Wesley Saunders looks to fourth consecutive NCAA appearance for Harvard
College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
Harvard continues our countdown at No. 24 as the Crimson continue an unprecedented in program history under Tommy Amaker. After three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, could Harvard be ready to take the next step and reach the Sweet 16?
A full preview of Harvard and the entire Ivy League are available in every edition, available on newsstands everywhere this week and in the online store.
The Crimson are looking for their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and despite losing three cornerstones of the program’s success, Tommy Amaker has more than enough left in the cupboard to get his team back to the NCAAs.
Three seniors — Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard — are gone. Casey and Rivard were 1,000-point scorers, and Curry was a versatile guard who provided leadership throughout his career. They will all be sorely missed, but Amaker still has plenty of talent.
This team may not appear as powerful as the one that knocked off Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, but it has terrific, veteran guards in Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers and no shortage of size to dominate Ivy League foes.
The question isn’t whether Amaker, who spurned Boston College this past offseason to remain at Harvard, will have enough to claim another league title. That’s almost a given. But it’s whether he can pull off a third consecutive win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Harvard Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-5, 13-1 Ivy
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 3
Coach: Tommy Amaker (138-70, 67-31 Ivy)
Ivy Projection: First
Postseason projection: Round of 32
Harvard is deep and talented on the front line this season, especially with the return of Kenyatta Smith and the addition of freshman Chris Egi.
Senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi is a virtual lock to start after averaging 10.5 points and 6.0 boards last season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who gets the nod. Smith logged just two minutes a year ago due to a foot injury, but he’s healthy now and gives Amaker a guy who can score in the post. Two years ago, Smith averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds as a part-time starter. Those numbers could double with more playing time.
Heralded top-100 recruit Zena Edosomwan played sparingly last season as a freshman, but the 6-9, 250-pound California native will find a way to get on the court more due to his physical presence and high motor.
Senior Jonah Travis is an undersized forward who does all the dirty work. He filled in admirably last season with Smith out of the lineup. Junior Evan Cummins is 6-9 and has made strides in each of his two seasons in the program. Egi is a 6-9 athlete from Canada who also had offers from Florida and UConn.
Perimeter depth is a cause for concern in Cambridge, but Amaker has two of the best guards in the league — and maybe even in the nation. Saunders is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year after leading the team in scoring last season at 14.2 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in the league in seven statistical categories. He will team with Chambers, a junior point guard who does everything Amaker needs from the position. The 6-0 Chambers scores (11.1 ppg), distributes (4.6 apg) and also shoots it (38 percent 3-pointers).
The key here, though, is who else steps up to help out Saunders and Chambers on the perimeter. Candidates include Corbin Miller, who played in 2011-12 before spending the last two years on a LDS Church mission; long and athletic 6-8 junior Agunwa Okolie and 6-5 freshman wing Andre Chatfield. Miller may be the most likely to step in due to his experience and, more important, his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. He shot 45.6 from 3 as a freshman.
Veteran guard Matt Brown, who also plays wide receiver for the Harvard football team, could figure into the equation as well due to his toughness and defensive intensity.
Saunders and Chambers aren’t just talented and among the best at their position in the country, but they also bring experience to the table. Amaker has six big men he can rotate in and out of the lineup, if he so chooses.
The key, though, will be whether the Crimson can find a wing to complement the backcourt duo. Harvard will miss Rivard’s ability to space the floor and knock down shots. Miller could be the missing piece.
It’s Harvard and then everyone else in the Ivy — even after losing three seniors who helped build the program. But the goal now is whether the Crimson can make noise in the postseason, and its guards certainly give them a chance.
Corbin Miller returns from an LDS Church mission after averaging 3.8 points as a freshman in 2011-12. Chris Egi, a Canadian who played at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, is the highest rated of the three freshmen. Andre Chatfield will have a chance to play on the wing. Zach Yoshor will have a tough time carving out a role on a deep front line.