The Harvard men’s basketball team (1-1) split its two opening contests—beating crosstown rival MIT by 20 and losing to Providence on the road by 12. The Crimson return home to take on the UMass Minutemen (1-0) tonight at 7:00. Beat writer David Freed details three things to watch below.
1. Starting Afresh — Of the 10 starters in last year’s game between the two teams, just one—senior Agunwa Okolie—will begin the game tonight. Both programs have suffered from departures of leading stars, either to graduation (Cady LaLanne, Wesley Saunders ’15), injury (senior Siyani Chambers), or transfer (Derrick Gordon). That makes it difficult to take anything away from the teams’ classic last year—a three-point Harvard victory where neither team led by more than three in the final 17 minutes. As a result, while last year’s game presented two fairly polished products, the two teams that take the court Tuesday will still be in their formative phases.
2. Changing of the Guard — UMass coach Derek Kellogg spotlighted his team’s backcourt advantage in a weekend interview; given that the Crimson start two freshmen, Corey Johnson and Tommy McCarthy, Kellogg expects to press the issue. Johnson and McCarthy have been the two leading Harvard scorers through two games, however, combining for 23.5 points a game.
The former is the team’s best floor spacer, making eight treys across two contests and a gunner mentality from deep. McCarthy has struggled with his shot (2-for-13 against Providence) but has been a steadier hand at the point than juniors Corbin Miller and Matt Fraschilla, the latter out with an undiagnosed injury. UMass guards Jabarie Hinds and Donte Clark will look to exploit the two freshmen early and often. Yet, McCarthy and Johnson—who commented Saturday that the team should never be satisfied with close losses in big games—will likely be ready for the challenge.
3. Pace and Space — The elements of “pace and space” in the Crimson’s offensive sets are subtle but present. After a year where the Crimson struggled mightily with spacing, the introduction of two very ready—and capable—shooters in the backcourt has created a freer floor for the Crimson. Johnson in particular runs through screen after screen with free rein to bomb away (7.5 three-point attempts a game). Many of his attempts come in transition, where McCarthy pushes the pace to find easy looks early and often. UMass likes to run—it ranked 51st in KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric last year—and will force the Crimson’s inexperienced guards to make snap decisions time and time again. Harvard’s ability to do so will largely decide the outcome.