Sidelines with John Clay

Five things to know about Harvard basketball

Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker celebrates after his team defeated New Mexico 68-62 during the 2013 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2013.
Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker celebrates after his team defeated New Mexico 68-62 during the 2013 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2013. Associated Press

Five things to know about Kentucky basketball’s Saturday opponent, the Harvard Crimson.

1. Tommy Amaker is winningest basketball coach in Harvard history

You remember Amaker, of course. He was the Duke point guard (1983-87)on the Blue Devils’ team that lost to “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison and Louisville in the finals of the 1986 NCAA Tournament.

An assistant at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski from 1988 to 1997, Amaker went 68-55 in four seasons as head coach at Seton Hall, taking the Pirates to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament in 2000. He was then hired at Michigan where he went 108-84 in six seasons but was fired after failing to take the Wolverines to the Big Dance.

At 196-108 in his 10-plus seasons, Amaker is the winningest coach in Harvard history. He took the Crimson to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2012 through 2015. As the No. 14 seed in 2013, his team upset No. 3 seed New Mexico 68-62 before losing losing to Arizona 74-51. As the No. 12 seed in 201, Harvard knocked off No. 5 seed Cincinnati 61-57 before losing to No. 4 seed Michigan State 80-73.

Last year, Harvard went 18-10 overall and 10-4 in the Ivy League. The Crimson dropped its last three games, including a 73-71 loss to Yale in a semifinal of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.

2. The Crimson is 3-5 on the season

Harvard kicked off the 2017-18 season with a 73-64 over MIT, the seven straight season the two Boston-area teams opened against the other. Seth Towns scored 20 points and Harvard made 26 of 36 free throws in the win.

On Nov. 12, Harvard improved to 2-0 with a 70-67 win over Matt McCall-coached UMass. (McCall was a former Florida assistant under Billy Donovan.) Bryce Aiken scored a career-high 30 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left.

Holy Cross handed Harvard its first loss with a 73-69 victory on Nov. 16. Towns scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the loss. Coached by former Princeton and Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, Holy Cross shot 50 percent (28-of-56) to get the win.

Manhattan, coached by former UK walk-on Steve Masiello, beat the Crimson 73-69 on Nov. 18. Towns scored 17 points in the losing cause. And Harvard made 14 of its 15 free throws in the loss.

Kentucky basketball individual game stats in a Google doc

Harvard then traveled to Fullerton, Calif. for the Wooden Legacy where it lost two of three games. Amaker’s club opened with an 89-71 loss to then 21st-ranked Saint Mary’s. Down 26 at the half, Harvard did outscore the Gaels 51-43 int he second half. It rebounded to beat Saint Joseph’s 77-71 before losing to host Cal State-Fullerton 70-61.

Aiken scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half of the loss to Saint Mary’s. Aiken and Chris Lewis each scored 21 points and Robert Baker pulled down 11 rebounds against Saint Francis. Aiken scored 16 points against Fullerton, a game in which Harvard made just five of 11 free throws.

Thursday night, Harvard dropped to 3-5 with a 77-61 loss at cross-town rival Northeastern. Down 39-19 in the first half, the Crimson went on a 15-2 run but still trailed 41-34 at the half. Aiken scored 26 points and Lewis added 20 for the losers. Justin Bassey, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, grabbed 10 rebounds.

3. Harvard has had trouble on the offensive end

The Crimson is shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor. As of Friday, that ranked 276th out of 351 Division I teams.

Harvard is making just 27.6 percent of its three-point shots, which ranks 330th out of the 351.

“It’s demoralizing when you can’t make open shots,” Amaker told The Harvard Crimson after his team made just five of 17 three-pointers against Northeastern. “It is surprising that we haven’t been able to shoot the ball better from the perimeter than we have shown thus far. We are hoping that at some point [making threes] will help us and obviously tonight it was a good reason why we weren’t able to generate any offense.”

Harvard basketball team and individual statistics

And Harvard is averaging just 68.9 points per game, which ranks 284th out of 351.

Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency numbers ranks Harvard 204th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. Pomeroy has Harvard ranked 164th overall. Kentucky is ranked ninth overall; 18th on offense and seventh on defense.

4. Harvard’s best players are sophomores

Bryce Aiken, a 6-foot sophomore from Randolph, N.J., leads the team in scoring at 19 points per game. Aiken has taken 38 more shots than any other player on the team. Aiken is 46-of-107 from the floor for 43 percent. Aiken also leads the team in assists with 29.

Chris Lewis, a 6-9 sophomore from Alpharetta, Ha., has taken the second-most shots. Lewis is 44-of-69 from the floor for 63.8 percent. Lewis is averaging 13.8 points and leads the team in rebounds at 5.4 per game.

Seth Towns, a 6-7 sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, is averaging 11.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Towns has been the team’s best three-point shooter, making seven-of-18 for 38.9 percent thus far.

Robert Baker, a 6-11 sophomore from Woodstock, Ga., has shown flashes. Baker is averaging 4.6 points and 4.9 rebounds. He’s had a tough time shooting from the floor, making just 12 of 33 shots.

“One, they have great post play,” said UK coach John Calipari on Thursday. “Again, just like Vermont – the other teams that we’ve had that have had good post play. They really explore it. They’ll play fast. Their point guard has a green light to go and he can get in the lane. They deny wings. They make catches on the elbows hard.”

5. Harvard’s first visit to Rupp is part of a long road trip

Saturday will be Harvard’s seventh road game in a stretch of eight road games in 39 days. The Crimson travels to Fordham on Wednesday night before finally returning home to face Boston University on Dec. 21.

This is Harvard’s first basketball game in its history against Kentucky. The two schools have never met in the sport.

UK is 4-0 against Ivy League schools in the Calipari Era. It beat Cornell 62-45 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. It beat Penn 82-62 during the regular season before edging Princeton 59-57 on a late Brandon Knight shot in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. It beat Columbia 56-46 during the 2014-15 regular season.

Harvard has shown in the past it is capable of pulling upsets. Since 2008-09, the Crimson is 4-12 against ranked teams. It has never beaten a team ranked as high as Kentucky’s current ranking at No. 7, however.

Harvard at Kentucky

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

TV: ESPN with John Sciambi and Jay Bilas

Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt

UK Radio Network affiliates

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