christian Webster. Webster is a 6'5" wing and a talented scorer. He's a dangerous enough shooter that you have to play up on him, but he's also capable of using his dribble to get to the rim. McNally is more of a role player, but he's very efficient and understands what his job on this team is. He doesn't take a ton of shots, but he knocks down open threes, he makes clutch free throws and he gets his points within the framework of the offense.

The x-factor for this team may end up being sophomore Laurent Rivard. I'd expect Rivard to once again come off the bench at the start of the season, but he might be the most dangerous returner on the perimeter. Rivard is a big-time scorer, the kind of player that can get hot and complete change the course of a game. He will be an all-Ivy player before he leaves Harvard. Sophomore Matt Brown and freshman Corbin Miller may be able to work their way into the rotation as well.

While Harvard's back court is talented, experienced and deep, its their front court that will allow them to compete with some of the top programs in the country. Keith Wright, a 6'8" behemoth and the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, is the anchor of this team. He's the definition of a handful on the block. The 240 lb senior really understands how to get position and uses his strength to hold that position. His low-post game is developed enough that he can score with his back to the basket, but he is also a terrific offensive rebounder.

Joining Wright inside will be junior Kyle Casey. At 6'7", Casey is the kind of athlete that you rarely see at the Ivy level. He had a bit of a frustrating season in 2010-2011 as he played much of last season on a broken foot, but when he is healthy, he provides the perfect high-flying compliment to Wright's land-warrior style of play. Senior Andrew Van Nest and junior Jeff Georgatos played limited minutes off the bench last season to provide those two with some rest, but don't be surprised to see those roles taken over by a couple of freshmen. Wesley Saunders is a bruising, 6'5" combo-forward from California that will be a real matchup problem once he solidifies his jumper. Steve Moundou-Missi is a physical, around the rim power forward. Both kids come in with a rep for playing exceptionally hard, which is what you look for in freshmen that will be playing limited minutes.

Harvard certainly has the talent to make a run at the Ivy League title and, potentially, an at-large bid into the tournament. The latter is a bit of a stretch, as playing in the Ivy League is devastating to a team's computer numbers. If there is a key to the season, it will be consistency. There were a number of games this past season in which Harvard was forced to make a second-half comeback. If they can put together 40 minutes games all season long, Harvard is talented enough to make a lot of noise this season.

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