Harvard boasts an impressive 8-0 record, a pair of elite big men and the first-ever Top 25 ranking in program history.
But are the Crimson capable of keeping their undefeated record intact by upsetting ninth-ranked UConn on its own home floor Thursday night? That's the question I posed today to an assistant coach whose team has faced Harvard already this season.
The coach evaluated Harvard's strengths and weaknesses on offense and defense and gave his thoughts on the matchup with UConn and the Crimson's chances of doing damage in March. I granted the coach anonymity to assure honesty.
An opposing assistant coach on Harvard:
1. "I give Harvard a shot against UConn. I don't know if their guard play is dynamic enough for them to be a true top 25 team, but I think their bigs are terrific. Both of their bigs are player of the year-type guys in that league, but we didn't feel very threatened off the bounce by their guards."
2. "Defensively what we really wanted to do was guard their bigs straight up and not have to bring help and double. It's a credit to (coach Tommy) Amaker. He has those guys playing so unselfishly on offense that any advantage you give them by doubling inside or bringing extra help off the dribble, they're going to whip the ball around until they find the absolute best shot possible. We just wanted to be sound in our help and not have to bring extra guys because we were very aware of how unselfish they were. They'll really pick you apart."
3. "Wright and Casey are excellent. Wright is a true five in my opinion. He's back-to-the-basket guy. He's a bigger than Casey. Since I've seen him play, he's in the best shape he's been in and he's able to score going either way in the post. Casey will bounce from the inside to the perimeter. I don't think he shot it great from three last year, but he's definitely very good from 15 to 18 feet, he can put it down from that range and then he can score inside going either way. ... It's going to be a struggle for most teams in their league to cover either guy one-on-one inside, but I would think UConn can do it without bringing extra help."
4. "Our game plan was to crowd everyone except (point guard) Brandyn Curry. We wanted to try to contain him, especially in transition. If he gets an edge on somebody in transition, he has very good vision and he'll make the right play. The other guys like (Oliver) McNally, (Laurent) Rivard and (Christian) Webster, we wanted to close out hard on and try to make them beat us off the dribble. But Curry is the one perimeter guy we wanted to keep from beating us off the bounce. I didn't think he was a jet, but he's quick enough and strong enough to get by you and once he does, he'll make the right play more often than not."
5. "We wanted to really attack them inside because I didn't think they had faced a team that had consistently thrown it inside, but after playing them, the reason for that is they do such a good job on the perimeter giving ball pressure and making it difficult for you to enter the ball to the wing and enter the ball to the post. They're really better defensively than they have been. And I think their depth helps them with that. If someone's not playing hard enough, they'll just bring somebody in right away. They play 10 guys, so it demands max effort out of those guys."
6. "I think if you have a really good backcourt and you can beat Harvard off the dribble, that's a way to expose their defense. We were telling our guys, 'The ball is going to be pressured and they're going to be working hard to deny passes, so what will be open are driving lanes.' I didn't think we had the backcourt to expose that as much as possible, but a Shabazz Napier? I think he can get by a Brandyn Curry and make plays."
7. "With the right matchup, I think they can definitely win a game in the NCAA tournament. They've done a great job in recruiting and now they're meshing that talent with a style of play that's working for them. They play really hard and they're doing a great job. And it's a cool story because it's Harvard."
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