Outlook: This year could start a new Harvard dynasty, but the young Crimson still must prove themselves in a competitive Ivy League.
Last Year’s Record: 18-10 (10-4 Ivy League)
Who’s Out: Siyani Chambers (32 min, 10.1 ppg, 5.7 apg); Zena Edosomwan (17 min., 7.1 ppg); Corbin Miller (7 min, 1.8 ppg)
Who’s In: Danilo Djuricic (F); Rio Haskett (G); Reed Farley (G)
Key Non-Conference Games: Nov. 23-26 Wooden Legacy Tournament (opening vs. St. Mary’s); Dec. 2 at Kentucky (ESPN); Jan. 2 vs. Vermont
There’s no doubting whose team this is now. The last time we saw the Crimson, they were starting four freshmen in a playoff game. Rookies combined to score 83% of Harvard’s points, and the other 17% graduated. For now — and likely for the next three years — Harvard’s core will be the Class of 2020.
That class already has a historically high reputation, having entered college with a top-10 national ranking and four top-100 recruits. Last year’s leader was Bryce Aiken, a fearless playmaker who was the Ivy Rookie of the Year (and hangs out with new neighbors Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum). Aiken will take over point guard duties full-time this year, and while he isn’t the natural passer that Siyani Chambers was — nobody is — he’s suited just fine for that role: Aiken averaged 2.8 assists even while sharing the ball with Chambers.
Seth Towns might have an even higher ceiling, as a 6-7 wing who can score from anywhere on the court. Aiken and Towns are the league’s best scoring combo on their best days, but each was inconsistent even down the stretch (Aiken was 1-10 with five turnovers at Princeton; Towns 3-16 against Yale in the Ivy tournament). Without Chambers’ reliable hand in the backcourt, the sophomores can’t afford as many lapses this season.
Joining them in the starting lineup was classmate Justin Bassey, the team’s top perimeter defender and a 40% three-point shooter as a rookie. Classmate Christian Juzang made electric plays in the preseason Crimson Madness scrimmage and could step into a small role as backup point guard. Neighboring classes will chip in help in the backcourt, including sharpshooter Corey Johnson and rookie Rio Haskett.
Harvard’s most important sophomore, however, might be center Chris Lewis. Another prized prospect, Lewis stole the starting job from Zena Edosomwan early on and excelled when on the court, making nearly two-thirds of his shots, protecting the rim and jumping lazy passes for a steal-and-fast-break-dunk seemingly every game. But Lewis struggled with foul trouble (a common vice of Harvard centers, who are asked to do a lot on help defense) and played just 19 minutes per game.
He’ll have to stay on the court as much as possible this season, because nobody else can imitate his defense. Henry Welsh has nice post moves but isn’t an impact defender. Captain and former four-star recruit Chris Egi has been a star in the classroom but hasn’t shown anything on the court. Talented freshman Danilo Djuricic profiles as more of a stretch four. Robert Baker hasn’t played much as a traditional center so far, but the 6-10 sophomore should be the team’s best rim protector when Lewis sits.
And a strong interior presence is critical for Harvard’s defense. Part of that is scheme — their perimeter pressure leaves them open to cuts or strong drives into the paint — but part is miscommunication, which bedeviled the Crimson last year. If they don’t have a shot-blocker to cover mistakes at all times, their rotations will have to get much tighter.
From the most generous viewpoint, Harvard was two plays from a share of the Ivy League title last year. Princeton won both head-to-head meetings with last-minute buckets; flip both of those results, and the Tigers and Crimson would have tied atop the league with 12-2 records.
Dig into the details, however, and the Crimson’s season was less impressive. They outscored the league by .11 points per possession — a strong mark, but well behind Princeton’s +.22. And even that margin was supported by extreme luck on opponents’ three-point shooting (30%) and free throws (70%).
So the Crimson must get significantly better to outpace Yale and Princeton. They clearly have the potential to do so: They were ranked first in the preseason media poll, although Yale earned more first-place votes. In the best case, if things come together quickly, Harvard could make national noise with a schedule that includes No. 22 Saint Mary’s and No. 5 Kentucky. Even in the worst case, Harvard has far too much talent to miss the Ivy League Tournament, where anything can happen in two games.