by Mark Hoffman, contributor
As of March 21, the country’s most renowned institution of higher learning can add another accomplishment to its lengthy list of achievements: its first NCAA basketball tournament victory.
The Harvard Crimson’s stunning 68-62 upset win over the New Mexico Lobos busted brackets across the country and helped incite the madness that is March. Though eliminated in the next round, the Crimson will spend the offseason reveling in victory before kicking off next year’s campaign at the 2013 Great Alaska Shootout.
Most importantly for the Harvard basketball team, the signature win was a vital step for a program on the rise.
Only a year removed from the “Linsanity” caused by Harvard-grad-turned-NBA-star Jeremy Lin, the program’s latest milestone has placed Harvard smack dab in the middle of the basketball landscape.
OK, maybe “smack dab in the middle” is overstating it a bit. But they are definitely on the map. And that’s not exactly something they are used to.
After all, Harvard is still a school known more for their propensity to develop US presidents rather than NBA players. But head coach – and former Duke point guard – Tommy Amaker brought a strong-rooted coaching pedigree to the program when he took over in 2007, and together they have climbed the ladder to NCAA hoops relevance.
In 2011, they clinched a share of their first-ever Ivy League conference championship. In 2012, they were ranked in the top 25 in the AP and Coaches Poll’s for the first time in school history. And then came their NCAA tournament win in an unexpectedly successful 2012- 13 season.
Hopes appeared bleak for the Crimson back in November. Senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrew from school amidst cheating allegations before the season even began.
However, the play of the Ivy League’s leading scorer, Wesley Saunders, and freshman point guard, Siyani Chambers, propelled Harvard to a third-straight Ivy League championship and set the stage for their shocking upset.
Now Casey and Curry are on their way back to Cambridge. They won’t be alone, either. Zena Edosomwan, a four-star recruit with big potential, has committed to the Crimson.
As the rise of Harvard basketball continues, will a Great Alaska Shootout Championship be the next accomplishment in its run of success?