My first reaction to Harvard’s matchup with Cincinnati was a negative one. Of all the 5 seeds (VCU, Oklahoma, and St. Louis being the others), Harvard drew the best one. Sean Kilpatrick is one the best players in the country, and the Bearcats enter the tournament with an impressive 27-6 record. But the more I look at the matchup, the more I like the Crimson’s chances. Let’s take a look at each team.
Strengths: The obvious strong point for the Bearcats is their stifling defense, which Kenpom ranks as the 9th best in the country. In addition, Cincinnati allows just 58.3 points per game, good for 6th in the country. Coach Mick Cronin does a great job of ensuring that everyone on the team contributes to the defensive effort. Big man Justin Jackson is a beast down low, blocking 2.9 shots per game. Offensively, Kilpatrick is the star, as he averages 20.7 points per game. Jackson is also a threat, as he shoots 54.2% from the field and averages 11.1 points per game.
Weaknesses: The big issue is scoring. The Bearcats rank 237th in points per game, and beyond Kilpatrick no one can be relied upon to score consistently. This will be an issue against a Harvard team that plays excellent defense. A bad night for Kilpatrick will spell trouble for Cincinnati. Even if Kilpatrick goes off, it may not be enough. In addition, the Bearcats struggle on the boards, pulling in just 36 per game. No player taller than 6’9″ plays more 10 minutes per game. Considering how much Harvard (particularly Wesley Saunders) loves to drive to the basket, this weakness could be Cincinnati’s downfall.
Strengths: The Crimson also feature a strong defense, although it is not quite as good as their opponent’s. The Crimson rank 13th in the nation in points allowed per game, and are 28th in steals as well. Laurent Rivard plays shutdown defense, and Saunders is athletic enough to guard just about anyone. On offense, Harvard uses a balanced attack centered on ball movement and penetration. With 5 players averaging double digit points, and a sixth not far behind, Harvard often has lineups where everyone is a threat to score. Not only that, but everyone is capable of having a big night as well. Shutting down Saunders, Harvard’s leading scorer and the Ivy League Player of the Year, does not guarantee victory. Laurent Rivard can light it up from three and has had success in the tournament before. Steve Moundou-Missi has had some big games this year, including dropping 21 and 11 in the season finale against Brown, and Kyle Casey pairs a ferocious post game with a nice jumper. Point guards Siyani Chambers and Brandyn Curry both are strong offensively as well, able to shoot the three and drive to the bucket.
Weaknesses: With the exception of rebounding, Harvard does just about everything well. Losing big man Kenyatta Smith for the year has made it tough for Harvard to grab boards, despite big improvements from Moundou-Missi. Luckily, Cincinnati also struggles in this area. Personally, I think the biggest concern for the Crimson may be their ability to contain Kilpatrick. Yes, Harvard plays excellent team defense, and they have players who are good enough to guard Kilpatrick. Still, looking back at earlier games that Harvard played, there are warning signs. Keifer Sykes dropped 26, and Alex Rosenberg had 32 in a double-overtime loss to the Crimson. Neither of those players are on Kilpatrick’s level, which raises issues about how well Harvard can defend Kilpatrick. In addition, the Crimson lack a consistent three point shooter outside of Rivard. Chambers and Curry are both inconsistent, and an off-night from all three wouldn’t be surprising.
Prediction: This game will certainly be a close one. Kilpatrick will have big day- 30 or more wouldn’t surprise me- but Harvard should shut down the rest of the Cincinnati offense. I think that Cincinnati will also be able to stymie the Harvard offense, with the exception of Rivard, who always plays well in the tournament. In the end, the Bearcats will be too much for the Crimson in what should be a great game. Cincinnati 54, Harvard 49