Harvard picked up their 19th-straight home win yesterday when they bested Seattle by 10 points in a 70-possession game that was decided at the charity stripe. With some smart play in the paint (see what I did there), Harvard had 36 trips to the line to Seattle’s 18.
Now they’re 8-0 for the first time since the 1984-1985 season, and today cracked both top-25 polls (No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 25 in the AP Coaches poll) for the first time in school history.
So, are they for real?
Try this on. Central Florida (and Michael Jordan’s offspring) has two losses on the season: to Florida State and Harvard, but beat UConn. Harvard also beat Florida State and, obviously, Central Florida. The Crimson are set to throw down with UConn on the road Thursday. With a win over the former national champs, not much stands between Harvard and a perfect 30-0 regular season.
The Crimson feature the nation’s 34th most efficient defense that allows 0.918 points per possession behind a pair of forwards (Kyle Casey and Keith Wright) that are both averaging over one block in 5.5 percent of their chances. Casey and Wright are also both averaging better than one defensive board in 22.8 percent of their opportunities.
But it’s the Harvard back court that should make the Huskies cringe. Junior point guard Brandyn Curry (no relation) is dishing assists as efficiently as ever (29.3 percent AST%), but has a bigger, more experienced front court to target and productive senior two-guard Oliver McNally at his side.
Together, McNally (114.0), Wright (113.2) and sophomore guard Laurent Rivard (122.9) have three of the top seven offensive ratings in the Ivy League.
If they find a way past that iffy UConn team that, by the way has a knack for keeping opponents off the stripe that could limit the Crimson, offensive rebounding ridiculousness aside, who else has a shot of ruining Harvard’s perfect season? Well there’s St. Joseph’s, who just dropped a bad loss to American University, and then there’s the Ivy League.
There are only four other undefeated mid-majors: Tulane, Xavier, Creighton and Murray State, and none of them have the cakewalk conference that the Crimson enjoy.
It’s not a great season for Ivy League hoops, unless you’re Harvard. Only two other teams: Yale (+1.6) and Princeton (+1.3) have positive efficiency margins, and neither approaches Harvard at +15.7. Both those teams also suffer from tragic character flaws. Yale struggles to hold onto the ball with a turnover in 23.7 percent of their possessions, and Princeton’s anemic offense (0.968 ppp) is propped up by a decent defense (0.955 ppp).
So everything (probably) hinges on Thursday’s result, and Harvard’s ability to capture a win on the road — of which they have three on the season, but none of which came against top 50 teams. Pomeroy has Harvard at 29 percent underdogs at UConn who beat the Crimson by 31 points last season, but the Huskies will be without Kemba Walker who put up 20 points in last year’s win.
Pomeroy also lists Harvard’s chances at an unbeaten season at 0.9 percent, while Murray State leads the mids at 1.0 percent, Creighton has a 0.1 percent odds and Tulane is at 0.0 percent.