Vanderbilt's NCAA tournament starts against the "school in Boston" that you've heard so much about. After losing in the first round of their last three NCAA appearances, the Commodores are a somewhat fashionable upset pick, especially given the trap "5-12" match-up. For what it's worth, 12 seeds only have a winning percentage of .305 (39-89) against 5 seeds. But I digress...
Tommy Amaker's Ivy League Champion Crimson had an outstanding season, going 26-4 overall and winning the Ivy League with a 12-2 record. They were a very respectable 12-3 on the road and a perfect 3-0 on neutral courts. The Crimson had some quality wins, including an early season W against Florida State in a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas. The Ivy League isn't bad but it certainly doesn't qualify as a "mid-major" making their their 2 losses at Princeton and at home by Penn less than awesome. It is worth mentioning that the Penn win was a one-point victory on a buzzer-beater. Harvard's other two losses came at Connecticut by 14 (respectable) and at Fordham by 6 (not).
The Crimson are 0-5 in post-season play having never won an NCAA Tournament or NIT contest. This is Harvard's first NCAA appearance since 1946 where they lost to both NYU and Ohio State (I'm not sure how it's possible to lose twice in one tournament, but I'm going to let that one go). Against this year's field, Tommy Amaker's squad was 2-1: beating FSU and Vermont, and falling to UConn.
The Crimson are deep, consistently playing nine guys at least 12 minutes. However to win this game, Harvard will have to rely on solid play from their starters. Tommy Amaker starts 2 seniors, 2 juniors and a sophomore. They aren't "under-sized" per se, but Vanderbilt definitely has a height advantage.
The spotlight will focus most brightly on 6'7 forward Kyle Casey, the 225 lbs. junior who averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 boards a game, while shooting 51% from the field and 35% from downtown. Casey is an accomplished rebounder (especially on the defensive glass) and can score from the inside our outside. As the team's best on-the-ball defender, I suspect Jeffery to spend most of the game shadowing Casey.
Tommy Amaker's other front court player is 240 lbs., 6'8 senior Keith Wright. Wright averaged 10.7 points and 8.1 boards, including 2 offensive rebounds a game in just under 28 minutes of action. Wright is not a deep threat, having attempted exactly 0 triples on the season. The senior is shooting an impressive 59.4% from the field, just 5 points worse than his 64% free throw shooting.
Harvard starts 3 guards: Brandyn Curry (6'1, 195 lbs. junior), Oliver McNally (6'3, 180 lbs. senior), and Laurent Rivard (6'5, 215 lbs. sophomore). Curry and McNally both play just over 30 minutes a game, while Rivard, a relative new-comer to the starting line-up having just cracked the starting five in the second half of the season, plays a little under 26 minutes. Curry is the primary ball-handler, averaging 7.8 points and 5 assists a game, while turning it over just 1.67 times a game. Curry is a 37.6% shooter from the field and just a 29.4% shooter from downtown.
Oliver McNally averages 7.4 points and 3 assists a game, he's shooting 41.5% from the field and a 34.5% shooter from downtown. 59% of his shots from behind the arc. In addition, his assist to turnover ratio is an impressive 3:1 and he is all but automatic from the charity stripe.
Rounding out Amaker's line-up is Laurent Robinson, who is scoring 9.7 points and 2.7 rebounds a game. Robinson is the Crimson's deep-threat, shooting 39% from downtown and attempting 75% of his field-goal attempts from 3.
As I mentioned above, the Crimson are deep. They have 10 guys who've played in 27 or more games and 9 players who average more than 11 minutes a contest. Christian Webster is a 6'5 junior guard who started 15 games this season before being replaced in the line-up by Rivard. Webster averages 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16 minutes a game. Not an outstanding shooter, Webster has only reached double-figures twice this team. He's a 34% shooter from the field and a slightly worse 29.9% from downtown.
The rest of Amaker's bench contributors are freshman: Steve Moundou-Missi (6'7, 225 lbs.), Wesley Saunders (6'5, 215 lbs.), and Miller Corbin (6'2, 180 lbs.). Moundou-Missi gives the Crimson some size and averages 4.9 points and 3.5 boards in 14 minutes of play. Almost a third of his rebounds come off the offensive glass and he's an impressive 52.9% shooter from the field. Corbin is a very good 3 point shooter connecting on 45% of those attempts.
The long and the short of it is Harvard has some guys who can make the plays coming off the bench and the Commodores can't ease up when the Amaker calls some of these numbers.
Harvard by the Numbers
I'll be honest, I don't fully get the KenPom.com status. I like that they're there and when Stanimal explains them to me (which he will to you all later this week), I feel like I'm in on a secret. Here's what he told me in an email: "Harvard is a low tempo team with an adjusted tempo of 61.2 possessions per game. They have an effective Field Goal % of 52.5, which is in the top 50 in the country for offenses." Stanimal also added that the Crimson are really good half-court defense, particularly on the interior. They get to the line pretty well, and shoot pretty well from there too.
To give you an idea who good the defense is, consider that Harvard allows the third fewest points a game (54.0) and has only allowed 70 points twice (in which they were 1-1). Offensively, the magic number for Tommy Amaker's team appears to be 35: Harvard is 15-0 this season when shooting better than 35% from 3; the team's only 4 losses have come when they've failed to eclipse that number (in fairness, they've also won 11 games when shooting worse than 35% who it ain't everything).
Harvard is 20-2 this season when grabbing more rebounds than their opponents. They aren't a great offensive rebounding team, but certainly one good enough that the Commodores should be concerned. In a stat that might only be interesting to me, Harvard has scored just under 44% of their points from inside the paint and another 22% from the free throw line. With 66% of their points coming inside the perimeter, Vanderbilt fans shouldn't be too concerned about an overly explosive offensive team.
What This Means for Vanderbilt
Stanimal will do the proper "VSL Gets You Ready" prior to Thursday's tip that will go more inside the numbers and look more seriously at the potential match-ups. Looking at Vanderbilt's size advantage, however, I find it hard to believe that Vanderbilt's bigs won't be a major focal point of the offense early. Simply stated, the Crimson do not have anyone who should be able to guard Festus Ezeli or Stevie Thunder on the low-block. Lance Goulboune, who has certainly morphed into an all-around "glue" player for this team, also has the ability to score points around the bucket. I will be interested to see who Stallings matches Goulbourne up with since I suspect he'd give Jeffery the assignment of shutting down the Crimson's best player, Kyle Casey. That leaves Lance to chance the 6'5 Rivard who spends most of his time beyond the 3-point line, which as I write this seems like an ineffective use of his talents, especially on the glass.
Given Harvard's proclivity to score inside the paint and from the free throw line, I would not be surprised to see a fair bit of zone in this game. Certainly, at 35% Harvard isn't a bad three-point shooting team, but that is certainly not where their bread is buttered.
It should be a good game, although I wait with baited breathe for Stanimal's breakdown to let me know how good I should actually feel. The Commodores have been a victim of bad match-ups in their last 3 tournaments were the teams we've faced did the things well that we did poorly. Based on my cursory reading of Harvard and what they do, as a team they do not excel where Vanderbilt has struggled.
Be sure to stay with VSL all week for our coverage of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and watch as Vanderbilt gets the monkey off it's back and beats the ever-living daylights out of it.