The Big Dance has its first official invite.
The Harvard Crimson clinched the 2013-14 Ivy League title with their 70-58 victory over archrival Yale Friday night. The win moved Harvard to 25-4 overall and 12-1 in conference play.
Steve Moundou-Missi led the way with 16 points and six rebounds, while Siyani Chambers added 17 points of his own. Justin Sears paced Yale with an impressive 28 points and 13 rebounds, but it was ultimately in vain.
Harvard got off to an impressive start from the opening tip, which established the tone of dominance it displayed throughout the game. National college basketball writer Andy Glockner pointed out the importance of the quick start:
Yale did cut the lead to single digits in the second half, but there was never any real threat from the Bulldogs.
Even before the game started, the Crimson had already guaranteed at least a share of their fourth-consecutive Ivy League crown after beating Cornell and Columbia in their two previous games. The win over Yale secured the outright title.
Harvard clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament because the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament like the rest of the leagues across the country. The regular-season champion is the league representative.
Harvard was clearly the best team throughout the season, as Glockner pointed out after the game:
This marks the third straight year that Harvard gets to be a part of March Madness, which is the type of consistency that coach Tommy Amaker had in mind when he took the job, as was evidenced in his comments passed along by Jack McCluskey of ESPN.com:
It’s the vision we had from years ago. This is an amazing institution. ... We just thought how neat and cool could it be to create something that would be worthy of that name.
I’m very proud that we’re on that path and we’ve had some success, we’ve been fortunate and we’re very hopeful for some more.
What's more, Harvard became the first Ivy team to win at least a share of the title for four straight seasons since Penn did so from 1993-96.
The level of competition will clearly increase as the Crimson move from the Ivy League to the NCAA tournament, but they have been tested throughout the year against power conference teams.
Harvard beat TCU and Boston College and lost narrow contests against the likes of Colorado and Connecticut. The Huskies are one of the best teams in the better-than-advertised American Athletic Conference, and the Buffaloes were Top 25-caliber when they beat the Crimson because it was before Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury.
It was fitting that the Crimson clinched their spot in the tournament against their archrivals because Yale handed them their only conference loss back on Feb. 8.
That was also Harvard’s only home loss, largely because Sears turned in an incredible performance for the Bulldogs with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Looking ahead, the Crimson’s attention will obviously turn to the NCAA tournament now.
In last year’s Big Dance, Harvard made headlines across the college basketball landscape by stunning No. 3 seed New Mexico in its opening tournament game as a No. 14 seed. It was the type of upset that thrills neutral fans and makes March Madness the must-see event it is every season.
Whether the Crimson can make that type of noise again or not in the Big Dance will depend largely on the performances of Wesley Saunders and Moundou-Missi. It is difficult to envision Harvard securing another first-game upset without impressive showings from its two leaders.
The talent is in place for another upset. Now all Harvard has to do is execute.
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