There might be some more nationally-prominent college basketball games later this week worth previewing than Thursday night’s Harvard-UConn game—Saturday’s Ohio State-Kansas or Kentucky-Indiana matchups, for example—but this is the first time I certainly have had occasion to preview a game involving an Ivy League school.
Plus, the Thursday night college basketball schedule is very weak, with this game being the only one involving ranked teams (and, of course, no NBA). So unless you want to bet on the Browns-Steelers Thursday night NFL matchup or a random NHL game, this is your best option. Tip is at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
And as an aside, perhaps I should stick solely to college hoops. I have previewed one game a week for three weeks and have hit on the side in all three. The last game in this space was Duke at Ohio State, with the Buckeyes easily covering the spread in an emphatic 85-63 win that had to be the best performance by any team so far this year. I also hit the "over" in that one.
I probably just jinxed myself on this one.
Harvard at UConn Betting Storylines
OK, I know what you are thinking: an Ivy League team against the defending National Champion and No. 9 team in the nation. Mismatch. But the Crimson, coached by former Duke star and Seton Hall and Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, are not your typical Ivy League club.
The Crimson are 8-0 for the first time since 1984-85 and have already beaten a ranked team at the time in Florida State. In fact, they beat Utah, FSU and Central Florida to win the Battle 4 Atlantis Thanksgiving tournament.
And this week Harvard entered the AP Poll at No. 25. It’s the first time Harvard has ever been ranked by the AP and first Ivy League team ranked since Princeton reached the top 10 late in the 1997-98 season. The Crimson, who are No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, are the first Ivy League team to be ranked nationally in any poll since Cornell was No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today poll during the 2010 season.
No Ivy League team has started 9-0 since Columbia in 1969-70.
Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright is the star for Harvard, averaging 11.4 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per contest. The Crimson entered the week 10th in the country in scoring defense (54.4 points allowed per game) and hadn’t allowed more than 49 points in four straight games for the first time since the 1946-47 season before beating Seattle 80-70 on Sunday.
Connecticut (7-1) also happened to play in that Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and the Huskies lost 68-63 to Central Florida on Nov. 25 before needing overtime to beat Florida State, 78-76. So the common opponent trends seem to favor Harvard.
However, UConn is 5-0 at home and has won every game by at least 12 points, most recently defeating Arkansas 75-62 on Dec. 3. It should be noted that UConn played its first six games without freshman guard Ryan Boatright, and he already has emerged as one of the team’s best players in his two games. Against the Hogs he had 23 points, six assists and five rebounds; he debuted in that FSU game with 14 points.
These two met last year in Hartford, with UConn winning easily, 81-52, behind 20 points from Kemba Walker. Wright led the Crimson with 18 points and seven boards. The Huskies were No. 4 when the schools faced off, making them the highest-ranked team Harvard had faced since 1991. UConn is 14-2 all-time vs. Harvard.
Harvard at UConn Betting Odds and Trends
Connecticut opened as a six-point favorite with the total at 129 on NCAA basketball odds. UConn is 2-3 ATS overall and 1-1 at home. Harvard is 4-0 ATS overall and 1-0 in true road games. "Over/under" records: HAR 1-3, UCONN 1-4.
UConn is 1-4 ATS in its past five games vs. Ivy League. The "under" is 6-0 in UConn’s past six following a win. "Under" is 5-1 in Harvard’s past six non-conference games overall. "Over" is 4-1 in Crimson’s past five vs. Big East.
College Basketball Picks: Harvard at Connecticut Betting Predictions
Last year Harvard missed out on its first NCAA tournament berth since 1946, losing on a buzzer-beater to Princeton in a one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s automatic berth. A win here, combined with the FSU victory, would almost guarantee the Crimson an at-large berth if they somehow didn’t win the Ivy this season (the Ivy title is a lock, however).
Harvard owns a 7-8 record against BCS conferences under Amaker. It has two wins all-time over ranked teams, including that FSU victory last month.
And if Thursday’s game were at Harvard, I would give the Crimson a shot for the outright win and certainly for a cover, but I can’t do that at UConn.
Obviously, the size difference will be immense in this one—UConn freshman big man Andre Drummond could have a huge night and had been emerging before being invisible against Arkansas. So the Crimson will need to play smart, avoid turnovers and hit their free throws—all things at which they excel.
This will be their Super Bowl of the regular season, plus UConn gets a 10-day break after this one and may be eyeing that a little.
Still, I was hoping this line was going to be around 10 before I would lean toward Harvard, so I have to take Connecticut. Both teams are very good defensively so take the "under."
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports college basketball picks Web site.