Harvard isn't actually the next team on the list, but we wanted to skip ahead to give our preview of the top Ivy squad in the Mid-Major Top 20 from last season. We have something special in the works for the team that actually should be next.
We obviously spent a great deal of the summer talking about Penn and Zack Rosen, who has been gracious enough to talk to us not once, but twice as he was attempting to fulfill his dreams of playing professional basketball. But we shouldn't forget that Penn ultimately didn't win the Ivy League last year. That was the Crimson, who ultimately finished 25-5 against teams in Division 1.
More impressive is that this was again a team that got more out of its associated parts than you would expect, especially considering that Tommy Amaker hasn't exactly been seen as the kind of coach that excels at doing that. He definitely didn't have that kind of success while leading Michigan.There was no reason to believe he could do it at Harvard, a school that until last season hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1946.
That isn't saying that Amaker can't recruit. He can, and he is getting some excellent talent into his little fiefdom in Cambridge, including two incoming freshman that could see some decent minutes this coming season: Agunwa Okolie, a forward out of Canada, and Mike Hall, another big man from Atlanta.
This follows on the heels of him getting a monster season out of Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6-7 monster from Cameroon who was the top player off the bench for the Crimson. And that is totally neglecting Kenyatta Smith, perhaps the highest regarded player of his 2011 class, who only played 17 minutes for Harvard.
The classes just keep getting better for him, and eventually Harvard is not going to stop at No. 21 in the polls, the spot where they peaked last season.
Harvard looks to be in position to at least make some noise again this year, and will probably take the Ivy League title once again. That is despite the loss of top player Keith Wright to graduation. Wright led the team with a 3.51 HOOPWAR score and a whopping 19.73 DEF100 mark.
The cupboard isn't bare though, and the top returning players could all be in the market for some big jumps in production and value. The best bet is that Kyle Casey and Moundou-Missi team up in the front court, a duo that combined for a 27.5 DEF100 between the two of them. That will be difficult for Ivy team to beat on the inside. Casey will do his damage at the other end too after leading the Crimson in points per game last year. His 2.97 HOOPWAR is the best returning mark on the team, and he should become almost a 4-win player in his final year.
That might not be good enough for player of the year in the conference, but it should provide the base for the others around him. Brandyn Curry returns at the point, where he had 153 assists last year to just 60 turnovers, an amazing mark considering that Harvard didn't exactly play slouches on the defensive end. Laurent Rivard, who shot 40 percent from 3-point range should take up the other guard spot in the starting lineup.
After that, Amaker has the choice to go either big or small depending on his opponent. Wesley Saunders (another member of his stellar 2011 class) could make a quick small set against a slow opponent, while the freshman Hall allows him to clog the inside with a top talent.
The big question will be if the magic is still there this season. Harvard again scheduled a hard slate, including Connecticut, Cal and St. Mary's. Plus they will take on UMass and St. Joe's out of the A-10 and have the usual matchup against Boston College.
Bottom Line: Just like last season, the road through the non-conference schedule should prepare Harvard for anything they might see during the Ivy League season. They should be considered the favorite for the title despite losing their most valuable player, because almost everyone in the conference is in the same boat, and none have the depth of talent that the Crimson can shuffle to the floor.
Amaker is building a winner in Cambridge, but it will be a long time before the first team anyone mentions in Ivy League hoops is Harvard. He is changing minds, but Penn and Princeton have a long, long history to back them up as the elites.
If the ball bounces right, there is every reason to think that Harvard could match last season's record, and once again be dancing in March.