Harvard University is back among college basketball’s elite for the second straight time after a 66-year absence. Getting a first National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament win may prove a bigger challenge.
Harvard, the Ivy League champion, is seeded 14th in the West Regional and is listed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as a 10 1/2-point underdog for its opening game against the University of New Mexico on March 21 in Salt Lake City.
New Mexico, which won the Mountain West Conference title with a 29-5 record and is coached by former Indiana University standout Steve Alford, is seeded third in the region behind No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State. The winner advances to play Arizona (25-7) or Belmont (26-6) on March 23.
“New Mexico as a three seed is one of those teams that maybe hasn’t gotten the attention and love it deserves,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said on a conference call. “Really good speed, good guards, well coached. That’s one game I would probably consider New Mexico a pretty healthy favorite. It’ll take a yeoman’s effort from the Crimson to deal with the Lobos.”
Harvard (19-9) last year made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 and lost its opening game to Vanderbilt 79-70 as a 12th seed. The Crimson trailed by 18 points with less than eight minutes remaining and fell to 0-3 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
History is against the champions from the Ivy League, whose teams have a 40-76 record in the NCAA tournament. Since 2000, Ivy League schools are 2-13.
Teams seeded 14th at the NCAA tournament are 18-112 all-time, including a 1-24 record over the past six years.
New Mexico will also have a significant geographic advantage, Turner network analyst Steve Kerr said, as the Albuquerque-based school is about 1,800 miles closer to Salt Lake City than Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It’s a trip across the country for Harvard and New Mexico has a great fan base which will be out in full force in Salt Lake,” Kerr said. “They’ve got their hands full, but Harvard is a good team. The gap has definitely gotten closer with all these games, so they’ve got a shot.”