Harvard has fully embraced Division I college basketball, putting its considerable weight behind the Crimson program, and the results speak for themselves. After crushing the Ivy League three years in a row and winning their first-ever NCAA Tournament game last March, the Crimson have roared out of the gate this season at 13-1 straight up and 7-1 against the spread.
Now let’s see how Harvard measures up against one of the bigger teams in college hoops. The Crimson travel to Storrs, Conn., on Wednesday to take on the Connecticut Huskies, who have lost back-to-back road games to fall to 11-3 SU and 4-8 ATS on the season. UConn opened as a 4.5-point favorite at Bovada.
Local fans may be aware of the rise of Harvard basketball, but the betting public has some catching up to do — which is understandable. Although the Ivy League schools may have been responsible for the genesis of intercollegiate sports back in the day, Harvard’s traditional student demographic hasn’t kept up with the demands of de facto unpaid professional basketball.
Traditions change. Harvard still doesn’t award athletic scholarships, but the school did begin distributing financial aid to lower-income students in 2006. One year later, Tommy Amaker was hired to coach the Crimson. Amaker was a star point guard at Duke, and coached the Michigan Wolverines to the NIT Championship in 2004. Now Harvard is becoming a viable destination for top recruits — including power forward Zena Edosomwan, who turned down offers from UCLA and elsewhere to play for the Crimson.
The key player on the 2013-14 Crimson, however, is junior swingman Wesley Saunders (15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.4 steals per 40 minutes), who was just named Ivy League co-player of the week after scoring 21 points against the Boston College Eagles, and another 18 points against the Rice Owls. It’s already the third time this season that Saunders has earned this award. It probably won’t be the last.
Sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers (11.0 points, 5.1 assists/40) has also won Ivy League POW honors twice this year, giving the Crimson enough heft to place No. 27 on Ken Pomeroy’s Division I efficiency charts (No. 37 offense, No. 39 defense). That’s well ahead of the struggling Huskies at No. 44 overall (No. 53 offense, No. 55 defense). But you can expect the betting public to favor UConn in Wednesday’s matchup; the Huskies are still 50-1 to win the NCAA Championship, compared to 200-1 for the Crimson.
This was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Connecticut after being banned from postseason play last year due to poor academic standards. But second-year coach Kevin Ollie, the former NBA point guard who played for the Huskies in the early ‘90s, has encountered some turbulence in the new American Athletic Conference. UConn lost 75-71 to the Houston Cougars (+8.5) and 74-65 to the SMU Mustangs (–2), falling out of the AP rankings in the process. One more loss, and it could be Harvard replacing the Huskies in the polls.
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