Jeremy Lin looked on as his alma mater, Harvard (26-4, 12-2), beat Columbia 77-70 in overtime on Friday night. The Crimson took care of business, beating Cornell 67-63 in their final regular-season game on Saturday. With Penn’s Tuesday night loss at Princeton, Harvard will make its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1946.
Penn’s loss on Tuesday also gave Harvard its first outright men’s basketball Ivy League title. In a season of sold out games, broken records and close losses, it’s been a long fight to the finish.
Last year, Harvard men’s basketball set a school record with 23 wins. Harvard surpassed that record by three wins in their 101st season this year.
In league play, Harvard also matched last season’s 12-2 record. In 2011, the Crimson lost the Ivy League playoff after a buzzer-beating jumper that sent Princeton to the NCAA tournament. Harvard went to the NIT, losing to Oklahoma State in the first round. The tournament marked Harvard’s first, and the Ivy’s ninth NIT appearance.
Harvard’s Ivy title is the culmination of years of effort by the Crimson. Head coach Tommy Amaker, who joined the Crimson during Jeremy Lin’s sophomore year (2007), has been continually building the squad each season. Notably with Harvard sharing the regular season Ivy men’s basketball title with Princeton in 2011.
The Ivy League has made a total of 68 previous appearances in the NCAA tournament. No Ivy team has ever received an at-large bid. With 24 appearances, Princeton leads the Ivy, followed by Penn’s 23, Dartmouth’s seven, Cornell’s five, Columbia’s three, Yale’s three, Brown’s two and Harvard’s sole 1946 appearance.
In the 1946 tournament, Harvard lost (38-46) to Ohio State in the regional semifinal, and then lost (61-67) to NYU in the third-place game.
In the 2011 tournament, No. 13 seed Princeton lost (57-59) to No. 4 seed Kentucky in their first game. In the 2010 tournament, No. 12 seed Cornell made it all the way to the Sweet 16, where they lost (45-62) to No. 1 seed Kentucky.
The first of the Crimson’s two league losses this season came from a 62-70 road loss at Princeton, their 23rd consecutive loss at Jadwin Gym.
Harvard’s other conference loss occurred last month to Penn. Penn’s Zach Rosen hit two free throws in the final 23 seconds of the game, giving Penn the lead and ending Harvard’s 28-game home-court winning streak (the second-longest streak in the NCAA at the time).
Harvard earned its biggest win of the regular season, when it beat the then-No. 22 Florida State Seminoles back in November. A win that is sure to help the Crimson’s resume for NCAA tournament seeding. Harvard has a 36 RPI rank.
The only other ranked opponent Harvard faced this season was Connecticut. In the December game, the Crimson lost (53-67) to the then-No. 9 Huskies.
Crimson players to keep an eye on in the tournament include point leaders: junior Kyle Casey (11.3 PPG), who made 19 points in the OT win over Columbia, and senior Keith Wright (10.7 PPG), who made 16 points during the OT win.
After the NCAA tournament, Harvard forward Keith Wright will have his attention set on trying to join his former teammate, Jeremy Lin, in the NBA. Wright, who leads the Crimson in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (1.4), will be attending the April 2012 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in his home state of Virginia.
Jeremy Lin attended the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament back in 2010. Lin averaged 10 points and six assists during the tournament. Now with the Knicks, Jeremy Lin signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors after the invitational.
Notable Portsmouth attendees last year included: Jimmy Butler (Marquette), selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, and second-round draft picks Vernon Macklin (Florida) and Andrew Goudelock (College of Charleston).
For now the Crimson will focus on the NCAA tournament. Harvard has a good chance at being seeded better than the typical 12-14 seeds Ivies typically receive.
The highest seed ever given to an Ivy was to Princeton in 1998, which finished the season ranked No. 8 in the AP Top 25. That year the Tigers, who had a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, lost in their second game to Michigan State.
In 1979, the first year of the seeding process, Penn received a No. 9 seed and made it to the Final Four. Nobody knows where Harvard will end up in 2012’s March Madness, but a lot of eyes, including Jeremy Lin’s, will be watching.