Moundou-Missi Sends Harvard Back To NCAA Tournament

Throughout the 2014-15 Ivy League season, Harvard and Yale were evenly matched. The co-champions had identical 11-3 league records, split the season series with close games, and ended the regular season a mere four slots apart in KenPom’s national rankings. So it was fitting that Saturday’s playoff was tied heading into the final possession. Continue reading “Moundou-Missi Sends Harvard Back To NCAA Tournament”

Cold Shooting Dooms Harvard In Ivy Title Showdown

Basketball is a funny sport to analyze. Over the past four months, we’ve all spent countless hours debating Harvard and Yale as championship contenders. This week, Ray and I exchanged 1,500 words previewing Friday’s matchup. And ultimately, the de facto title game — and the biggest Ivy League contest in four years, a college generation — was decided in large part by who made their three-pointers that night.

Playing at home with a chance to secure its fifth straight Ivy title, Harvard went just 2-17 from three-point range. The Crimson hasn’t been very prolific from beyond the arc all year, but their shots against Yale came mostly from their best shooters in good positions. Corbin Miller, a career 41% shooter from distance, went 0-8 on Friday. Siyani Chambers, 37% for his career, went 1-6. With the exception of two heaves late in the shot clock, most of Harvard’s attempts were open and in rhythm.

Meanwhile, Yale went 7-16 from beyond the arc, even though top shooter Jack Montague was bottled up for most of the game.


As if to underscore basketball’s randomness, Yale forward Justin Sears made his first two three-pointers of the year — both awkward line drives that snuck over the rim — at the best possible time.

“I thought we had a ton of shots. We just didn’t make them. I don’t know what else to say,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

None of that means Yale didn’t deserve to win. The Bulldogs put themselves in position to take advantage of Harvard’s drought, scoring 1.05 points per possession against the league’s best defense. Javier Duren constantly frustrated the Crimson, getting his 22 points on a combination of tough floaters and three-pointers, including a dagger from 23 feet in the final two minutes.

On the other end, the Bulldogs sent double-teams aggressively on the perimeter and in the post, which paid off when Harvard’s big men didn’t make the right passes. Zena Edosomwan played only nine minutes after missing four early shots in the face of Yale pressure.

Still, if Miller makes two or three of his treys, and if Chambers hits another — bringing both in line with their career marks — then a 10-point margin becomes a toss-up. Miller in particular had a rough night: Chambers and Wesley Saunders found him time after time, in transition and from kick-outs, sticking with their guns even as Miller struggled (as they should). But the sophomore’s shots kept finding the top of the rim, as he missed eight treys and another long jumper.

“He’s our marksman, our three-point guy, and what a tough night for him. Of his nine shots, only one I know for sure was forced or a bad shot,” Amaker said. “Boy, did he get some looks that we would kill to have for him tomorrow night, and I know he’s going to be better than he was tonight.”

Harvard’s loss overshadowed a dominant game from Steve Moundou-Missi. As in the first meeting, Moundou-Missi kept Justin Sears quiet: Sears got only one shot at the rim, which came off his only offensive rebound, and needed his two surprising treys to reach 10 points. And on the other end, the senior attacked Sears fearlessly, scoring 21 points on a combination of face-up jumpers, physical drives and put-backs from 10 rebounds.

“He was one of the few people out there who really battled, and I think he left it all out there on the floor,” Saunders said. “He was trying to spark us and get us energized, but we never really caught on.”

Harvard trailed 22-19 at halftime — not much prettier than the 16-11 score in the first meeting — but Yale ballooned its lead to 12 points, thanks to second-chance points from Armani Cotton (who finished with 14) and Sears. The hosts made several small runs, but each was answered by the Bulldogs — an athletic putback and-one from Khaliq Ghani here, a patented Matt Townsend two-point jumper there. Duren was perfect on free throws down the stretch, slowly hammering the penultimate nail in Harvard’s coffin.

Harvard’s only path to a fifth straight Ivy title is a win over Brown tomorrow night and a Yale loss at Dartmouth. (The latter is hardly a longshot, as the Big Green has won five of its last six.) If that parlay hits, Harvard and Yale will play a rubber match at The Palestra next week to determine the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.

And though Friday’s loss was devastating, the Crimson has received help in the past. In 2012, they lost at home to Penn with two games remaining, avoiding a playoff only when Princeton beat the Quakers in the season finale. In 2013, they were swept at Princeton and Penn in early March, regaining control of their own destiny only when the Tigers were swept the following weekend.

So Harvard’s hopes for a fourth straight tournament bid are on life support. But they’re not dashed yet.

“We just have to take care of business tomorrow and see where the chips fall,” Saunders said. “Crazier stuff has happened.”

A Conversation Preview About Yale-Harvard Ivy Armageddon

With Ivy League armageddon upon us Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion, we decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of bringing you an Xs and Os preview, Ray Curren and Kevin Whitaker had an e-mail conversation and here is what they discussed. Kevin has covered Harvard all season, while Ray has seen play of Yale. Can Yale repeat its victory at Harvard last season and put one hand on its first outright Ivy crown (and NCAA Tournament appearance) since 1962? Or will Harvard keep the championship belt for at least one more year?

Continue reading “A Conversation Preview About Yale-Harvard Ivy Armageddon”

Resurgent Offense Keys Harvard’s Streak

One month ago, Harvard was coming off of a home loss to Dartmouth, and their chances for a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance were very much in doubt. The Crimson had lost four of seven D-I games, they were about to embark on a four-game road trip, and for only the second time in four years, they trailed an Ivy foe, unbeaten Yale, in the league standings.

Since then, they’ve won eight straight games, and January’s worries seem distant. Harvard has had its share of close calls — and nothing has been clinched yet — but entering this weekend’s trip to Cornell and Columbia, the Crimson appears to be in top form.

What has changed in the last month?


(All charts include Division-I games only. Data via

Harvard’s defense, ranked 13th nationally per KenPom, has been remarkably consistent. Its midseason struggles came almost entirely on the other end: Starting with an embarrassing loss to Virginia, the Crimson averaged less than .90 points per possession through their 3-4 stretch. But they’ve been above 1.00 in nearly every game since (save for the rockfight at Yale), thanks to a few key improvements.

Saunders’ adjustments

Wesley Saunders wasn’t to blame for Harvard’s January struggles; he was the team’s best player then, just as he’s been all year. But in the Crimson’s 4-3 stretch, Saunders had a below-average offensive rating in five games, and reduced usage in the other two.

Back in the swing of Ivy play, the star wing’s efficiency has risen. While not quite at the All-America level he showed early on, Saunders has carried Harvard at key times this month — such as his 23-point performance against Princeton, his second-best game this season in combined usage and efficiency.


(The area of each box represents total production per game, with usage on the x-axis and efficiency on the y-axis.)

Saunders has made one obvious adjustment this month: He’s attempted 4.2 three-pointers per game in February; his prior career high in any game was four. Saunders is making those shots, most of which are wide-open, at a 40% clip, a dastardly counter to defenses who focus on walling off the paint.

“If they’re going to slough off him and play him for the drive, which a lot of people have done — and rightly so, he’s a tremendous slasher — when he has an open three, he’s a pretty good shooter with that shot,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We’re hopeful that he can mix it in and keep the defense off balance.”

Saunders has also nearly doubled his assist-to-turnover ratio in recent weeks; his 37.4% assist rate is the best in Ivy play. In part, that’s been possible because…

Supporting stars step up


Siyani Chambers entered the year as a Player of the Year candidate, but as recently as mid-January, his offensive rating was among the league’s worst. More quietly, Steve Moundou-Missi’s was in the same range. Both players, second-team All-Ivy teammates last year, were due to improve — and both have posted triple-digit offensive ratings in each of their last four games.

Chambers struggled against physical defenses and had to bail Harvard out of some doomed possessions early in the year; but other issues, such as sub-30% shooting on three-pointers, were his own doing. The point guard’s shooting has regressed in the good way (44% in the last four weeks), and he’s become more opportunistic about driving inside.

One of the league’s most efficient scorers a year ago, Moundou-Missi’s true shooting percentage has cratered by more than 10 percentage points. The culprit is clear: After attempting 64% of his shots at the rim as a junior (and 70% as a sophomore), the forward has taken only 45% of his shots at the cylinder this season, per

Moundou-Missi has improved his midrange game, but it’s frustrating to see one of the league’s most dynamic athletes consigned to spot-up duty from 15 feet. He’s still shooting plenty of jumpers, but he’s been more involved at the rim lately, and his efficiency has risen.

More offensive lineups

Harvard’s rotation has been debated constantly, but Amaker’s adjustments this month have helped the Crimson score more points:


Along with injured center Kenyatta Smith, the three players who have seen substantially less time in February are Agunwa Okolie, Evan Cummins and Matt Brown — three of the lowest-usage players on Harvard’s roster. In their place, more minutes are going to higher-volume shooters in Moundou-Misssi and Zena Edosomwan, as well as Jonah Travis, the most efficient scorer in Ivy play. Even Andre Chatfield, though his usage rate is low as he plays back from injury, earns respect from opposing defenses as an explosive guard with a three-star pedigree.

With more offensive threats on the floor, foes can’t load up to stop Saunders, nor can they direct more attention to Chambers and Moundou-Missi. Harvard’s stars have taken advantage, rebounding from a tough January while still playing stout defense.

None of this means the Crimson are in the clear. Today’s visit to Cornell is their toughest offensive matchup of the Ivy season; Saturday’s trip to Columbia will be one of their toughest matchups, period. Even with its improved offense, Harvard is more likely than not to drop a game this weekend. But with a fine-tuned rotation and their stars peaking, the Crimson has given themselves some room for error.

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Feb. 22

What Happened Last Week: The favorites held serve at the top of the Ivy League on Friday, but Saturday was more exciting. Columbia toppled Yale in New Haven, giving the Bulldogs their second Ivy loss. Meanwhile, Harvard survived a scare from Princeton to claim first place alone. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Feb. 22”

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Feb. 9

What Happened Last Week: Harvard beat Yale 52-50 on the road, pulling into a tie for first place at 5-1. The Crimson almost slipped up at Brown the previous night, but after pulling out an overtime win in Providence, they shut down the Bulldogs with stifling defense. Every other Ivy League team is at least 1.5 games back after Princeton beat Columbia but lost at Cornell. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Feb. 9”

Harvard’s Defense Refuses To Turn Control Of Ivy Over To Yale

All the signs pointed to this being the time for a changing of the guard in the Ivy League. Harvard’s 27-point output at Virginia in December coupled with a season-opening loss to Holy Cross made the three-time defending champ (plus a share of a fourth) Crimson look vulnerable and when they collapsed at home to Dartmouth two weeks ago, well the door swung wide open for Yale.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were a veteran team who had  their time the last couple of seasons, getting ever closer and taking advantage of that Dartmouth slip up to grab the lead. Saturday, they had a chance to take command of the Ivy race, putting two games between themselves and the rival Crimson as they chased their first NCAA Tournament berth in more than a half-century.

Continue reading “Harvard’s Defense Refuses To Turn Control Of Ivy Over To Yale”