Given their overall non-conference schedule and the strength of it, Harvard’s games at Colorado and UConn were contests circled by many as important games for the Crimson. Why? Tommy Amaker’s team has the talent to merit an at-large berth, and a win in either (or both) of those games likely would have given Harvard the resume-building result that could help in that regard should they not win the Ivy League.
Having already lost to Colorado in late November, Wednesday night’s game in Storrs became a bit more important for Harvard. And with that being the case, leading scorer Wesley Saunders sitting out with a sore knee didn’t help Harvard at all. Averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, Saunders had the skill needed to challenge a UConn front court that has struggled for much of this season. Without Saunders the Crimson executed well in the first half but that wasn’t the case in the second, as they shot just 26.7% from the field in what would turn into a 61-56 defeat.
Neither team shot well in the second half, with both defenses making things difficult. But with Shabazz Napier finally getting going (scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half) and an 11-point edge at the foul line, UConn was able to do just enough to turn around a five-point halftime deficit. And defensively UConn was able to limit Harvard players outside of Siyani Chambers, who scored 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Clearly Tommy Amaker has a talented team capable of not only reaching the NCAA tournament but winning once there, just as they did last season. But the question is whether or not they’ll be able to put together the resume needed in case they don’t win the Ivy League. After Wednesday the Crimson are projected to play just two more Top 100 games this season per realtimerpi.com, with both games coming against Princeton.
Would a split of those two games while winning the others be enough to keep Harvard on the at-large radar? That’s a tough question to answer, and in that scenario it’s likely that they’d have to deal with a one-game Ivy playoff as well. While difficult to look that far ahead, Harvard’s situation illustrates the importance of these games to programs that don’t play in “power” conferences.
While “power” conference teams get numerous opportunities to pick up resume-building wins, those chances are nowhere near as plentiful for teams on the outside looking in. With this being the case, one can only wonder what Harvard could have done Wednesday night with a healthy Saunders on the floor.
With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.
And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.
Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.
Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.
Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.
Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.
“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”
While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.