Posted: 1:35 a.m. Friday, March 22, 2013
By Benjamin Miraski
It is fair to say that no one saw this coming. No one, not even Tommy Amaker could have imagined that the Harvard Crimson would walk into Salt Lake City and come out of the NCAA Tournament with a win.
Not with the way that this season began, not with the seed and the opponent that they were faced with.
Most teams experience a speed bump along the way to their titles, conference or otherwise. Harvard fell into a sinkhole to begin the year. The loss of Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey to the academic scandal that took down more than 120 students at Harvard was not something that the Crimson were supposed to recover from.
Siyani Chambers was supposed to be good. He wasn't supposed to be good enough to step in and lead the Crimson to a title, not with the Princeton Tigers stalking them. Wesley Saunders? That also came out of nowhere. And Steve Moundou-Missi was icing on the cake. The Crimson got the improvement they needed from everyone on the roster just when the bottom dropped out on them.
That was the first stroke of luck.
Then Princeton collapsed, losing two of the final three games of the season. That after beating Harvard to take the inside track to the title, a title that then slipped away. Princeton should have been the one dancing. Harvard lost to Penn in that final stretch.
And yet the Tigers lost to Yale and Brown in two of the final three games of the year. They handed the conference to Harvard, giving them this chance.
Another major stroke of luck.
Enter a team that lost just five games all season, only one of those coming against a team that was outside of the top 100 in the country. New Mexico, with a top 50 offense, a team with the size and the height to really make things difficult for Harvard. Throw in one of the stiffest defenses in the country just as the cherry on top.
Harvard should have had no chance. People were taking New Mexico to make the Final Four, beating out Ohio State and Gonzaga in the West Region. Not just people, though. Less than 1 percent of the country had Harvard on their bracket (and I am guessing some of those were picked by dart throws, animals, or names in a hat).
This Crimson team had one of the most average defenses in the country, and half of that was established against teams that had lesser talent than Harvard. New Mexico isn't one of those teams.
New Mexico should have walked all over them. And yet they came out flat and kept on being flat for the entire game.
The Lobos shot 37.4 percent from the floor. They shot 21 percent from behind the arc, killing their shot at a comeback down the stretch when it looked like Harvard would finally give out.
They even missed free throws, if you want the cherry on this sundae. And the defense? It didn't show, at least not as far as Chambers, Saunders and Rivard were concerned.
That was the final stroke of luck that Harvard needed.
This Harvard team is good, not great. Just good -- they are going to be great next season when Curry and Casey return, along with another Amaker goldmine recruiting class.
Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
Thursday night, Harvard combined lucky and good to pull off the upset that no one saw coming, turning a night of mid-major sadness into mid-major madness once again.