Saturday, January 8, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Getting A Head Start

As has become tradition in the Ivy League, Harvard and Dartmouth will kick off the league slate tomorrow at Leede Arena, in the opening contest of the 14-Game Tournament.

By most accounts, the contest should be an exercise in anticlimax. The spread should settle in the low double-digits in favor of the visitors, and the Crimson is coming off a huge win over a top 50 opponent, Boston College.

Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, however.

Two seasons ago, Harvard began its three-year streak at Conte Forum, knocking off a ranked Eagles squad 82-70, three days before traveling north to Hanover. Then-freshman Oliver McNally had to hit a 12-foot runner with 12 seconds left to allow the Crimson to sneak past Dartmouth, 63-62.

Last year was almost the same story. Harvard beat Boston College much earlier in the season and hammered the Big Green at Lavietes to kick off the Ivy campaign, but still managed to fall behind by double-digits early before getting a 15-1 run midway through the second half to hold off Dartmouth by four.

The Big Green has managed to remain net-positive in point differential at home against Harvard under Amaker by forcing the Crimson into incredibly poor shooting performances. In the 2008 visit, which Dartmouth won 73-56, Harvard posted a 37.5 eFG% - its second worst of that season. McNally's game winner in 2009 capped off the Crimson's sixth worst shooting performance of that season, and last year's 62-58 win saw Harvard post a 40.7 eFG% - its worst of the 2010 campaign.

If you've followed the Crimson this season, a part of the answer of how the Big Green has managed to stifle Harvard probably won't surprise you. Over the past three years, Harvard has taken 15 trifectas per game, on average, and made just 17 percent. Two of the three years, the Crimson compounded that by shooting incredibly poorly from the free throw stripe (14-for-26 last year and 17-for-26 in 2008).

Dartmouth would love to have Harvard take at least 15 threes today, as the Big Green is the smallest it has ever been. If the Crimson can work the ball inside, Dartmouth will likely have to send Harvard to the line in bunches, where the No. 1 free throw shooting team in the country is unlikely to match those poor performances from 2008 and 2010.

Keeping the Crimson off balance offensively is important for a Big Green team that has posted offensive ratings below 90 in 8-of-13 games this season. Simply put, Dartmouth won't be competitive in a shootout. It must continue to baffle Harvard defensively or hope that the Crimson never gets its legs coming off the three-hour bus ride to Hanover.

Otherwise, what the oddsmakers say should happen, might actually happen for once with Harvard cruising to an road victory in the opening round of the 14-Game Tournament.

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