Penn's Rosen a challenge for Harvard

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The No. 21 Crimson expect to have their hands full on Friday night.

At 20-2 overall and 6-0 in the Ivy League, Harvard is off to the best start in school history and sits in first place in the Ancient Eight. In third place? Friday night’s opponent, Penn, at 12-10 and 4-1 a half-game behind Yale (15-5, 5-1).

The Quakers have Zack Rosen to thank for that.

Rosen is averaging 18.3 points, 6.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 38.1 minutes a game as a senior. And he’s proven capable of rising up when his team needs him most.

“Yeah, he’s been killing it,” Crimson captain Oliver McNally said. “If you look at his numbers they’re pretty impressive. … He’s been by far the focal point of their team. They have some other talented players but when he’s going they’re going as a team, and if he has an off night I think they haven’t been too successful as a team.

“He’s gonna be the main focus of our defense.”

Asked how he plans to defend Rosen, coach Tommy Amaker laughed.

“Hopefully he kinda gets lost coming to the gym,” he joked. “He’s so good. I really have a great deal of respect for him and his play. He’s been as good as anyone in our league this year.”

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard leads the Ivy League in assists and is second in scoring.

“He has the ball in his hands so much,” Amaker said. “He’s similar to what I used to refer to about Jeremy Lin -- it’s not always the points he scores, it’s the points he’s responsible for. He scores a lot and he’s responsible for many more, which make him incredibly dangerous.”

McNally said he’s confident that Brandyn Curry’s on-ball defense can slow Rosen, with help from the rest of his teammates. The Crimson D ranks third in the country, allowing only 53.6 points per game.

“We’re hopeful one, he can maybe have an off day, two, he is in foul trouble, and three, we can limit his touches,” Amaker said of defending Rosen. “It’s gonna be an incredible challenge for us to keep him under wraps, and I’m not sure that that’s possible.

“We’ll try to rotate different people on him and see if there’s a way that we can possibly keep him to a level that doesn’t absolutely destroy us. He’s capable of dominating a game and putting his team on his back. He’s a bear.”

If the Crimson hope to leave the Palestra with a win on Friday night, defending Rosen is a burden they’ll have to bear well.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.