Harvard 80, Bryant 45 : Three Thoughts

BOSTON – Sportswriters (and the world at large, to be honest) tend to make way too big a deal out of singular events, but if there was ever a statement as to the current (and future) power of the Ivy League, it was Harvard’s complete demolition of Bryant Wednesday night at Lavietes Pavilion.

Having unfortunately borne witness to many of them over the years, it had all the look of a “guarantee game”. Of course, if Bryant wanted that, it could have gone down the street to Boston College or down I-95 to Providence.

But from the opening tip, Zena Edosomwan was just bigger and stronger than anyone the Bulldogs could throw at him, young guards Tommy McCarthy and Corey Johnson were bordering on arrogance because they could score whenever they pleased. Physically, athletically, skill-wise, whatever way you sliced it, it didn’t take a basketball expert to figure out who was the better team. It was a 20-point game by halftime and it was time to clear the benches and cheer for the walk-ons by the midway point of the second half.

Game 20: Bryant at Harvard – Five-time, five-time, five-time Ivy champs. Woooooo. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

In a way, it shouldn’t be that surprising. Harvard (minus the modern facility) has become a national-ish program, with five straight Ivy League titles, four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of NCAA wins (almost another over North Carolina last season). They fight for top 100 recruits like Edosomwan and find themselves on national television, like in the Diamond Head Classic at Christmas time.

However, as you probably know, it wasn’t always this way. Consider that in Tommy Amaker’s first season in Cambridge, 2007-2008, the Crimson not only went 8-22, but lost the only game it played against the NEC (Sacred Heart). At the end of that campaign, the Ivy League was ranked 26th (of 31) by KenPom, and could have been lower if it weren’t for Cornell, some .0004 ahead of 27th, which was, of course, the NEC.

The Ivy was actually 27th the next season, but thanks to the “keeping up with the Harvards” effect, the league is up to 16th and climbing this year (it was 15th in 2014-15). A look at the out-of-town scoreboard saw rebuilding Penn beating up on LaSalle, Princeton obliterating defending Patriot League champ Lafayette, and Yale giving Duke a battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Again, it’s just one game, is not representative of an entire league or season, and Bryant has many issues it needs to iron out. But from the view of relatively recent history, it is interesting to see just how far the Ivy League has come.

What else did we learn at Lavietes on Wednesday night?

  1. Reports of Harvard’s demise ….

Just as one game doesn’t prove conference strength, it also doesn’t automatically make Harvard an Ivy contender. Tommy McCarthy and Corey Johnson, as freshmen do, have had their struggles in the earlygoing, but McCarthy had an excellent line of 16 points, 8 assists, and just two turnovers. Edosomwan (and Evan Cummins really) faced little resistance from the small Bryant frontline, my count had Edosomwan at five dunks, unofficially. Edosomwan has proven himself, at least defensively, against better competition, but it’s possible some of the confidence gained Wednesday could help tremendously when the schedule gets difficult again.

“Confidence is critical,” Amaker said. “This is what we’re been hoping for because we feel like we’ve been lacking that. For a young ballclub with inexperienced players, if we can get a hold of that and run with it. Tonight was one of those nights that confidence felt like it was elevated for all of our kids. In the end, that’s going to be as big a piece of the puzzle as any.”

2) Meanwhile, back to drawing board for Bryant

Tim O’Shea is about as positive a coach as you’ll find, but even he seemed to be at a loss after Wednesday’s game.

“It’s been a long time since I can remember a game quite like that, a game you expect to be very competitive in and from the get-go just wasn’t very good,” O’Shea said.

While he’s not alone, Dan Garvin’s form is troubling for someone who was an All-NEC Second Team selection last year and supposed to lead the Bulldogs this season. His 1-10 shooting performance makes him 15-42 (.357) for the season and he has been to the free throw line just five times in four games.

Freshman Marcel Pettway played well (10 pts., 8 rebs.) and may force O’Shea to find a place for him. Bosko Kostur was also a lone bright spot, but does O’Shea sit someone to make room? Meanwhile, Bryant is at Georgetown, New Hampshire, and Yale in the next three games and still has games at Providence and Michigan next month before getting ready for NEC play. However, if they can survive mentally until then, they might be alright.

“Teams have bad games, what are you going to do? But this was a really bad one and given the schedule we have coming up, we can’t dwell on this one,” O’Shea said. “We have to figure some things out, but it looks like the NEC is wide open and we have a few more non-conference games left.”

3) Don’t forget about Agunwa Okolie

His offensive numbers were mediocre last season, and even with the huge turnover in personnel, it doesn’t appear like he’ll be one of the top options this year, either. But he was and is a big reason why Harvard had such excellent defensive numbers last season (36th in efficiency). The Crimson will likely take a step back in that category with such a young team, but Okolie – a 6’8” long combo guard with plenty of much-needed experience, will need to be part of the glue that holds them together through tough times.

“Ogunwa has to guard the best player for our opponent, and he led us in rebounding tonight with nine,” Amaker said. “His presence on the court is critical. He’s our best defender, he’s guarded the other team’s best player on the perimeter every game and he’s done it exceptionally well.”