Harvard's historic victory against New Mexico wasn't just a bracket buster, but it was evidence that no team can go overlooked. Arizona certainly doesn't have evidence that the seeding are wrong after handling Belmont easily, but the Crimson could be another dangerous opponent come Saturday. I reached out to Martin Kessler, hoops beat writer for the The Harvard Crimson and a fellow Dime Magazine intern. He talked Harvard hoops, the significance of the Crimson's win against New Mexico (hint: as big as bin Laden) and how the Wildcats might lose.
1) It appears that Arizona will see another extremely good three-point shooting opponent. So give us a quick overview of Harvard's style on both ends. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
While Harvard has certainly been a good three-point shooting team (as evidenced by the team's 8 for 18 performance against New Mexico Thursday) the Crimson's offense is not designed to launch three-pointers. Harvard plays four guards and milks the shot clock on offense. Most sets are designed to get the ball to rookie point guard Siyani Chambers or sophomore wing Wesley Saunders on the perimeter in a position to beat their defender off the dribble. Saunders is particularly effective at drawing fouls at the basket, while Chambers' vision allows him to kick it out to Christian Webster or Laurent Rivard on the perimeter when the defense collapses. On occasion, the Crimson will also dump it down to center Kenyatta Smith or forward Steve Moundou-Missi on the block.
Defensively, the Crimson plays man-to-man almost exclusively. Saunders and Chambers are the team's top perimeter defenders, and will likely be assigned to Hill and Lyons, respectively. Kenyatta Smith-when he's not on the bench with foul trouble-is the Crimson's top interior defender. But the Crimson's frontline is thin, and interior defense has been a problem for Harvard throughout the season. Don't be surprised if Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski have big nights.
2) It looks like Tommy Amaker ran point guard Siyani Chambers and guard Laurent Rivard all 40 minutes last night. Is it safe to say that the Crimson's bench isn't all that deep? Do you think that's a big issue?
That is very safe to say. Amaker has been sticking with a seven-man rotation which consists of one point guard, three wings, and three bigs. Is this a big issue? Yes and no. Yes because Harvard only really has two rotation players who can bring the ball up -- Chambers and Saunders -- so opponents that pressure can really disrupt the Crimson's offense (see Harvard's most recent loss to Penn). Harvard's bigs are also prone to get into foul trouble, which could be a big problem against Arizona. On the flip side, no because the Crimson is used to quick turnarounds after playing lengthy minutes. In the Ivy League, conference games take place on Friday and Saturday nights, so Harvard should be (relatively) fresh coming into Saturday;s game.
3) Arizona will again have a significant size advantage. Against Belmont, the Bruins didn't find a way to break down the Wildcats' defense to get uncontested shots, but Harvard (from the eye test on TV, and maybe you saw this live) looks like a more athletic team. How do you think the Crimson can get open shots? I certainly expect they can break UA down off the dribble better than Belmont.
Sophomore wing Wesley Saunders, who turned down offers from USC and Colorado to join the Crimson, is an elite athlete. (Evidence can be found here). Even against athletic opponents, Saunders has been able to fill the basket (he scored 11 against Memphis, 18 against Cal, and 14 against UConn). What remains to be seen is whether Harvard's bigs can get anything going in the paint.
4) Is it safe to say that Siyani Chambers is Harvard's motor?
To paraphrase Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, Chambers may not the Crimson's best player, but he is its most important. When Harvard lost starting point guard Brandyn Curry in September, Chambers was handed the keys to the Crimson offense, and so far he has done an excellent job. After the regular season, he became the first rookie ever named to the All Ivy First Team. But, as you may have seen on Thursday, he can sometimes get a little too excited and make bad decisions with the ball. Even so, without Chambers, the Crimson would be enjoying Spring Break on the beach somewhere.
5) Going back to the preseason, where did you think this team would be in the postseason? And how much of a hit was it really when the two co-captains, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, left the team (because of an impending investigation)?
This is embarrassing to admit now, but I initially picked Harvard to finish third in the Ivy League preseason poll. So needless to say, I expected the losses of Curry and Casey to be disastrous. The Crimson had already graduated starters Oliver McNally and Keith Wright, and losing two more starters just two months before the season began seemed to be the nail in the coffin. Clearly I wasn't aware of the incredible progress Saunders had made between his freshman and sophomore seasons (he went from averaging 3.3 points to 16.5 points per game) or of Chambers' talent level.
6) We know last night's win was historic, but I feel like Arizona fans are sort of relatively jaded about a single tournament victory. Can you give us a little context about the atmosphere in the locker room after last night and even the reaction back home (links to stories, too)?
I unfortunately didn't make it into the locker room postgame, but from what I hear it was pandemonium. But the student reaction was amazing. I haven't seen so much excitement on Facebook since Osama bin Laden was killed.
7) By the way, how's Salt Lake City? You had a chance to leave the media room to explore much?
While not your traditional Spring Break destination, Salt Lake City has been a fun place to see. I got in on Monday night, so I had a chance to check out the Temple and the State Capital on Tuesday. Both are pretty impressive. That being said, if it weren't for the NCAA tournament, I'd say Cancun or Miami are still better bets for Spring Break.