The idea of a Harvard-UConn game carrying any major significance on the national stage five years ago would have been laughable. Maybe the game would be a possible milestone for Jim Calhoun, help the Huskies extend a program record breaking winning streak, or be the first win for the Crimson over a Top 25 team in several years, but for both teams to be ranked and be playing on national television, in the words of Dick Vitale, "You're crazy baby."
A lot has changed though over the past five years though.Tonight when the 24th-ranked Harvard travels to Storrs though, all eyes will be on the matchup, as the undefeated Crimson take on national contender UConn. It's not just that the Crimson are undefeated, hold their first national ranking ever, and coached by a big-name boss in Amaker, the Crimson are seriously challenging the Huskies for the best team in the region. Forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright are Ivy League big men that are could play in any conference and the team has a slew of talented guards that aren't afraid of the much more touted Crimson backcourt.
The home team sports a roster full of high school stars, several of whom will be picked in future NBA drafts. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier form one of the best backcourts in the country and have plenty of support in the front court, from the likes of Tyler Oleander, Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. Yet the ninth-ranked Huskies are the team that comes into the game struggling to fix a myriad of problems that have plagued them through the first month of the season. Despite a 7-1 record, UConn is still trying to form an identity with lottery-pick and former leader, Kemba Walker gearing up to play his first game with the Charlotte Bobcats in less than three weeks.
Ryan Boatright against Harvard's guards: The freshmen guard has made a humongous impact on the Huskies in just two games. After being forced to sit out the first six games of the season because of a violation, Boatright has sparked the Huskies in back-to-back victories. Against Florida State, Boatright led a Huskies comeback in the final minutes and helped the Huskies put the Seminoles away in overtime. Saturday against Arkansas, Boatright was the best player on the floor, which is saying a lot from a six foot nothing, 160 pound guard playing his second game. The guard scored a game-high 23 points, dished out six assists and pulled down five rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench.
Lamb and Napier are the guards that everyone knows about, they're proven scorers, made huge plays in the Huskies run to last season's national championship but for one reason or another might not be as dangerous as Boatright. With the other two guards drawing so much attraction, the freshman has been able to make an instant impact off the bench as a change-of-pace guard. He's unbelievably quick, has shown great patience and poise in making decisions and not forcing shots and has shown he can always make a play. When UConn goes to their three-guard lineup against Harvard, Boatright could be the player who wreaks havoc with much of the Crimson's attention coming against Lamb and Napier. His ability to knock down shots (63 percent from the field) and to get to the line (6.5 attempts per game) could be what breaks down the stingy Harvard defense.
Keith Wright and Kyle Casey against the Huskies Frontcourt: Harvard's two most dynamic players (Wright and Casey) will face a tall task against the Huskies if the Crimson are to pull of an upset, they not only have to win the battle of the paint, but win it handily. Wright and Casey both had strong performances last year in an 81-52 loss to the Huskies but the Huskies still pulled down more rebounds, scored more points in the paint and recorded more second-chance points. Thus far this season, the duo leads the team in scoring and rebounding and has been instrumental in keeping opponents off the offensive boards.
Wright is a bruiser, at 6'8", 240 pounds and can stick with any big men in the country inside. The Virginia native was recruited heavily out of high school and was named to the Wooden List (a Preseason Top Fifty Player Watch List); he excels near the basket with his quickness and won't back down against the taller or heavier Huskies. His partner in crime, is smaller but just as athletic and with much longer range; Casey can step outside and occasionally hit the 3-point shot but has become a force on the boards despite being 6'6". Uconn's regular rotation of big men, includes four forwards that all are at least 6'8" and have faced few challenges this year. If Casey and Wright can be assertive and go after the larger Uconn frontcourt like they did against Florida State, Uconn might be in big trouble.
Prediction: UConn has been the team of New England for years but the time may have finally come where the Huskies have some competition. Harvard hopes their early-season title will help them get over the top in the Ivy League and help them be an even tougher out when it comes to a potential NCAA tournament game. The combination of Casey and Wright inside, with Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster playing so well and the team going 10-deep, means that Harvard's finally ready to pull off the upset. If the Crimson can hit their free throws, keep UConn from going on any extended runs and keep the ball out of Lamb's hands in the final minutes, the Crimson will stay undefeated headed into the New Year.
Harvard 66, UConn 62