March Madness is officially upon us, with the tournament’s opening round of games set to begin on Tuesday night. And New England is well represented in this year’s tourney, as three local schools will be vying to cut down the nets in New Orleans in the first week of April.
Harvard, Vermont and Connecticut have each taken very different routes to this year’s NCAA tournament and all three boast a unique history in the tournament.
Harvard hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in more than 66 years and Vermont is best known for their lone tourney win in a 2005 upset of Big East powerhouse Syracuse. Connecticut, on the other hand, is the reigning NCAA basketball champion after capturing the school’s third title in 2011.
Harvard (26-4) started off the season on a hot streak, winning seven straight including wins over Florida State and Central Florida en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament title. A loss to Connecticut in December cooled the jets, but the Crimson went 19-3 the rest of the way onto a school-best 26 wins and captured their first Ivy League title and NCAA tournament berth since 1946.
The Crimson are positioned well with a No. 12 seed in the East region and are set to square off with Vanderbilt in the second round on Thursday afternoon. A couple of wins would likely set up a showdown with a Fab Melo-less Syracuse team, a matchup that could favor Harvard on the boards.
Vermont (23-11) is another team that’s proved their worth this year. An overtime win against a strong Old Dominion team, as well as a pair of close losses to fellow tournament teams in South Florida and Iona, showed the Catamounts still boast the same stones that helped them pull the upset in 2005.
The Catamounts find themselves as a No. 16 seed in the Midwest, forced to face Lamar in an opening-round matchup on Wednesday night before hopefully having the chance to play No. 1 North Carolina on Friday. A Vermont win would signify the first for a 16 seed over a No. 1 in tournament history and the Catamounts would then meet either Alabama or Creighton in the third round.
Kemba Walker won’t be walking onto the court with UConn (20-13) this weekend, but a number of players from last year’s championship team are still on the roster. The swagger that the Huskies portrayed in 2011 may not be quite as prominent with this year’s team but Jim Calhoun still has plenty of talent on his squad. Jeremy Lamb is a perennial 20-point scorer every night and sophomore Shabazz Napier has transformed into a viable contributor for the team in recent weeks.
UConn pulled a No. 9 seed in the South and a second round meeting with No. 8 Iowa State come Thursday night. A win in the opener would likely set up a Final Four rematch from a year ago, with overall No. 1 Kentucky looking for revenge.
Given the resumes of each local NCAA hopeful, which team do you think has the best chance to make a run to the Sweet 16?