Game 009: at Harvard 85, Northeastern 75Saturday, November 27, 2004
Lavietes Pavilion - Cambridge, MA
One of the things that makes our game so great is that no amount of athletic skill will guarantee victory. Teamwork, guts and guile can go a long way - sometimes all the way. We have plenty of examples of this: pick any early-round Tournament upset of your choosing, or "Hoosiers" (at least the true story it was based on), or the train wreck better known as the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. Tortoises don't beat hares very often in basketball... but they can
, and that's what matters.
So it's one of the enduring mysteries: if they're so smart, why are Ivy League basketball teams so god-awful? Sure, there are the two clubs that have unlocked the secrets of basketball mind over basketball matter: Princeton
will lull opponents into a 40-38 snorefest
and hit 'em with a backdoor play or two, and Penn
will carefully analyze and exploit your weaknesses, then drop a slew of textbook jumpers on you for good measure. But then there are the other six Ivies who just can't seem to stop their basketball teams from sucking.
Maybe all those rocket scientists, quantum physicists and tweed-coated professors could take a lesson from a certain Ned Brainard of Medfield College
, better known to movie and teevee audiences as Fred MacMurray. Exploiting a rulebook omission that allowed players to apply foreign substances to their shoes without penalty, Professor Brainard's flying rubber - or "flubber" - helped Medfield's hoopsters bounce high, high, high up into the air and dumbfound their opponents with spectacular slam-dunk shows.
And that's what you gotta do if you can't run the other team out of your gym. Out-think them. Play "system ball." Go for any advantage you can, pushing your strategy to the very edge of the rules.
Coating the team's sneakers with Flubber would certainly be preferable to the strategies employed by the Harvard
Crimson, who went 4-23 a year ago and don't aspire to reach much higher this season. In their game against local rival Northeastern
this past Saturday, as well as the last two times I've seen them slink in and out the Palestra, they've shown a distinct lack of basketball brains. The typical Harvard possession goes like this: a)
bring the ball up; b)
pass it around the perimeter; c)
as soon as someone is isolated one-on-one, try to take it to the hole.
They do throw a high screen sometimes, and sometimes a hard double screen, but they spring it before the point guard brings the ball upcourt, rendering it completely readable and useless. And while it does keep possessions short and shot counts (and occasionally scores) up, Harvard-ball results in a lot of embarrassing-looking turnovers of every possible type. "I hate to sound mean," said The Official Wife Of The Mid-Majority™, who watches hoops with an untrained yet beautiful blue-like-a-limpid-pool eye. "But this reminds me of high school."
Now, it's easy to make fun of Ivy League basketball. The Swiss cheese (with Grey Poupon) defense. The two-handed set shots. The distinct lack of, um, "soul." But if some goofy white guy who went to a state school has enough imagination to make up a game like "Ivy League Turnover Bingo," then surely the Harvard Crimson can muster up something resembling an imaginative offense.
Surprisingly mobile 7-0 behemoth Brian Cusworth looks like the Crimson's bright spot, using his size advantage to score 20 points (mostly off second chances) and nab 14 boards. Cusworth, a sophomore who's battled injury problems, had to withdraw from school for spring semester 2004 to maintain his eligibility. Remember, you can't redshirt in the Ivy League.
For Northeastern's part, they fought bravely if not clumsily. In a game with very little defense to speak of, the Huskies kept things close, and opened the second half with a 10-2 run to establish the nip-and-tuck finale. Their one true star is Puerto Rican sensation Jose Juan Berea, who had 30 points and seven assists despite being in what appeared to be excruciating leg pain (which might have resulted from carrying the team on his back). He would be pulled out for a few possessions every so often so that the trainer could work on him, and it was at the end, when Berea's energies were fully spent, that the Crimson pulled away and iced the game.
Many smaller schools use halftime to let local kids' leagues play mini-games on the court - it's much easier on the entertainment budget than the Jabali Acrobats, and the fans love it. On this day, Harvard hosted a YMCA youth league from Wakefield, Mass., and the teams were separated, grey and green.
The grey squad was led by a fearsome duo. Their point guard wore the number 23 and appeared as like a young Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, and I unoficially christened him "Flash Magic." His partner in crime was a wiry little bro' with a fro' who had elastic limbs, quick footwork and a "1" on his jersey. Flash Magic brought the ball up each possession, dribbling with his knees, through his legs, dropping ankle-breakers, head-faking and no-looking. But Fro Bro's shots weren't falling against a lunging double-team, and Flash Magic was getting visibly frustrated.
When the ball went the other way, the green team would run the same exact play every time: a simple screen and roll off the right side of the key. The screens were faithfully set each time by a pale and awkward lad who looked like he'd enjoyed seconds with double dessert at the Thanksgiving table a few days previous. The shooters, who democratically took turns, used their free space to carefully set up their jumpers - and three times out of four, they went in. No score was kept, but it was clear to all in attendance that the green team had prevailed in a big way.
Too bad the Crimson were in the locker room at the time. Perhaps they could have learned a valuable lesson that would sustain them through what promises to be a tough winter haul: even if the other guys have Flash Magic, there's always a key to victory - you just have to find it. Why, it might even be "the goo that flew."Photo Gallery