2018-19 Record: 19-12 (10-4 Ivy), lost in NIT second round
Key returning players: Bryce Aiken (G, Sr.), Noah Kirkwood (G, So.) Seth Towns (F, Sr.), Chris Lewis (F, Sr.)
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Luka Sakota (G, Fr.), Chris Ledlum (G, Fr.)
Seth Towns missed all of 2018-19 and Bryce Aiken played only 18 games. Still, the Crimson finished tied for first in the Ivy League regular season standings and advanced in the NIT.
Presumably, the Crimson will have their top two players back and fully healthy. They’re flanked by a strong supporting cast led by Noah Kirkwood, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Chris Lewis and senior guards Christian Juzang and Justin Bassey return as potential starters.
Chris Ledlum, a 4-star recruit, was ranked the No. 96 player in the country for the class of 2019 per 247 sports. He chose Harvard over 12 Power 5 schools, including Notre Dame, Texas Tech and Florida.
This team is stacked. Senior forwards Robert Baker Jr. and Henry Welsh have starting experience, and junior forward Danilo Djuricic showed promise last year. Junior guard Rio Haskett is capable of scoring outbursts, and in all, Harvard’s rotation may go up to 12 deep.
Key non-conference games
A trip to the Orlando Invitational highlights the non-conference slate, and Harvard will start the tournament with Texas A&M. The Crimson will then face either Maryland or Temple in the second round.
They end their non-conference schedule with a date against reigning Big West champion UC Irvine. The Anteaters lost their best player, Max Hazzard, as a graduate transfer to Arizona, but should be a solid home challenge for Harvard at Lavietes Pavillion.
Nov. 28-Dec. 1 vs. Texas A&M, Temple or Maryland, TBA (Orlando)
Dec. 29 @ California
Jan. 4 vs. UC Irvine
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With such a deep team, are there enough minutes to go around? Harvard always carries a big roster, but there are 12 players that should get playing time.
Players like Baker Jr., Haskett, Welsh and Djuricic may not see more than 10 minutes per game, although they’d start for most mid-major squads. With a healthy roster, Tommy Amaker and his staff will have the luxury and problem of devising a rotation that fits their wishes. He used the 10th-highest bench minutes rate in the country last year.
Injuries stack up
Aiken played in just 18 games last year and 14 the year before. Towns missed the entirety of last season. If the team is fully healthy, the Harvard’s firepower will be unstoppable in Ivy League play. If either goes down, can Kirkwood shoulder a second-fiddle load? Harvard projects to be better than Penn, Yale, and Columbia, but that gap can close awfully fast if the injury bug strikes again.
If the Crimson have a major flaw, it’s turnovers. Last year, Harvard posted the 18th-worst turnover rate in the country (22.6%), while Aiken posted more turnovers per game (3.5) than assists (2.6).
Can he return to form as the Ivy League Player of the Year? If so, Towns could catapult the Crimson into a legit threat to make an NCAA Tournament run. At 6-7, 215 pounds, Towns is a long and rangy wing who can do it all. He averaged 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
He connected on 44.1 percent of three-point shots and took nearly five per game. Towns could be this year’s Miye Oni. NBAdraft.net lists Towns as a late second round pick, but with a strong showing and a healthy season, Towns’ stock could rise.
Towns might not get the same scoring chances with such a deep team, but he should get plenty of opportunity with a deep core around him.