Top 25 Countdown: No. 23 Harvard Crimson

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source: AP
Siyani Chambers and Tommy Amaker (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 23 Harvard.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Last Season: 27-5, 13-1 Ivy (1st), lost in the Round of 32 to Michigan State

Head Coach: Tommy Amaker

Key Losses: Kyle Casey (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Brandyn Curry (9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.8 apg), Laurent Rivard (9.9 ppg, 43.0% 3PT)

Newcomers: Andre Chatfield, Chris Egi, Zach Yosher

Projected Lineup

G: Siyani Chambers, Jr.
G: Corbin Miller, So.
F: Wesley Saunders, Sr.
F: Kenyatta Smith, Sr.
F: Steve Moundou-Missi, Sr.
Bench: Jonah Travis, Sr.; Zena Edosomwan, So.; Evan Cummins, Jr.; Andre Chatfield, Fr.; Chris Egi, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : They’ve been good enough to advance to the Round of 32 the last two seasons — they upset No. 3 New Mexico in the 2013 NCAA tournament and No. 5 seed Cincinnati last season — and they not only return two players that could legitimately be named Preseason Ivy League Player of the Year, they also have a front line that is as big, deep and talented as any high-major program that they’ll run into.

It all starts with Siyani Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) for the Crimson. The 6-foot lefty is not only a natural born leader and floor general, he’s talented — and confident — enough to take and make big shots. He’ll be joined on the perimeter by Wesley Saunders (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg), a 6-foot-5 wing that has been the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons. Those two make up one of the best 1-2 punches in the country, not just at the mid-major level.

source:
Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

While Chambers and Saunders are Harvard’s star power, their front line is good enough to compete with anyone in the country. Steve Moundou-Missi, the best rebounder on the team, is back for his senior season while Kenyatta Smith, who averaged 2.1 blocks as a sophomore in just 14.5 minutes, should be healthy after playing just two games last season. Senior Jonah Travis is back as well, while sophomore Zena Edosomwan and freshman Chris Egi are both top 150 recruits that will play a role off the bench. How many mid-major programs can claim that?

But they might disappoint because … : There simply is not depth in Harvard’s back court this season. Chambers and Saunders, who would be a bit of a liability playing off-guard, will once again be asked to provide heavy minutes. Both averaged 33 minutes in league play last season, and there will be no Laurent Rivard or Brandyn Curry to lean on this season.

Curry was the team’s backup point guard last season, but he was a fifth-year senior that had started prior to a year-long suspension in what was Chambers’ freshman season. Rivard was another senior guard, a sharp-shooter that helped space the floor. To replace those two this season Harvard will be counting on sophomore Corbin Miller and freshman Andre Chatfield.

Miller, like Rivard is a sniper from beyond the arc. He shot 45.6% from three and averaged 4.7 points as a freshman in limited minutes … but that was in 2011-2012. He’s spent the past two seasons on a Mormon mission. Chatfield is a freshman off-guard that was a three-star recruit with high major offers, but he put together a disappointing senior season and ended the year unranked in HoopSeen.com’s top 30 prospects in Georgia.

Outlook: There’s a lot to love about this Harvard team. They have a veteran point guard that has been through some battles and led his team to a pair of league titles — which is impressive in a tougher-than-you-realize Ivy League — and wins back-to-back NCAA tournaments. They have a big-time scorer on the wing and a myriad of big bodies up front. Tommy Amaker has proven that he can win with this group and that shouldn’t change this season.

But unlike last year, the Crimson won’t be able to survive injuries to their back court this season. One high-ankle sprain to Chambers in league play and all of a sudden the Crimson are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament; the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament.

Assuming that Chambers stays healthy, the key to Harvard’s season will be whether Miller and Chatfield can return to their previous form. If Miller can be a double-digit scorer that shoots 43.0% from three, like Rivard, and if Chatfield can be the guy that was recruited by ACC and SEC schools, Amaker will once again have a team that will be a threat to make the Sweet 16.