Thursday Preview: #24 Harvard at #9 Connecticut

December 8th, 2011

The schedule for Thursday is light in terms of the number of games, but there's an excellent matchup between ranked teams in Storrs to keep an eye on. #9 Connecticut (7-1) hosts #24 Harvard (8-0) with Tommy Amaker's team looking to remain undefeated and retain the program's first Top 25 ranking in school history for another week. An interesting fact regarding this contest is that they could have played in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the Thanksgiving holiday, but UConn's loss to UCF prevented that and Harvard went on to win the tournament. Instead there's just the one meeting, and with freshman guard Ryan Boatright firmly entrenched in the Husky rotation that should spice things up.

The Chicago native's impact has been immediate as he's averaging 18.5 points per game in wins over Florida State and Arkansas, and Boatright is a good fit alongside starters Shabazz Napier (16.8 ppg, 6.1 apg, 4.9 rpg) and Jeremy Lamb (20.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Those two have done the heavy lifting offensively for Jim Calhoun's team, with Napier being the floor general and Lamb the top scoring option. The slender 6'5" shooting guard has taken off since March, benefitting from not only the national title run but also a summer with USA Basketball.

Lamb is a far more assertive offensive player, possessing the ability to score points off the dribble for drives to the basket or pull-up jumpers as well as good catch-and-shoot fundamentals. Harvard counters with a deep and experienced backcourt of its own, with senior Oliver McNally (7.9 ppg, 2.9 apg) and juniors Brandyn Curry (6.6 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Christian Webster (4.5 ppg) getting the starts and Canadian Laurent Rivard (10.1 ppg) supplying the scoring punch off the bench. The Crimson have five players averaging between six and eleven points per game, and offensive balance is usually when Harvard is most efficient. 

The battles inside are likely the ones that fans will focus in on, especially with this being the first chance that some will have had to see Harvard's Keith Wright (11.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Kyle Casey (10.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Both are shooting above 50% from the field with Wright edging closer to 60% by the game, but Casey is the one more likely to step out and take some perimeter shots. Freshman Steve Mondou-Missi and Wesley Saunders will also figure into the rotation with Saunders playing out on the wing.

The Crimson grab 3.8 more rebounds per game than their opponents, with the low numbers (33.6 for, 29.8 against) due in large part to the fact that they're playing an average of 63 possessions per game. More work will be required against a UConn front line that has talent but hasn't consistently played to the expected level thus far. Freshman Andre Drummond (7.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is an athletic marvel, as he can run up and down the floor and finish at the rim, but the jumper and free throws need some serious work.

Alex Oriakhi (6.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench for a couple games, and that's a development that's helped him out of late. But neither of these two have been the most consistent Husky inside. That distinction would best be given to sophomore Tyler Olander, who is averaging a shade below eight points per game while leading the team in rebounding. On the wing freshman DeAndre Daniels starts while Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith also see action. The Huskies have six players grabbing at least 3.9 rebounds per game, and their margin of plus-8.0 could be an issue for Harvard if they aren't careful. 

One thing that Harvard has done well offensively is get to the foul line, boasting a free throw rate of 45.0 and scoring 24% of their points from the foul line. But UConn allows opponents to score just 15.3% of their points from the charity stripe and the Crimson aren't far off with their opponents at 15.9%, so keep an eye on who makes the early trips to the line. As for a concern for Harvard, their opponents score 63% of their points on two-point shots and shoot 42% from the field. At the least they'll need to keep UConn's three main perimeter scorers out of the paint in order to have a shot at the upset. 

Also on the slate is Bob Huggins taking on his most recent employer before West Virginia...but in Wichita. Kansas State is coming off of a solid road win at Virginia Tech, but it's safe to assume that Frank Martin will demand constant improvement from his team. What can the Wildcats do to slow down WVU senior Kevin Jones? Jamar Samuels will likely get that assignment, and offensive rebounding for both teams will be an important area to watch.

Boston College hits the road to take on Providence, with the Eagles being one of the youngest teams in college basketball and the Friars being extremely shallow in regards to their rotation. Cleveland State at Robert Morris will be a good game between teams expecting to contend in their respective leagues, and Oral Roberts would shock few people if they were to go into Norman and knock off Oklahoma. 

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (24) Harvard at (9) Connecticut (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Southeastern University at Florida A&M
7:00 PM South Dakota at Canisius
7:00 PM Boston College at Providence (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Cleveland State at Robert Morris
7:00 PM Central Pennsylvania College at VMI
7:30 PM Maine at Notre Dame (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Western Michigan at Detroit
8:00 PM Oral Roberts at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
9:00 PM West Virginia vs. Kansas State* (ESPN2)
9:05 PM Linfield College at Eastern Washington
9:05 PM Eastern Michigan at Drake