Harvard men’s basketball is back in the driver’s seat heading into the second half of the Ivy League season.
Coming off a weekend sweep against Princeton and Penn, the Crimson (12-11, 7-1 Ivy League) currently shares the top spot in the Ancient Eight with the previously undefeated Quakers. Harvard’s two weekend opponents, Yale and Brown, sit tied in third with .500 conference records. Despite the Crimson’s sizable cushion from the Bulldogs (11-13, 4-4) and Bears (11-10, 4-4) in the current standings, Harvard was considerably challenged by both teams in their prior matchups this season, sneaking by with single-digit wins.
The game order is also flipped compared to the last weekend series, with Brown the earlier opponent. Having a much-anticipated, nationally televised Yale game the night after, Friday night’s matchup against a young Bears team may be even more dangerous as a textbook trap game.
“Brown’s our next opponent so that’s what we’ll be looking to first,” sophomore forward Chris Lewis said. “Yale is a very difficult, great team as well, but we take our games once at a time, so when we get to Yale we’ll prepare for that as well, accordingly.”
Last weekend, the Crimson faced a unique scheduling anomaly with the Saturday Penn game tipping off at 4 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. start time. The schedule is no less peculiar this time around, as Harvard will participate in a rare late-night affair against Yale at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night. This sacrifice in normality was likely made to accommodate ESPNU, which will be featuring No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor during primetime hours followed by Harvard-Yale.
For Amaker, this two-plus hour shift back will not affect the team’s regular routine, but some slight modifications will be made to keep the players energized prior to tip-off.
“Normally we don’t have our shoot-around on the second day,” Amaker said. “We feel it is at least better to get them up and doing something during the day so they are not feeling like they are just lounging and laying around all day and being sluggish. We are tinkering with our schedule to see if it can work better for a later tip-off time.”
Before welcoming Yale, the Crimson will need to first contain a upstart Brown program. A significant reason why coach Mike Martin’s Bears have stayed in contention for the top four is their knack for holding onto late-game victories. Last weekend, a 23-point performance from freshman standout guard Desmond Cambridge and double-digit numbers from four other Bears helped the team close out an overtime win against Columbia.
Despite injuring his ankle late in that contest, Cambridge—who leads the Ivies in conference scoring with 21.6 points per game—stated that his ankle issue was non-serious. The freshman guard’s athleticism, which he showcased against the Lions with a fastbreak 360 dunk, bounds to pose defensive challenges for the Harvard backcourt.
“For me, I think it’s taking it one step at a time with him, switching on ball screens or any action away from the ball,” sophomore forward Justin Bassey said. “A lot of times he’ll catch, wait, you’ll put your hand down, and then he’ll shoot. Or understanding that he’s a righty, he wants to go to the right. It’s more of a team effort now that we’re switching.”
In the Jan. 27 contest against Brown, the Crimson took advantage of a turnover-prone Bears team, racking up nine steals and forcing 14 giveaways. This type of aggressiveness earned Harvard 18 points off turnovers, but also contributed to several easy alley-oops and opportunities at the rim as Brown put up 77 game points, the most the Crimson has allowed this season in its 12 wins.
In particular, junior guard Obi Okolie and freshman forward Tamenang Choh will need to be contained as athletic rim finishers.
“They are a dangerous team...very athletic,” Amaker said. “Sometimes going for steals you can gamble or over commit and open the floor up for them. That’s not the team that you want to do that against. Even if we don’t have as many steals, that doesn’t mean we aren’t playing really good defense.”
While the Bears’ attacking abilities will be a point of emphasis for Amaker, the following night’s contest against the Bulldogs will be focused on limiting Yale coach James Jones’ pass-heavy offense.
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