Shootout ’13: watch out for Harvard

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.

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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?