Game of the Night: Connecticut vs. Harvard
Andy Katz has anointed this game as the biggest between two New England teams all year, and it is hard to disagree. Harvard comes in 8-0, sporting its first national ranking in program history. Connecticut is favored at home for good reason: the Huskies possess amazing talent, including but not limited to Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright. UConn has looked like a different, better team since the freshman Boatright became eligible two weeks ago. With a limited slate of college hoops tonight, the eyes of the nation will be on Storrs. Here are four key questions to ponder before the game:
1) How will Harvard deal with playing from behind?
It is almost assured that at some point tonight, the Crimson will face a meaningful deficit. This is more unusual than one may think: Harvard has led or been tied for 96 percent of the minutes of their last five games. That is 192 minutes in the lead and eight minutes trailing, none of which came in the second half. The Crimson most likely won’t have the luxury of leading the entire second half in Gampel tonight. How this veteran team responds when they trail will be an important factor in determining the outcome of the game.
2) Can Connecticut get Harvard in foul trouble?
The Crimson are much deeper than they were last season, but they are also more foul-prone. Star Kyle Casey, especially, struggles with fouls, committing over five for every forty minutes that he is on the floor. UConn’s Andre Drummond and Ryan Boatright excel at drawing fouls. If the Huskies can get Casey, or perhaps even more importantly, Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry, in foul trouble early, it could be a long night for the Crimson. Curry makes the Harvard offense go, and when he had to sit with foul trouble for eight minutes in the second half at Vermont, the Crimson saw their 14 point lead trimmed to two.
3) Will Harvard be forced to settle for threes?
Harvard fans cringe at the memory of last season’s game at Connecticut. The Huskies’ interior presence kept Harvard star forward Keith Wright in check, and forced the Crimson to launch from deep on seemingly every possession. Harvard ended up an abysmal 4 for 31 and suffered a crushing 30-point defeat.
Harvard’s offense is more balanced this year, but their three-point shooting has declined. Oliver McNally, Christian Webster, and Brandyn Curry are all shooting well below the percentages they shot at last year from three. Canadian sophomore Laurent Rivard is the only Crimson player approaching the accuracy he showed last season. If UConn’s defensive size forces Harvard to shoot over it, the Crimson will have to hope their shooters return to last year’s prowess.
4) Can Connecticut’s post presences make Harvard pay from the line?
One of the underreported aspects of Harvard’s amazing early season defense has been their free throw defense. Yes, you read that right: opponents are only shooting 54 percent from the charity stripe against Harvard, the worst mark in the nation. While this benefit for Harvard is unsustainable over the course of the season, it may continue tonight.
Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond, UConn’s twin towers inside, have both shot free throws poorly this season. Oriakhi is at 59 percent and Drummond at 33 percent. The Crimson will likely foul these two quite a bit tonight, and UConn fans must hope they can make good on their opportunities. If they shoot above their averages, it becomes much harder for Harvard to win.