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Harvard goes on the defensive with man-to-man 03.15.12 at 11:04 am ET
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When Tommy Amaker held a conference call Monday to discuss the Crimson’s NCAA tournament matchup Thursday (4:40 p.m., TNT) against Vanderbilt, one of the first questions came from a reporter from Nashville who clearly hadn’t done his homework.

The writer understandably expected that Harvard would be a team that would play mostly zone defense, especially when out of conference play. Surely, an Ivy League team needed to rely on zone or gimmick defenses to compete with bigger, stronger and faster players around the country.

How wrong he was.

Harvard plays man-to-man almost exclusively — “Our bread and butter,” a polite Amaker said in correcting the reporter. That’s the way Amaker coaches, and that’s the way he recruits.

“That’s the type of defense he wants,” junior guard Brandyn Curry said after a recent game. “He wants you up, denying the passing lanes, pressuring the ball, pressuring full court. That’s definitely the type of playing style I wanted to play with when I got here. I liked the sound of it. And then on offense he wants us to push the ball, move it and attack — so, on both sides of the court. When he was recruiting all of us, that definitely was very big to us.”

If you don’t think Harvard can be successful playing straight man against a Top 25 team, you only need to look at the Crimson’s victory over Florida State on Nov. 25. The Crimson didn’t just win the game, they held the Seminoles to 41 points on 36 percent shooting and outrebounded them 40-30. FSU turned over the ball 16 times.

Overall this season, Harvard opponents shoot just 40.6 percent from the field, and the Crimson are fourth nationally in allowing just 54.8 points per game.

“That’s what we do. We sit down and guard, no matter the team, no matter who you are, what league. It doesn’t matter,” junior forward Kyle Casey said recently. “We’re worried about what we do, and not so much about what other people do. We pride ourself on our defense. ‘€¦ I don’t see us changing our philosophy just to adapt to someone else.”

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