Saturday, November 26, 2011

Harvard 59, Central Florida 49

[recap] [box score]

Last week, a Northwestern team that has never been to the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice by winning the Charleston Classic. This week, a Harvard team that also has never been to the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice by winning the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

Harvard blew out a terrible Utah team in the first round, stunned Florida State in a brick-fest in the semis, then beat UCF rather easily in Saturday's final.

In many ways, Harvard is a stereotypical Ivy team. They don't have a standout player; they slow the tempo down; they shoot well; they move the ball extremely well; and they play smart.

But it's looking possible that the Crimson are actually a really good defensive team, too. Among their five Division I opponents so far this season, only Holy Cross has shot better than 42.6 percent from the field against Harvard. In the three Battle 4 Atlantis games, Crimson opponents shot just 35.2 percent from the field and made but a quarter of their three-point attempts.

I'm not ready to declare them an elite defensive team because the court at Battle 4 Atlantis was a bit peculiar. It was staged inside a resort ballroom, and the stands were dark, which could have created a difficult background against which to shoot. Harvard's semifinal game with Florida State was historically anemic offensively; the Seminoles didn't score for the first 11-plus minutes and the teams were tied at 14. On the other hand, FSU is an elite defensive team and neither they nor Connecticut had much trouble shooting the ball on Saturday, so there is plenty of evidence suggesting that it wasn't just the atmosphere causing people problems shooting the ball against Harvard.

Tommy Amaker has created a schedule that -- theoretically, at least -- gives his team a chance for an at-large bid should they falter in the Ivy. Connecticut, George Washington, and St. Joseph's are probably the toughest teams remaining on the schedule, with Boston College in a rebuilding year.

The problem with an at-large case for Harvard is that the Ivy League has neither a post-season tournament nor another elite team. The Ivy sends its regular-season champion to the NCAAs, with a playoff game resolving any ties at the top. (Harvard lost to Princeton in such a game last season). Therefore, not winning the Ivy League's automatic bid likely means at least three "bad" losses in conference play.

This win over Florida State will remain a good win all season. Their win over Loyola Marymount looks particularly good now, because LMU opened the season by beating UCLA, but LMU is probably a middle-of-the pack WCC team when all is said and done. Holy Cross, who Harvard also beat, is not the class of the Patriot League this year, and two future Crimson opponents -- Vermont and Boston University -- are not favored to finish 1-2 atop the America East the way we're accustomed to seeing them. So Harvard really has a very small margin of error when it comes to its at-large chances, though another big win or two would certainly give them some more wiggle room.

Of course, it should be a moot point -- they should win the Ivy fairly handily. But it's a long season, and anything can happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment