March 14, 2012

Previewing Vanderbilt vs. Harvard

Vanderbilt Commodores (24-10, 13-6 SEC) vs. Harvard Crimson (26-4)

Where: The Pit (15,411), Albuquerque, N.M.

When: Thursday, 3:40 Central


Radio: Nashville: 97.1 FM, XM 85, Sirius 190

Rankings: Vanderbilt is ranked 20th in the AP Poll and 24th in ESPN's; Harvard is unranked

Warren Nolan RPI: Vanderbilt 20, Harvard 35

The line: Vanderbilt by 5.5

Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt by 4

Pomeroy prediction: Vanderbilt 64, Harvard 60 (VU has a 66 percent chance of winning)

Series record: Vanderbilt won the only meeting (1993-94) by a 74-58 score

Brad Tinsley6-3210Sr.8.72.6PGBrandyn Curry6-1195Jr.7.82.0
John Jenkins6-4215Jr.19.92.8SGOliver McNally6-3180Sr.7.42.6
Jeffery Taylor6-7225Sr.16.45.8SFLaurent Rivard6-5215So.9.72.7
Lance Goulbourne6-8225Sr.8.96.9PFKyle Casey6-7215Jr.11.35.5
Festus Ezeli6-11255Sr.10.05.5CKeith Wright6-8240Sr.10.78.1

About Harvard

Coach Tommy Amaker has done a spectacular job in Cambridge, going from eight wins in his first year in 2007-08 (incidentally, Jeremy Lin led the Crimson in scoring that season) to 14, 21, 23, and finally, 26 this year. That was good enough for Harvard's first NCAA Tournament experience since 1946.

The Crimson announced their arrival into big-time college basketball early this year, beating Florida State (a 3-seed in this year's tourney) 46-41 on a neutral court on Nov. 25. On New Year's Eve, they defeated a solid St. Joe's squad, 74-69.

That catapulted Harvard to a 12-2 campaign in Ivy League play, which resulted in a regular-season title and the league's automatic bid. (The Ivy League does not have a post-season conference tournament.)

Amaker has done so much to raise the profile of HU basketball that last year, the Crimson even inked Rivals' 88th player in the 2011 class, 4-star Wesley Saunders, who's a key reserve on this year's team.

Signing a recruit who's that high-profile is virtually unheard of in the Ivy League, especially for a program whose last winning record in league play before Amaker's arrival came in the 1996-97 season.

The future looks bright for the Crimson - but so does the present. Harvard won't wow people with athleticism, but it's a solid team that spent part of the year in the Top 25 for good reason.

Forward Kyle Casey may be the team's best player. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year came off a disappointing season a year ago to lead the Crimson in scoring, and shoots 52 percent from the field. Casey''s a well-conditioned athlete with good length and enough athleticism to be an adequate player on the high-major level and an exceptional one within the Ivy League.

Harvard uses Casey in a number of ball screen situations. He will slip out on pick-and-rolls and can move quickly to stop and pop as a jump shooter. He plays with good balance and gives good elevation on his shot.

Casey is also a good defender because of his intelligence and ability to move laterally. He also shades offensive players and will block or alter shots as a help defender inside the box.

Vanderbilt will likely try to take advantage of his slower-than-usual release and limit his ability to get space. He does not create his own shot and his handle is not sharp, so he can be turned over if pressured.

Keith Wright occupies the low block next to Casey. He's an intense inside player who lacks height but has the size and ability to get into defenders hips. He's not overly explosive but he brings energy and an uncanny ability to hit some contested shots, a big reason he hit 59 percent from the field.

Last season's Ivy League Player of the Year, Wright's best asset is his ability to hit the jumper from about 10 feet out and at various angles, using some lower-body leverage for position and specific spots inside the box to get off high percentage shots.

Wright is Harvard's all-time leader in shot blocks but as a defensive player, he won't jump off the screen for his work. His energy level will allow him to make some plays, but against bigger competition, he lacks the length or explosion to alter too many shots.

He will lower his body into an offensive player in hopes of knocking him off-balance, but doesn't play as well without space. Wright averages over eight rebounds a game, though he doesn't always look like a natural rebounder. He gets good positioning and makes a number of effort plays more than anything.

Point guard Brandyn Curry appears to be, by far, Harvard's quickest player. The North Carolina native has the ability to penetrate most defenses when needed, though he plays more of a controlled, deliberate game most of the time.

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