When the No. 9 Connecticut Huskies host the No. 24 Harvard Crimson on Thursday night, it may seem like a mismatch on paper, but UConn certainly figures to have its hands full. The Huskies, who are 7-1, will have to contend with an undefeated Harvard squad that hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.
The Huskies are coming off their best effort of the season thus far as they wiped out the Arkansas Razorbacks, 75-62. UConn has bounced back nicely from a shocking five-point loss to the Central Florida Knights a couple games ago, but that loss continues to loom over the Huskies.
Harvard and UConn have played some common opponents as both teams competed in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Both teams took care of a then-ranked Florida State team, while Harvard handily defeated UCF to win the tournament after the Knights had already beaten the Huskies.
It is dangerous to base things off hypotheticals, but it stands to reason that the Crimson have a real shot at upending the Huskies and giving their program a major boost. UConn has tons of talent, however, and certainly won't take this game lightly after what happened with Central Florida.
Where: Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
When: Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. EDT
Betting Line: UConn (-6.5)
Key Storyline: Is Harvard Really as Good as Its Record Suggests?
There is no question that Harvard is among college basketball's most pleasant surprises, as the Crimson have played intelligent and technically-sound basketball in order to race out to a 8-0 start under head coach Tommy Amaker.
The Crimson certainly have some impressive victories this season, but they have yet to be tested by a team as deep and talented as the defending national champion Huskies. If Harvard can find a way to slow down UConn's offensive attack and come out on top, then we may start talking about the Crimson as the next great mid-major team like George Mason, Butler and VCU before them.
Who Might Not Play for Harvard: No Injuries to Report
Who Might Not Play for UConn: C Michael Bradley
Connecticut redshirt freshman Michael Bradley made headlines during the offseason as he selflessly gave up his scholarship so that the Huskies could bring in super freshman Andre Drummond. Bradley wasn't rewarded with karmic justice for his good deed, however, as he suffered a fractured ankle and has yet to play this season.
Bradley's return date is projected to be some time this month, but it seems unlikely that he will suit up against Harvard. Bradley looks to be little more than depth at the end of the bench at this point, but it never hurts to have an extra big body should an interior player like Drummond get into foul trouble.
With both Harvard and UConn currently nestled within the top 25, this game figures to have major implications when it comes to the rankings. Should Harvard find a way to pull off the upset, then it wouldn't be surprising to see the Crimson skyrocket up the charts with an undefeated record and wins over Florida State and Connecticut.
UConn is currently lying in the weeds at No. 9, but make no mistake that the Huskies are a top contender for the national championship once again this season. A win over Harvard, while impressive, likely wouldn't vault the Huskies a great deal in the rankings, but it certainly wouldn't hurt one bit either.
What They're Saying
At 8-0, the Harvard Crimson have been a revelation this season and are currently ranked in the top 25. Despite that, it would be easy to take the Ivy League team lightly, especially when you're talking about the defending national champions in UConn. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun fully understands how dangerous Harvard is, however, according to Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant.
"They're good enough to beat us," coach Jim Calhoun said. "We're going to have to play well.
"They're very tough..They can play fast, they can play slow and win. They can hit the three on the run, they can make nine or 10 passes, slow it down that way. They play very well over the last five minutes of games, make their foul shots."
Harvard Player to Watch: F Keith Wright
Harvard forward Keith Wright is your typical 6'8", 240-lb. banger on the interior, but he is a highly-effective player for the Crimson. Wright put up stellar numbers last season with nearly 15 points and eight rebounds per game, and while he is a bit below that pace this year, he is the key cog in Harvard's spread-it-around offense.
Harvard is such a good passing team that there isn't really room for a dominant scorer, but Wright currently leads the team with an average of 11.4 points per game. It is tough to say that any one Harvard player is going to lead the team to victory, but the way Wright plays against UConn's tough big men will certainly be a big factor.
UConn Player to Watch: G Ryan Boatwright
Freshman guard Ryan Boatwright missed UConn's first six games of the season while dealing with eligibility issues, but it certainly hasn't taken the diminutive player much time to get acclimated. Boatright went off on Arkansas in just his second career game as he dropped 23 points, six assists and five rebounds on a solid Razorbacks team.
Boatwright's slashing style has already led to some comparisons to former NBA All Star Allen Iverson. Whether he ever reaches that level is uncertain right now, but there is no question that the Huskies have been a more dangerous team since he entered the lineup. Boatright is a player Harvard must account for.
Key Matchup: Harvard's Half-Court Offense vs. UConn's Half-Court Defense
As is the case with most Ivy league teams, Harvard plays a very fundamentally-sound game that focuses on hitting hump shots from every part of the floor. Most of their open shots are created in the half-court offense thanks to precision passing, something that UConn's half-court defense will have to disrupt.
The Crimson figure to do everything possible to quell the Huskies' superior athleticism, but UConn can rule that moot by using athleticism to its advantage on the defensive end. Provided the Huskies can disrupt Harvard's offensive rhythm and get active hands into passing lanes, UConn should be able to conquer the Ivy Leaguers.
UConn 75, Harvard 66