Harvard Lucks Into Ivy League Title, NCAA Tournament

For the last 65 years or so, Harvard has had an easier time producing presidents than decent basketball teams. Well, no more. Congratulations to the Crimson. For the first time since 1946, the Harvard men’s basketball team is going dancing. They backed into their first outright Ivy League title and the NCAA tournament last night when the Penn Quakers, who sat just a half game behind Harvard in the standings, lost to Princeton. If Penn had pulled out the victory, we’d have been looking at a one-game playoff between the Quakers and Harvard. But it was not to be.

[Full disclosure: I went to Penn and am a little bit crushed this morning. I’ll try not to be too biased, despite knowing just how much the Crimson lucked out.]

And really, the Crimson did luck out. Coming into this season, they were supposed to sweep through the Ivy League. They racked up victories in their non-conference schedule early on — including a big win over ranked Florida State — and even cracked the top 25. They were so hot we even wrote a story about them. But when it came time to duke it out in the Ivy League, it wasn’t nearly so easy as Harvard fans might have imagined. On top of their two losses in February (to Penn and Princeton), Harvard had several close calls, including two against dreadful Columbia. In their final game of the season against Cornell — a must win — they pulled it out by just four points. Harvard was supposed to be a Top 25 team playing head and shoulders above their Ancient Eight competition, but that seemed not to be the case.

In other words, the Crimson are hardly peaking as tournament time rolls around. They just have to hope that the NCAA’s bracket makers don’t notice. In his latest bracketology from March 6, ESPN guru Joe Lunardi has Harvard pegged as an 11 seed. That’s down from a 7 seed around New Year’s. Even still, an 11 seems generous considering that many past Ivy Teams have had an easier time making the tourney and gotten lower seeds. Harvard will have to hope the committee looks kindly on that hot start.

In any case, don’t look for the Crimson to duplicate Cornell’s miracle run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. They should just be feeling grateful to have made the tournament at all.