Is Harvard for Real?

CAN AN IVY LEAGUE TEAM BE THE NEXT CINDERELLA?

This week we've been studying the top mid-major conferences with an eye toward potential Cinderella's in this year's Big Dance. We've touched on most of the top prospects in reports that ran Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We'll tie up some loose ends in the series finale Saturday. Friday's on the college basketball schedule are typically reserved for the Ivy League. Which brings us to the very interesting case of Harvard.

The Crimson visit archrival Yale tonight in a game that could get interesting because Yale is competitive and you know they'll be sky high for the game. Obviously Harvard wants to take care of business first in the Ivy League. But, you know that they have already begun thinking about what might lie down the road.

Consider:

  • Harvard is currently projected to be a 9th seed in the NCAA Tournament by Joe Lunardi's bracketology analysis over at ESPN's website. That would drop them right in the thick of things with a first round game against a good team...and a potential second round game against a #1 seed. There's no faster way to make a name for yourselves than to take down a top seed in the second round in the Dance.

  • Harvard has a neutral site holiday tournament win this year over Florida State. What was a "nice" win at the time may have turned into a huge win given FSU's recent victories over North Carolina (a slaughter) and Duke (at Cameron Indoor!). Lunardi currently has FSU as a 7th seed, and the two Carolina rivals as #2 seeds. You don't have to know much about degrees of separation to see that Harvard can play with the big boys.

  • Harvard has a chip on its shoulder after losing a one-game Ivy League playoff last year to Princeton. After blowing their shot at the Dance, the Crimson had no fire in a first round NIT loss. That leaves us with a good team who's extremely motivated to close very strong this season.

That being said...if Harvard was a potential juggernaut they'd rate better than a 9th seed from Lunardi, and they'd rank high in the respected computer rankings we've been following this week too:

HARVARD
37th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings
41st in Jeff Sagarin's rankings at USA today

Those are in line with Lunardi. Any study of Harvard has to include the lowlights as well as the highlights.

  • Harvard lost to Connecticut 67-53 as 6-point road underdogs. Lunardi has UCONN as a 5th seed right now, but the computers have them down even with Harvard. It's NOT a good sign that Harvard showed this poorly against a team that shouldn't have outclassed them according to the computers.

  • Harvard lost on the road to Fordham 60-54 in one of the most inexplicable results of the year. They were laying about a dozen points...but lost outright to a team that ranks down in the 200's nationally. Fordham is basically a doormat this year! Anyone can have a bad game...but that's a blemish that nobody should forget.

  • Harvard has wins of 10 points or less against St. Joseph's, Monmouth, Seattle, Vermont, and Holy Cross. The team can have trouble pulling away from lesser lights. You have a dry spell like that against a good team in the Dance, and the game is over pretty quickly.

Bottom line...Harvard at its best can play with anybody...but Harvard has yet to establish they can string together high level games vs. opponents who matter. And, given how weak the Ivy League is historically, they're not going to get that chance before the Dance. They may string together blowouts vs. BAD teams. They won't be battle tested in a way that gets you ready to beat a Big East or Big Ten team in the first round then a #1 seed in the second.

Tonight's test at Yale will be interesting because Harvard has been stubbing their toes in road games...and because Yale is likely to be ready for war.

In terms of the Ivy League as a whole...league play is just starting, so we're not going to tip our hand too much. This can be a heavy action conference for us during the course of a season because the Friday schedules are so light. And, in terms of March, Harvard's probably the only team you need to monitor unless some surprises are in store the next few weeks.

We'll pick up our coverage of the mid majors Saturday morning with some stragglers. That will include the Horizon League...who's usually NOT a straggler because of Butler...but who's fallen out of the discussion this year as Butler rebuilds. We also have yet to discuss Conference USA...which has a chance to get up to four teams in the Dance (Memphis, Southern Miss, Central Florida, Marshall)...but may not get anyone past the first round.

Sunday it's back to the NBA for the Chicago-Miami game on ABC. That matchup is currently projected to be the Eastern Conference championship series given the dearth of good teams in the East. Philadelphia might be a #3 seed this year just because they have depth and bring an effort every night!

Next week, we'll back to the standard format of previewing the biggest TV games and running key stats from the matchups everyone is talking about. ESPN knows which teams it's going to hype. Be sure you read the NOTEBOOK to get the REAL SCOOP on all the contenders. 

In terms of selections, here's what we have planned for you over the next few days:

FRIDAY: An NBA SPECIAL from a busy 13-game card will feature one of our biggest releases so far this season. Among the possibilities are Indiana-Boston, New York-Miami, San Antonio-Minnesota, and Oklahoma City-Golden State. Although, we have to admit that many of the best value games on the NBA board this year are coming from the ugly games where a horrible team just flat no-shows. A few possibilities in that light are also on the Friday card.

SATURDAY: We're currently looking at our top January release with a situational play that's almost too good to be true. We can't go into details because you'll try to figure out the game! Our weekly TV Triple Crown will feature the best from Marquette-Villanova, St. John's-Duke, West Virginia-Syracuse, Texas-Baylor, Kansas-Iowa State, Georgetown-Pittsburgh, and Washington-Arizona. There's a chance, pending developments, for a Conference Game of the Month or even Game of the Year parlay on the monster Saturday ticket.

SUNDAY: Along with Bulls-Heat in the NBA we're looking at Indiana-Orlando, San Antonio-Dallas, LA Lakers-Minnesota, and LA Clippers-Denver. It's a racehorse schedule this year, and you want the right man in the saddle! Sunday's college slate features Michigan-Ohio State on CBS, Notre Dame-Connecticut, and Stanford-California. We're currently expecting to post a two-sport parlay with our top college and pro release. But, once the early lines go up...there's a good shot for a late-breaking bombshell. This may not be a Super Bowl weekend...but IT'S GOING TO BE A SUPER WEEKEND nonetheless!

You can sign up for service online with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. The latest news about what's available for a la carte service is available on the "buy picks" page here at the website. We're still a week away from the NY Giants facing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl (which can be added to any basketball packages just for the asking, by the way). So, be sure you HOOP IT UP this weekend with JIM HURLEY!

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