Harvard University co-captain Oliver McNally said he isn’t satisfied with just getting his school into the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament for the first time since 1946.
The Crimson have designs on joining the line of No. 12 seeds to score a tournament upset as they face Southeastern Conference champion Vanderbilt University in their opening game on March 15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It’s going to be heartbreak if we don’t win,” McNally, a senior guard, said during a news conference last night at the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I’m so happy that I was able to be a captain and part of the leadership that brought the first Ivy League championship here, but that’s happened and we’re here to win the next game.”
Harvard is the No. 12 seed in the 16-team East Regional while Vanderbilt is a fifth seed after upsetting No. 1-ranked Kentucky yesterday to win their conference tournament. In 10 of the past 11 years, at least one No. 12 seed has won an NCAA tournament game.
A year ago, Vanderbilt was also a fifth seed and lost its opening game to No. 12 Richmond 69-66.
“We’re excited to have put ourselves in this position,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who unlike his players has previous NCAA tournament experience as both a player and coach.
Amaker, 46, won eight tournament games as a player at Duke University, where he was later an assistant coach for two national championship teams. Amaker also won two games in 2000 as coach at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
Amaker and his players watched the televised announcement of the field yesterday at Harvard’s Hall of Athletic History, a venue he said was “very appropriate” to celebrate the second NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
“Their reaction was priceless,” Amaker said of the response when Harvard’s name popped up on the screen opposite Vanderbilt. “Seeing their reaction was all worth it for me.”
Harvard had a 26-4 record this season and players said the team’s success has spread excitement throughout campus. The school had midterm exams last week and junior guard Brandyn Curry was among those who said fellow students would stop players during study breaks to congratulate them.
“We had a couple of teachers stop lectures to congratulate players on the team,” Curry said. “Hearing all that is great. Just to see how our fan base has grown.”
In 68 NCAA tournament appearances, Ivy League teams have a 40-78 record. Since 2000, the league has gone 2-12.
Vanderbilt, which has a 24-10 record this season, is 9-13 all-time in NCAA tournament play.
“This is the reason why all of us came here,” Harvard junior forward Kyle Casey said. “We have a drive and motivation to continue to achieve our goals. We’re going to go in confident, play our game, stick to who we are and I think the outcome will take care of itself.”