Friday, December 9, 2011

Harvard's still good, but they needed to play nearly perfect to beat UConn

Harvard is a good team.

Nothing that they did in their 67-53 loss to UConn on Thursday night will dissuade me of that.

They hung with one of the most talented teams in the country for 40 minutes. They banged around in the paint and they knocked down a couple of threes and they had a counter every time UConn landed an "overhand right from Riddick". The Crimson did anything but embarrass themselves against the Huskies. This is a team good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament and put together a win or two.

But what this loss tells us is that Harvard has a ceiling.

Simply put, when the Crimson play an opponent that has this much of a size and athleticism advantage, they are going to have problems. Keith Wright was rendered largely ineffective for the majority of the game, finishing with just nine points and five boards on 3-10 shooting. He's not a leaper and he's not a footwork tactician; Wright is the kind of big man that barrels his way through a post defender, using his girth to create just enough space to get his shot off. Against length like Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi, that strength is nullified.

The other issue that Harvard has is on the perimeter. UConn's length bothered Harvard's shooters after the first couple of minutes. The Crimson looked like they weren't prepared for shots that they normally get off with plenty of time and space to be challenged. Because Harvard didn't necessarily run bad offense. They only turned the ball over 10 times against UConn's smothering defense, and except for a couple minutes early in the second half, Harvard generally moved the ball well and got good looks from the floor. They just missed them.

The question that you have to ask yourself is whether or not you think those misses were the result of UConn's length or if this team just had an off-night.

If this was just an off-night, then who knows, maybe this group can make a Stephen Curry-esque run in the tournament. But if it was the length of UConn that bothered Harvard's shooters, then their tournaments chances are going to be resting on the matchups that they draw.

What We Learned


- I loved the resiliency of this team. There were three or four times during the game where UConn looked like they were on the verge of turning this thing into a laugher, and Harvard never let that happen. They got a couple of big stops and they hit a couple of big shots on a night when they weren't hitting much of anything. I think that says as much about this group as anything.

- Harvard is a scrappy defensive team. They really buy into what Tommy Amaker wants them to do. The biggest reason they were down just 30-28 at the break is that they nullified the UConn pick-and-roll by having the guards jump high-side and forcing Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright to dribble baseline and into the help. They also got more loose balls than the Huskies did and managed to hold the nation's second-best offensive rebounding team to just nine offensive rebounds.

- Of Harvard's 10 turnovers, eight came on UConn steals, meaning that some of those miscues can simply be explained as UConn's defense making a great play.

- Brandyn Curry would be a solid point guard in any league in the country. I firmly believe that.


- This is one of the softest UConn teams I can remember. They weren't diving on the floor for loose balls and they were getting pushed around going to the offensive glass. The guy that sets the tone for this team in that area is Alex Oriakhi, and he's in the midst of a mid-college crisis. The Huskies will be a different team when he becomes their junkyard dog again.

- The fact that Drummond and Oriakhi finished with 10 rebounds between the two of them is astonishing ... and a major problem.

- UConn's best team is when they have Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier sharing the back court and put Jeremy Lamb at the three. That gives them three serious weapons on their perimeter. At this point, they may even be better off using Tyler Olander or Roscoe Smith -- or even Deandre Daniels -- at the four instead of Drummond and Oriakhi being paired up. If UConn isn't going to be overpowering anyone, they might as well use the lineup that can get out and run or spread the floor.

- All that hubbub about where Deandre Daniels was going to go to college, and he's playing as many minutes as Niels Giffey right now.

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