If Harvard’s basketball team is going to win its first NCAA tournament game it will be a big surprise, as the Ivy League champion Crimson open as 11-point underdogs against Mountain West champion New Mexico for Thursday’s game in Salt Lake City.
Could Thursday’s game be the last for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker? No. 14 Harvard definitely has its work cut out against the third-seeded Lobos. It’s the best seed that New Mexico has received in the Big Dance.
Lobos coach Steve Alford has the school in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. UNM defeated Long Beach State 75-68 in the Round of 64 last year before falling to Louisville 59-56 in the second round. The Lobos are 2-2 under Alford all-time in the NCAA tournament.
The Mountain West Conference sent five teams to the NCAA tournament, and the Lobos (29-5) won the regular-season title by two games. They beat UNLV 63-56 on the Rebels’ home court in the conference tournament championship game on Saturday.
New Mexico, which has the No. 2 RPI in the country, is led by Mountain West Player of the Year Kendall Williams. The junior guard averages 13.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. Fellow junior guard Tony Snell was the MVP of the Mountain West tournament and led the team with 21 points in the win against UNLV. New Mexico has played 17 games this season against teams that are in the NCAA tournament, going 13-4. It is a very good defensive team, holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting.
Harvard (19-9) could be rusty Thursday as it hasn’t played since closing out the Ivy League schedule with a 65-56 home win over Cornell on March 9. It clinched the outright title shortly after that game when Princeton lost to Brown. Last season, Harvard was a No. 12 seed when it lost 79-70 to No. 5 Vanderbilt in the Round of 64 in Albuquerque, N.M. (in the Lobos’ gym).
This is the first meeting between Harvard and New Mexico, although Amaker and Alford know each other from when Amaker was coaching Michigan and Alford was at Iowa. The two also played against one another, with Amaker’s final college game coming against Alford’s Hoosiers in 1987. Indiana won 88-82 in the regional semifinals on the way to the national championship. Amaker led all players with 23 points while Alford had 18. Alford has a 5-4 head-to-head coaching record against Amaker.
New Mexico and Harvard have played a common opponent this season: Connecticut. On Nov. 19 in the Virgin Islands, the Lobos beat UConn 66-60 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam Tournament. Harvard lost 57-49 at Connecticut on Dec. 7. The Crimson are 1-2 against teams in this NCAA Tournament, beating California but losing to Memphis and Saint Mary’s.
Harvard is tied with Iona, La Salle and Southern as the longest shot at Bovada to win the West Region at 100/1. To win the national title, the Crimson are 500/1. No Ivy League team has won an NCAA Tournament game since Cornell in 2010, when the Big Red reached the Sweet 16.
Photo via Facebook/New Mexico Lobos