The Harvard Crimson made national news earlier this season when it beat then-ranked Florida State to push itself into the Top-25 teams in the country for the first time in school history. The Red, coming off a big home win against Columbia on Saturday, has a tough weekend ahead, traveling into Crimson territory on Friday, and then to Dartmouth, where it will face the young and developing Big Green.
Sitting atop the Ivy League standings, the Crimson (18-2, 4-0 Ivy League) will come at the Red (7-11, 2-2) with a formidable frontcourt made up of 6-7 forward Kyle Casey and 6-8 forward Keith Wright.
“They’re a heck of a ball team,” senior guard and captain Chris Wroblewski said. “They’re so well-balanced and they’re going to be tough to prepare for because of how well they move the ball.”
The Crimson’s ball movement comes in large part due to guards Oliver McNally and Brandyn Curry, who are dishing out 3.3 and 5.1 assists per game respectively.
The Red, going into this weekend at fourth in the Ivy League, one win behind Yale, knows what to expect out of the Crimson.
“We’re expecting them to come out really strong. Especially considering it’s a home game, they’re going to try to impress their crowd,” junior guard Johnathan Gray said. “They think they’re better than us, but we’re going to stay poised.”
Though the Red fell 73-60 in their final matchup of last season against Harvard, it out-rebounded and outscored the Crimson’s frontcourt. The team’s biggest problem came from the Crimson’s ability to get to the line, hitting 29 of their 35 attempts at the charity stripe.
Gray recognized that in order to compete with Harvard, they will have to keep those free throw opportunities to a minimum. “We need to play solid defense by moving our feet,” Gray said. “We’re going to have to play straight up with them and make them work for everything they get.”
Though minimizing the Crimson’s trips to the line will be important, the Red also has other obstacles to overcome. Casey and Wright, who have combined for 13.4 rebounds per game, pose a significant threat to what has been an admitted struggle for the Red so far this season.
“Our problem has always been rebounding. I’m not sure if we’ve outrebounded a team yet this year,” Wroblewski said. “If we can limit them to one shot, though, we’ll be fine.”
“They like to get to the offensive glass, so our guards are going to have to box out as well,” Gray added. “We have to make a concerted effort as a group to keep them off the boards.”
Gray and Wroblewski, who led the team in scoring in the win against Columbia, understand that their offensive numbers will be even more important against the Crimson, who are averaging 66 points per game.
“For me, I believe my consistency comes with confidence,” said Gray, who put up double digits in the Red’s last two games. “I play best when I’m not thinking too much. I want to do my part not just scoring, but on the defensive and rebounding end as well.”
Wroblewski, who struggled slightly at the start of the season, has started to catch fire. After scoring 19 points on Saturday, he is now averaging just shy of 10 points per game. He is also tallying over five assists.
“If you look at Saturday’s game, you might say it was a fluke, but I didn’t have any different mindset,” Wroblewski said. “I was doing the same thing I have all season, now I’m just being more aggressive.”
Though the matchup with the Crimson is the main focus for the Red right now, they also have to worry about Dartmouth on Saturday. Although the Green sits in the cellar of the Ivy League at 0-4, the Red is not taking them lightly.
“When you start thinking of different ways to attack teams, you fall victim to a trap,” Gray said. “We need to play the same way and not let up. We’ll keep focus on Harvard for now and then Saturday we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Considering the Green was only losing by seven at the half against the Crimson in their last matchup on January 21, Gray’s words certainly ring true.
“We watched the Dartmouth-Harvard film and Dartmouth was winning for most of that game,” Wroblewski added. “For us, sitting at 2-2, every game is a must win, and we’ll need to give 110% to get these wins.”
Original Author: Scott Chiusano