Stevens: Lobos' Twin Towers Are Are Major Test For Harvard Crimson

March 20, 2013

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/

If it was a game of chess or maybe an astrophysics test, sure, the Harvard Crimson might have the edge - on most of us.

"You know they have some smart players," said Lobo Jamal Fenton of the New Mexico Lobos' NCAA opponent Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Yes, the Crimson of the Ivy League attracts D-I talent that might lead the NCAA bracket in SAT scoring, but the coast-to-coast tests and the one-and-done pressure of an NCAA Championship comes down to so much more.

And in the extra credit department, the Lobos appear to have the extra especially inside.

Which means the Lobos might do some cramming for this NCAA second-round test in Salt Lake City. They just might cram the ball inside to 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk - over and over and over again.

Well, that's if Harvard doesn't figure out a way to outsmart the Lobos on this anticipated strategy.

"We are committed to going big," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford.

When a team goes "big" there are reasons - on defense, on the glass, with an offensive strategy.

Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker, who played against Alford in the 1987 Midwest Regional won by Alford and eventual NCAA champ Indiana, praises the Lobos as a balanced team, but he also recognizes the edge the Lobos have inside.

The Crimson is a team of guards, wings and forwards. The forwards - 6-foot-8 Kenyatta smith and 6-7 Steve Moundou-Missi -- do the best they can in the post, but they have seen few teams that bring a Twin Towers attack as potent as Kirk and Bairstow.

This is RoboCop (Bairstow) teaming up with The Terminator.

Kirk was tremendous throughout the season, but the one-two punch of the Lobo middle is what really makes it so difficult to defend. Bairstow (called RoboCop by Associate Head Coach Craig Neal) has given UNM a dimension of physicality that has taken this team to another level in the same way that Tony Snell's defense has.

Bairstow is a hammer on both ends of the court.

"They are big," said Amaker. "They are a big, strong, powerful team. I think they are a team that recognizes who they are. They recognize what works for them. I think teams that are playing this time of the year recognize what their identity is.

"I think they are a confident team."

The Lobos recognize that they have balance - a balance created by a smooth blend of unselfish talent. The Lobos have exceptional play on the edge, but so does Harvard in 6-5 Wesley Saunders (16.5 ppg), 6-5 Laurent Rivard (10.4) and 6-foot Sivani Chambers (12.9).

Harvard plays smart basketball and stresses honoring possessions by taking care of the basketball and taking good shots. Ditto for the Lobos, coached by one of the savviest coaches in the land in Steve Alford.

Harvard will try to beat UNM kind of like South Dakota State did using a similar tempo and probably even hoping for a similar score (70-65).

But the Jackrabbits had a savvy senior point guard in Nate Wolters (28 vs. UNM) and the Crimson are led by a talented freshman (Chambers). There is a difference especially when facing UNM's mean-mother-bear defense.

The Crimson have to overachieve and play well to beat the Lobos. They can't let UNM control the paint (too much). They can't let UNM run in transition. They can't let the Lobos march to the free-throw line all night.

The Crimson have to shoot well like the Jackrabbits, who shot 48 percent in The Pit. The Crimson bunch usually shoots well and is averaging 48 percent from the floor and 40 percent from long range. That's good.

Harvard also can't let UNM rule the final five minutes. These Lobos know how to close.

In winning the Mountain West Tournament, UNM held Wyoming, San Diego State and UNLV to 28.6 percent shooting in the final five minutes of those games. This wasn't just a Lobo team getting hot in Vegas. The Lobos held "all" opponents to 33.5 percent shooting in the final five minutes of games.

The Lobos ability to finish has allowed them to win a lot of close games. This kind of knowledge - and confidence - is critical in the one-and-done pressure of the NCAA bracket.

The Crimson might be able to slow down a few things the Lobos do well, but can they stop UNM's Twin Towers without becoming vulnerable on the outside? This is a two-sided Lobo sword.

"They are not 29-5 and a three seed and champions of their conference for nothing," said Amaker. "They are one of the better teams in the country."

There are a lot of reasons the Lobos are being projected as at least a Sweet 16 team and maybe even a Final Four dancer. That's a sweet carrot dangling in front of a program that has never pushed past the second game in a 64-team bracket. But is it a distraction?

The carrot in front of Harvard isn't Atlanta or Los Angeles. It's the Lobos.