Harvard Gives Ivy League First Repeat Tournament Wins Since 1984

Harvard University collected its second victory in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament one year after its first.

The Crimson, seeded 12th in the 16-team East Region, led for all but four minutes en route to a 61-57 win against the University of Cincinnati yesterday in Spokane, Washington.

Harvard becomes the first Ivy League school in three decades to record a win in the NCAA men’s tournament in consecutive years. Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said the latest win probably shouldn’t be considered an upset.

“There may be some surprises, but I just think when you’re looking at seeds and if you’re playing this time of year, you’re probably a pretty good basketball team,” said Amaker, who two seasons ago led Harvard to the tournament for the first time after a 66-year absence. “I’m not sure about the upset label.”

A year ago, Harvard was a No. 14 seed and knocked off the University of New Mexico as a 10 1/2-point underdog. Yesterday, the Crimson were 2 1/2-point underdogs against Cincinnati, which was the fifth seed in the East Region.

Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said Harvard’s win was “anything but an upset.”

“They got a great team,” Cronin said. “Tough draw for us. In my opinion, they’re one of the best teams we played all year. We knew that all week. They did not catch us by surprise by any stretch of the imagination.”

Harvard improved its record to 27-4 and advanced to play fourth-seeded Michigan State in its next game tomorrow.

The Spartans, who beat the University of Delaware 93-78, were listed yesterday by the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook as 4-1 favorites to win the national title, with Florida and Louisville next at 9-2. President Barack Obama is among those who picked Michigan State to win the tournament.

Ivy Success

Harvard is the first school from the Ivy League to win an NCAA men’s tournament game in back-to-back years since Princeton University in 1983 and 1984.

Harvard’s victory yesterday in Spokane came more than 2,700 miles from its campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No school in this year’s 68-team field had to travel farther than the Crimson, who count Jeremy Lin of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets among its basketball alumni.

“I think that we have become a program that’s become relevant in the world of college basketball,” said Amaker, who was a standout point guard for Duke University in the 1980s and went on to help the Blue Devils win NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992 as an assistant coach.

“You’ve seen what we have been trying to put together for a while,” Amaker added. “If you can have some success on the big stage, that we have had last year and now this year in the NCAA tournament, we get much more notoriety and exposure.”

Balanced Offense

All five of Harvard’s starters averaged about 10 points a game this season and the Crimson beat Cincinnati with similar offensive balance. Wesley Saunders, the Ivy League Player of the Year, led Harvard with 12 points, while Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard each scored 11. Steve Moundou-Missi and Brandyn Curry added nine points apiece, and Kyle Casey had five.

Casey and Curry missed last year’s NCAA tournament following an academic scandal, having withdrawn for a year after accusations there were similarities on the final exams of about 125 students. The fifth-year seniors both played crucial roles in helping Harvard pull off a win that sophomore point guard Chambers said wasn’t unexpected.

“Coach always talks about if we do what we’re supposed to do, stick to the game plan, we expect ourselves to win,” Chambers said. “It started early with Kyle Casey coming in, just being an animal on the backboard, disrupting shots, grabbing rebounds, and also when Brandyn came in. Coach talks about those two guys being a factor on the defensive end.”

‘A Contender’

Harvard now will seek to join Cornell’s 2010 squad as just the second Ivy League school to reach the final 16 since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

“Our kids have worked hard, have represented our school in an incredible fashion,” Amaker said. “We’re proud to be able to say that we’ve become a program representing our conference that can go on a national stage and be competitive, be a contender and certainly to win a game or two.”

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