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.