Crimson cram for Thursday's big test
March, 19, 2013
By Jack McCluskey | ESPNBoston.com
An odd thing happens once the Selection Sunday-fueled adrenalin rush wears off and teams get down to the business of preparing to play tournament basketball: Many teams realize they know next to nothing about their opponent.
That’s what happened to the Harvard Crimson on Sunday night, when they found out they would be facing the New Mexico Lobos on Thursday in Salt Lake City (9:50 p.m. ET, TNT).
Not only have the two schools never met on the hardwood, but hardly any of the Crimson have even seen the Lobos play (Tommy Amaker joked Sunday night that he hoped his players were studying late at night, when their upcoming opponent would’ve been playing in Mountain West action, rather than watching TV).
And so while the athletic department staff scrambled to book flights and lodging for the tournament, the coaching staff began the mad dash to tipoff by searching for game film and scouring scouting reports.
On Monday morning, Amaker participated in a conference call with reporters. He’d seen a few game films on Steve Alford’s team in the hours since the announcement, and had a little better idea exactly what the Crimson will be up against.
“[The Lobos are] a big, strong team. A talented team,” he said. “A team that may not be in one of the bigger, higher-profile name conferences, has kind of gone under the radar nationally in some circles. But I think basketball people recognize a team that has won 29 games and has won their league, and has had a sensational season.”
He didn’t stop there.
“The thing that comes through loud and clear right away is that (1) they’re talented, (2) that they have great balance and (3) that they’re big,” Amaker said. “They’re a team that has a lot of size up front. And when I say balance, they have a number of guys that can score, they can score in and they can score out. … They have a lot of confidence in what they do.”
According to ESPN Insider’s Charlie Creme, Alford’s team relies on a lot of motion and getting to the free-throw line on offense, and on defending well without fouling on defense. Led by the 2012-13 Mountain West Player of the Year, Kendall Williams (14.0 PPG, 5.0 ASG), the Lobos finished the season ranked No. 15 in the country and reached as high as No. 11.
Every member of their starting five is 6-foot-3 or taller: Alex Kirk, 7-feet; Cameron Bairstow, 6-9; Tony Snell, 6-7; Williams, 6-4; Hugh Greenwood, 6-3.
Harvard’s tallest player, meanwhile, is Michael Hall, a 6-foot-10 freshman who has played 17 minutes in his college career. And Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, arguably the Crimson’s best players, stand just 6 feet and 6-foot-5.
The Crimson will have their work cut out for them defending the paint and trying to hold their own on the glass (where the Lobos thrive). But there are areas in which they may be able to do damage.
Specifically, the areas behind the 3-point arc.
While Alford’s team defends very well inside the arc, it struggles to defend outside of it -- where the Lobos rank 240th in the country in 3-point percentage defense, according to KenPom.com.
Harvard, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the country in 3-point shooting, finishing at 40.1 percent as a team. The Crimson are led from behind the line by Laurent Rivard, who hit 74 three-pointers in 2012-13, tying a school record, and led the charge in the tourney last season with a 6-for-7 showing on 3s in the 79-70 loss to Vanderbilt.
And though there’s still a lot to learn and a game plan to construct, the Crimson know a great deal more now about the challenge awaiting them than they did Sunday night.
“They’re not 29-5, a 3-seed and the champions of their conference for nothing,” Amaker said. “This is one of the better teams in the country.”
One the Crimson and their fans will be much better acquainted with come Thursday night.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.