Harvard Won’t Be Overlooked After NCAA Tournament Upset in 2013

Harvard University junior guard Wesley Saunders said there’s one certainty for the Crimson entering this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament. Opposing teams won’t be looking past the Ivy League champions.

Harvard a year ago broke through for the first NCAA tournament win in school history, beating the University of New Mexico 68-62 as a No. 14 seed in the West Regional. New Mexico was seeded third in the 16-team region.

Harvard is back in the NCAA tournament for the third straight year and, seeded 12th in the East Regional, faces the fifth-seeded University of Cincinnati in its opening game on March 20 in Spokane, Washington. The Crimson (26-4) are 3-point underdogs, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook. They knocked off New Mexico as 10 1/2-point underdogs.

“As a result of what happened last year in the tournament, we’re not going to be surprising anybody anymore,” said Saunders, who was selected as the Ivy League Player of the Year after averaging a team-leading 14 points a game. “We’ve got to go out and expect everybody’s best shot. I don’t think anybody is looking past us this year.”

Harvard, winners of eight straight games, is the first team to win four straight Ivy League titles since the University of Pennsylvania from 1993-96. Harvard is the first school from the conference to record five consecutive 20-win seasons since Penn had a record six in a row from 1970-75.

Balanced Offense

All five starters average more than 10 points a game for coach Tommy Amaker’s club, led by the 6-foot-5 Saunders and sophomore guard Siyani Chambers, who is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 4.7 assists a game. Also scoring at least 10 points per contest are junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi (10.5), senior forward Kyle Casey (10.0) and senior guard Laurent Rivard (10.0). Another senior guard, Brandyn Curry, averages 9.3 points a game off the bench.

“I love the way they play,” said CBS Sports college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg, who along with colleague Doug Gottlieb picked Harvard to upset Cincinnati. “They share the ball, they’re experienced, they’re tough. They’re a little undersized, but they’ve got a terrific player in Siyani Chambers.”

Cincinnati went 27-6 this season, its best record since the 2001-02 campaign. The Bearcats earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after recording 15 wins in the American Athletic Conference. The lone common opponent for Cincinnati and Harvard was the University of Connecticut, which won two of three meetings with the Bearcats, including a two-point victory in the conference tournament semifinals three days ago.

Harvard lost at Connecticut 61-56 on Jan. 8.

‘Best Shots’

A No. 12 regional seed has won at least one game in the NCAA tournament each of the past six years and in 12 of the past 13. Beyond that history, Casey said teams will be wary of the Ivy League champs after last year’s tournament showing.

“We want people’s best shots,” Casey said last night at a news conference. “We’re going to go out there with the confidence that we can win. I don’t think Cincinnati or anyone else in the tournament will be looking past Harvard.”

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