Pictured: Brandyn Curry and the Harvard team leads the Ivy League in virtually every defensive category. (Associated Press)
Despite being on a 13-day hiatus from competition due to final exams, the buzz surrounding the Harvard basketball team has remained high. Much of the praise has appropriately been showered on familiar faces like guard Jeremy Lin and big man Keith Wright for their strong play; however as the Boston Herald recently pointed out, Tommy Amaker's young supporting class has brought the team's future stars into relevance right away.
The Crimson has landed the Ivy League's top recruiting classes in each of the last two seasons with this year's freshman class highlighted by the Gatordade Maryland Player of the Year Christian Webster and highly-coveted big man Kyle Casey.
Additionally, another pair of guards have made immediate impacts. Dee Giger delivered numerous daggers in the season-opening win at Holy Cross en route to his selection as the league's top rookie of the opening week. The fourth newcomer to see significant time is Brandyn Curry, who turned in an eye-opening performance in Harvard's 74-67 win at Boston College on Dec. 9.
"Right now we have a good rotation, we're playing a lot of players and I think they're staying fresh," Amaker said last week. "If we're lucky to keep guys healthy and keep the right work ethic and attitude that the kids have, then I'm very confident that we can keep moving."
Nine players have reached double figures in minutes in every game this season with the team going as deep as 11. The results have allowed the Crimson to roll out fresh players who are able to contribute on both ends of the court.
In the BC game, Harvard's freshmen started slowly as they played during reading period for the first time. The group erupted with Webster delivering a big triple and clutch free throws late in the game but the tone was set in the middle portion thanks to the defensive play of Curry.
"Brandyn is a really steady player... he's the guy you want to have out there," says teammate Dan McGeary. "He makes all the right plays and he really picks up the tempo for us on defense. I think you saw that in the BC game, where in the second half he started picking up the full court and it kind of changed momentum of the game I thought. He's obviously wise beyond his years."
Curry provided 26 poised minutes off the bench, playing solid defense and relieving Lin of some of the ballhandling duties on offense. Behind the Huntersville, N.C. native's full court pressure, Harvard limited the Eagles under 30 percent shooting in the second half.
"He's been fantastic, simply put," says co-captain Doug Miller. "Our point guards, we like to talk about their quarterback skills and their ability to lead the team. It's tough being a freshman and having the responsibility on your shoulders but he's been able to handle that very well."
Curry's play against BC exemplified Harvard's style of play this season as the Crimson aims to run and play an uptempo style on offense. Defensively, Amaker has his team playing an aggressive, extended man-to-man defense.
The results have been obvious; Harvard leads the Ivy League in scoring offense (76.9 ppg), scoring margin (+9.2) by nearly double the next Ivy team and field goal percentage (.483). Those numbers have been set up thanks to some gaudy defensive statistics for the young Crimson, which leads the league in field goal percentage defense (.390), 3-point defense (.295), rebounds per game (35.8), defensive rebounds (26.6), rebounding margin (+2.7), blocked shots (5.9).
The results are not only obvious to fans and the team's experienced players but the freshmen as well.
"Brandyn is a really good player in all facets of the game," notes Casey. "Defensively, he's really long for a point guard and bothers the other teams point guard, disrupts their offense. He's really helped us get into our flow by disrupting their flow and a lot of things start from defense. He's really come in and controlled the game."
The Herald's Dan Duggan noted against BC that, "the defensive effort in Harvard's 74-67 win over BC was particularly impressive considering an ACC opponent would presumably have superior athletes. But the Crimson got right in the faces of the BC players and disrupted the Eagles' flex offense."
"Brandyn's done a great job for us this year," says Pat Magnarelli. "He does all the little things, especially on defense. Against BC he started picking up full court and I think that really threw them off offensively. It sped them up a little bit and forced them to take quick shots. I think that was the key to our important 7-0 run that we had in the second half to seal the game for us."
Harvard is back in action Dec. 23 with a noon matinee at undefeated Georgetown in a game being played at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The Crimson returns home the following week for two games on the 28th and 30th.