By Charles Jay
The Harvard Crimson seemed to have every expectation that they would be a part of the NCAA Tournament this season. They were tied for the top of the Ivy League, and actually swept their co-leaders, the Yale Bulldogs. Unfortunately for them, the third time proved to be the charm for Yale in the league tournament, and so coach Tommy Amaker‘s squad was “relegated” to the National Invitation Tournament, where they won their first round game against Georgetown and can advance to the quarterfinals if they can get by the North Carolina State Wolfpack, another team disappointed not to make the NCAA field.
The game tips off at 7:30 PM ET at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, and while ESPNU televises it, BetAnySports customers will have an opportunity to place wagers in real-time using the technology available through Live Betting Ultra.
N.C. State (22-11 SU, 2-14 ATS) had a number of impressive wins, including one over Auburn, which has just advanced into the Sweet Sixteen, but they have been wildly inconsistent and even a bit ugly at times. There was a game with Virginia Tech where they shot just 20% (including 2-for-28 from beyond the arc) and scored a total of TWENTY-FOUR points. Then they turned around in the next game and scored 96 against North Carolina. They advanced to this round with an 84-78 win over a good Hofstra team, withstanding 29 points from Justin Wright-Foreman, the nation’s second leading scorer.
Harvard beat the Hoyas 71-68, making 69% of their two-point shots. But they committed 16 turnovers – something that has been a problem for them – and weren’t prolific at the three-point line (just 5-of-24). They got 18 points from Bryce Aiken, who is a very special player for the Ivy League, having just dropped 38 points in that loss to Yale. He tallied 44 and 36 points in wins over Columbia as well. A 40% shooter from downtown, will he be stymied by the N.C. State defense, which has surrendered just 30% shooting from out there? And can Harvard sufficiently come up with other ways to score? They certainly have the “glue guy” who is able to hold things together. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
In the NIT basketball betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports, the Wolfpack are laying points:
North Carolina State Wolfpack -10
Harvard Crimson +10
Over 152.5 points -110
Under 152.5 points -110
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts, who had won 54 games in the previous two seasons at UNC-Wilmington before taking his current job, is a proponent of “positionless basketball,” and so you may see times when the Wolfpack have nobody on the floor over 6-5. They will push the tempo if they can, and they want to create offense out of defense. That is something Harvard (a dismal 334th in offensive turnover percentage) has to be wary of. North Carolina State also has the ability to take away three-point shooting opportunities, as only 34% of their opponents’ shots come from long range, and as we said, they are very good at stopping it when they get off an attempt. And although Harvard is very proficient at defending the glass (sixth best in the nation in defensive rebounding rate), the Wolfpack have been able to snare 35.7% of available caroms after a miss.
What a lot of people don’t realize about Harvard – primarily because they don’t award athletic scholarships – is that they have three players on the active roster who were among the ESPN 100 when they were being rated as recruits. But the guy who often makes a difference for them is a 6-5 guard who was not part of that list.
Justin Bassey came to Harvard almost by accident. He was spotted at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas by an assistant coach who was actually there to scout Chris Lewis, a highly-touted prospect. But Bassey’s work ethic stood out, plus he was a straight-A student. And so he joined the recruiting class, which was, believe it or not, one of the best in the country and included Seth Towns, last season’s Ivy League player of the year, who had to sit out this season with a knee injury.
Bassey is the guy who gets to do the dirty work, like grab rebounds, score when he needs to (he had 19 against Marquette in last year’s NIT, for example, after Towns went down) and guard the other team’s top perimeter player. At that he has been able to excel, and no less an authority then Amaker, who was the ACC defensive player of the year when he was at Duke, has called him the Crimson’s most valuable player. He is also firmly established as a team leader, and has been known to conduct some team practices, even without the coaches present.
When you look at the raw numbers, they suggest matchup advantages for N.C. State, for certain. But there are certain intangibles that give Harvard a chance. Plus, Aiken can keep them in the game with his shooting, and they can do some business inside with Lewis and Noah Kirkwood, and this makes it worth grabbing the double-digit impost.
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