UConn hosts Harvard tonight in the Crimson's first game as a Top 25 team, and the Huskies will have to fend off a vigorous upset bid.
Harvard is a talented team—better than last year's Princeton team that took Kentucky to the wire in March—so UConn could have its hands full. The Huskies have already lost to one non-BCS team and need a convincing win over a Top 25 team—a narrow two-point escape over Florida State doesn't count.
Here are five keys to UConn denying Harvard's upset bid.
Harvard has shot 33.6 percent from long range through its first eight games, but the Crimson have much better shooters than that number suggests.
Last season, Tommy Amaker's squad shot 37.8 percent from deep and featured four key players—all of whom are on this year's team—who shot over 36 percent.
Only Laurent Rivard has maintained a steady rate, but Christian Webster, Brandyn Curry and, especially, Oliver McNally—a 44.2 percent marksman last year—will find their strokes soon. It's just a matter of time.
UConn, which has allowed opponents to shoot 34.9 percent from deep, has already allowed a Central Florida team shooting 26.4 percent from long range to bury 7-of-17 treys (41.2 percent). We know how that game ended.
If the Huskies can't lock down the perimeter, Harvard's shooters could potentially return to last year's form. Jim Calhoun certainly wants to avoid that at all costs.
Harvard's not your stereotypical small Ivy League team as long as Keith Wright suits up.
Let's put it this way: any perennial tournament team would benefit from Wright's services. The 6'8" forward is the reigning Ivy POY and enters Thursday's contest averaging 11.4 points, 6.8 boards and 1.5 blocks per game.
While his scoring average might seem low, he averaged 14.8 points per game as a junior, topping 20 on five occasions. He's the leading scorer of a balanced offensive attack.
Kyle Casey, Harvard's other starting forward, is averaging 10.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
The duo can certainly—at least—hold its own against Alex Oriakhi and Tyler Olander. However, Harvard will be overmatched by Andre Drummond's athleticism.
Against Central Florida and Florida State, Drummond averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 boards and 5.5 swats per game. UConn will have a distinct advantage up front if its freshman can replicate those efforts.
Through the season's first eight games, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb are averaging 3.8 and 2.9 giveaways, respectively. That's 6.7 combined turnovers.
UConn survived its early season cupcakes despite the duo's ball-control issues but fell to Central Florida and barely beat Florida State. In each of those two games, Napier and Lamb combined for 10 turnovers. No typos.
Harvard—a pesky defensive team that forces 14.4 turnovers per game—forced 16 turnovers on 10 steals in a 46-41 win over Florida State.
If UConn is sloppy with the rock, the Huskies will leave the door open for an upset. Trimming the turnover total begins with Napier and Lamb.
UConn has a minus-3.9 turnover margin, and losing the turnover battle tonight could be fatal. Therefore, UConn needs to pester Harvard's offense, forcing more than the Crimson's average of 12.9 giveaways per game.
If the Huskies can keep a relatively even turnover margin, they'll have a very solid chance of fending off Harvard's upset bid.
While UConn's pace doesn't compare with the uptempo style employed by Missouri, for example, the Huskies play at a faster pace than Harvard, which ranks No. 312 in Ken Pomeroy's tempo rankings.
You can bet that Tommy Amaker will try to keep the game in the halfcourt—slowing the pace to his preference—and UConn can gain an advantage by controlling the game's tempo.
UConn is, unquestionably, more athletic than Harvard, so the Huskies would benefit from turnovers that enable them to play in transition. Get out and run.