Brandyn Curry (Photo credit: AP)

Harvard wraps up third consecutive NCAA tournament berth (VIDEO)

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On February 8 the Yale Bulldogs handed Harvard its first Ivy League loss, beating the Crimson 74-67 with Justin Sears’ 21 points and 11 rebounds leading the way. Yet even though Sears was a handful on that night, the biggest problem for Harvard was finding the quality looks that they generally haven’t struggled to get in league play. Yale switched ball screens, keeping point guard Siyani Chambers from turning the corner consistently, and this contributed to Harvard shooting just 39% from the field.

In order to win the rematch, and clinch a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, Tommy Amaker’s team needed to adjust to the way in which Yale would defend ball screens. The Crimson made those adjustments Friday night, shooting 56.8% from the field on their way to the 70-58 victory.

RELATED: NCAA tournament primer on the Harvard Crimson

Chambers, who finished the first meeting with ten points (3-for-9 FG), three assists and three turnovers, was far more effective in the rematch. The sophomore made five of his nine field goal attempts, scoring 17 points to go along with six assists and one turnover. And he was a key figure in Harvard’s 16-2 run to start the game, factoring into nine of those points (two points and three assists). Joining Chambers in double figures were forward Steve Moundou-Missi (16 points, six rebounds) and guard Brandyn Curry (14 points).

Harvard still didn’t have an answer for Sears, who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the difference this time around was that the Crimson did a much better job of keeping his teammates in check. Bulldogs other than Sears combined to shoot 7-for-34 from the field, with Armani Cotton and Javier Duren (0-for-11 FG) scoring a total of eight points. In the first meeting those two combined to score 28 points, with Cotton posting a double-double (13 points, ten rebounds).

Without Curry and Kyle Casey last season much was asked of Chambers and Wesley Saunders as freshmen and they delivered, leading Harvard to a win over New Mexico before falling to 6-seed Arizona. With all four players, in addition to Moundou-Missi and Laurent Rivard, part of the rotation there’s a feeling that this group may be better equipped to enjoy success in the NCAA tournament. And it wouldn’t come as a surprise if that turned out to be the case.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.