Three Pointer: Without Saunders, Harvard loses at UConn

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Monday’s research on biases in shot-selection data. Today, a Three Pointer (and one) from Harvard’s 61-56 loss at Connecticut:

1. Harvard’s non-conference fate is sealed. Right now, Harvard is 13-2, one of only 35 teams in the nation with two or fewer losses. Of those 13 victories (five home, four road, four neutral), all came by more than five points, and the Crimson was never really in danger of losing, save for 45 wild seconds at Boston U. Yet, from a national perspective, Harvard’s non-conference season will be defined by the two losses — which came on the road, to top-50 teams, with key players injured in games Harvard led at halftime. By virtually any measure, Harvard is one of the 40 or so best teams in the nation … and yet they most likely won’t get a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament — or have a safety net if they don’t win the Ivy League outright — because they lost in both chances for a “quality win.”

This is the life of a mid-major. Harvard might be as good as Colorado, and maybe even a bit better than UConn, but because it had to play both games on the road, the Crimson was an underdog in each. Harvard really would have benefitted from getting into a better multi-team event — like the 2011-12 Battle for Atlantis — to get neutral-court shots at top teams. Of course, the Crimson isn’t blameless in its schedule; it should have tried to get more top-100-type teams (such as George Washington, who used to be a regular opponent, or UMass, whom it met last season) so its profile wasn’t so dependent on two big games.

2. Can Harvard survive without Saunders? Do-everything guard and Ivy Player of the Year favorite Wesley Saunders missed Wednesday’s game with a left knee injury. Harvard’s offense wasn’t the same without him; despite a pretty good three-point shooting performance, the Crimson scored just 47 points in 39 minutes before Laurent Rivard started raining and-ones in a desperate final minute.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said Saunders would be out “indefinitely,” though Saunders wasn’t officially scratched until today’s shootaround. Harvard has only three games in 3.5 weeks before the meat of Ivy League play begins, but if Saunders isn’t back by then, the Crimson will be in trouble — not only will they need to replace his offensive production, but his absence would leave Harvard’s backcourt very thin. During the back-to-back weekends, Amaker would need 240 minutes in a 26-hour span from three of Siyani Chambers, Brandyn Curry, Laurent Rivard and Agunwa Okolie — and Curry is coming off an injury of his own that caused him to miss nine games. Harvard looked much worse in Wednesday’s second half than the first, and fatigue may have been part of the reason.

3. Siyani shines. Point guard Siyani Chambers has had an up-and-down season, but he’s carried Harvard’s offense in a few recent games. Against Vermont, he shot 6-for-6 on threes and scored 27 in a six-point win; at Fordham, he hit five treys and dished nine assists in a 94-86 victory; and he nearly ld the Crimson past UConn, shooting 5-for-7 from distance for an efficient 21 points.

4. Pour one out for #2BidIvy. My dream of a two-bid Ivy League all but ended with Harvard’s loss to the Huskies; no Ancient Eight team has beaten a top-50 opponent, making the path to an at-large bid extremely narrow. It’s not totally out of the question — if Princeton and Harvard tie for the title at 13-1, the playoff loser would have just four losses and an RPI in the 35-50 range — but that scenario is extremely unlikely.

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