For most of the past 40 years, a midweek non-conference matchup between UConn and Harvard wouldn't have warranted much attention. UConn always had a much bigger and more talented roster, and despite Harvard's massive advantages in trivial things like "reading," "mathematics" and "knowledge of quantum physics," the Crimson could not match the Huskies exceptional ability on the basketball court and were easily disposed of.
That will not be the case again this year, however, as Harvard enters tonight's game boasting a much more talented roster and some national buzz. As incredible as it sounds, the Crimson could be one of the toughest teams the Huskies face for the rest of the season, and this game will likely have major tournament implications for both teams come season's end.
In the short term, it could also prove to be a critical test for the Huskies going forward. Beat Harvard, and you pick up a key win going into one of the toughest stretches of the season. Lose, and you find yourself riding a three game losing streak with Louisville and Memphis looming close on the horizon.
Simply put, UConn needs to win this game.
Harvard comes into Gampel Pavilion riding a nine game winning streak while boasting a 13-1 record and the No. 26 overall ranking from KenPom. UConn, on the other hand, is 11-3 and limps in fresh off two straight losses to Houston and SMU, both of which were excruciating to watch.
Playing in front of an energized Gampel Pavilion crowd should hopefully shake the Huskies out of whatever malaise they've been stuck in since Christmas, but probably the best thing UConn will have going for it is a relatively small opponent who likely won't be able to abuse the Huskies inside as consistently as SMU did.
Harvard's main lineup consists of guards Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders and Laurent Rivard, and forwards Kyle Casey and Steve Moundou-Missi. Casey and Moundou-Missi are both 6-foot-7, and while each averages about six rebounds a game, neither is an overpowering force, which should give coach Kevin Ollie the option to play a smaller lineup with DeAndre Daniels or Niels Giffey at center if he chooses.
Generally speaking, the guy UConn should keep an eye out for is Saunders. The 6-foot-5 junior leads the Crimson with 15.7 points per game in 33.8 minutes per game, and he is shooting an efficient 50.6 percent from the floor. Chambers is also a solid player, averaging 11 points and 5.1 assists per game.
UConn, of course, counters with Shabazz Napier, one of the nation's top players, along with Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and Lasan Kromah in the backcourt. Given Harvard's smaller lineup, it will be interesting to see what lineup combinations Ollie goes with, and if any of the bigs can rebound after a particularly brutal performance against SMU.
Overall, UConn holds a 16-2 series lead over Harvard, and the last time the Huskies lost to the Crimson was back in 1972. So between that and UConn's dominant record at Gampel Pavilion, history suggests that UConn should win this game, but as you and I both know, sports aren't always that simple, and that's why they play the games.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and also broadcast on WTIC 1080 AM and WHUS 91.7 FM.