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Bracket Flames: Harvard to boldly go where Jeremy Lin never went before

Brad Evans
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A little over a month ago, a former D-Leaguer with a tireless work ethic, X-ray vision and Econ degree turned the collective sports world on its ear, creating a media frenzy that made Tebowmania seem like a passing fad.

Inserted into the starting lineup against crosstown rival New Jersey, the elevated benchwarmer seized the moment, totaling 25 points, five boards and seven assists running point for the New York Knicks.

Linsanity was born.

In the following days, sportswriters devoted more words to Jeremy Lin than Melville did Moby Dick. His rapid ascension was fresh, new and enrapturing, an inspirational underdog story indicative of the American dream.

With the NBA still buzzing about Lin, it's only appropriate his alma mater, Harvard, is following in the overnight sensation's footsteps.

Finally, the Winklevoss twins have something to be happy about.

The last time the Crimson went dancing, in 1946, the buck stopped at Harry S. Truman's desk in the Oval Office, a gallon of gas cost 21 cents and Ron Paul just entered puberty. After 66 years of futility, many would immediately write off Harvard, but don't expect it to roll over. This ban of future check-writers is bound and determined, as the Black Keys would say, to pocket the "Gold on the Ceiling."

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The Crimson are downright dangerous. On paper, they are better than what fellow Ivy Leaguer Cornell was in 2010. Recall that season, the Big Red wrecking ball reached the Sweet 16 knocking out heavyweights Temple and Wisconsin with a high-powered offense. Harvard's motus operandi is a bit different, relying on defense and a Big Ten-like toughness, a culture, interestingly enough, Amaker failed to instill during his rocky tenure at Michigan. It ranks inside the top-30 nationally in several notable defensive categories, including adjusted defensive efficiency (No. 30), effective field-goal percentage (27), defensive rebounding percentage (15) and two-point percentage (20). Competitor buckets don't come easy.

On the opposite end, Harvard also impresses. Forward Kyle Casey and Keith Wright do an excellent job clogging the lane and converting on high-percentage opportunities. The duo shoots a combined 57.8-percent inside the arc. Meanwhile guards Oliver McNally and Luarent Rivard, though erratic at times, provide balance along the perimeter each netting a combined three threes per game. How well the pair executes might be the team's biggest key. And Brandyn Curry, a very efficient floor general, showcases a near 5:2 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 1.6 steals per game.

Overall, the Crimson's bread is buttered at the line. They play a methodical, calculated, possession-by-possession style Wisconsin's Bo Ryan could appreciate. Active and aggressive around the cup, they typically attract numerous whistles, taking advantage of those opportunities. As a team, HU shoots 75.0 percent from the charity stripe, the eighth-highest mark among tournament teams. In fact, nearly 24-percent of its points come at the line. Hack Harvard and you'll pay a harsh price.

Considering their senior leadership and success against top-level teams — the Crimson clipped Florida St. 46-41 in the Bahamas back in November — they are certainly built to surprise. Their draw wasn't the most favorable, matched against a searing Vanderbilt team fresh off its takedown of Kentucky in the SEC tourney final. But the Commodores have certainly been bitten by the upset bug before, falling victim to Cinderella in their past three tourney appearances. Vandy's proclivity for threes is an issue, but if Casey and Wright can pound the interior and force Festus Ezeli into foul trouble, Harvard's odds of pulling off the unthinkable are better than you think.

In a year where its most-famous alumnus, sorry Zuckerberg, rose from the depths of obscurity, Harvard, too, is in a prime position to shock the hoops world.

Expect the unexpected.

Here are five other snoozers that could make seismic waves:

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MEMPHIS TIGERS — 26-8, 8-seed - West Region, 5-6 vs. RPI Top-50, 20 SOS

After wrapping their non-conference slate in late December, many questioned the Tigers' toughness. Close losses to Georgetown, Murray St. and Louisville diminished expectations. But, as usual, Memphis roared through conference play taking 13 of 16 games, seizing the regular season crown for the sixth time since 2004 while easily taking the conference tourney title. One of only seven teams to rank in the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency nationally, the Tigers are a harmonic, athletic bunch. Collectively, they aren't effective from three, relying instead on an attacking, slashing game to generate points. Will Barton, especially, is hard to handle, evidenced in his near 18-8-3 per game line. Over the past several weeks, Josh Pastner's group of super sophs has aged significantly. The heart-breaking Ls it experienced in December could turn into exhilarating Ws during the season's most important time. Unless Michigan St. or Missouri hires Siegfried and Roy, it's quite possible no team in the West region will be able to tame these Tigers. Undoubtedly, this is the most dangerous mid-seed in the entire field, capable of reaching the Final Four, similar to what Butler did as an 8-seed a year ago.

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LONG BEACH ST. 49ERS — 25-8, 12-seed, West Region, 1-6 vs. RPI Top-50, 121 SOS

Mark the Noise's words, The Beach, the best-equipped Cinderella, will stab its stiletto into the heart of Goliath. The behemoths of the Big West are fully prepared to surprise. No team played a more rigorous schedule in non-conference action. The Niners won at Pittsburgh, defeated Xavier on a neutral court and was very competitive on the road at Creighton, San Diego St., Kansas and North Carolina. A high-powered offense team that also doesn't slack on defense, it's very efficient on both ends of the floor. On-court magician Casper Ware, fresh off draining eight threes against UCSB in the Big West tourney title, is a dynamic scorer. Forward Larry Anderson's health is key, but with tons of senior leadership, scoring prowess and defensive savvy, the Niners could soon strike it rich. New Mexico is a tough opening foe, especially if Anderson isn't available. Double-doubles machine Drew Gordon is an animal in the paint. But if Ware continues to can threes and he and his teammates ferociously attack the rim, they could string together multiple wins. Fear The Beach.

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BELMONT BRUINS — 27-7, 14-seed - Midwest Region, 1-3 vs. RPI Top-50, 191 SOS

Unanimously picked to represent the Atlantic Sun preseason, the "other" Bruins polished off Florida Gulf Coast to capture their fifth title since 2006. On paper, Belmont is quite possibly the scariest double-digit seed to dance in recent memory. It's high-powered offensively. On the year, the Bruins rank fifth nationally in effective field-goal percentage and 11th in points per possession. Drew Hanlen and Ian Clark, shooting well over 40-percent from three, are always locked and loaded. Experienced, careful with the rock and highly effective at the free-throw line, they are not a mid-major to mess with. Riding a 14-game win streak entering the second season they are an unlucky opening round draw for Georgetown. The Hoyas, predicted to finish in the bottom third of the Big East preseason, greatly exceeded expectation. Hollis Thompson and company are very sound defensively, particularly on the perimeter. However, the Bruins' pinpoint accuracy from distance, low turnover yield and fast pace doesn't matchup well with G'Town's slowed-down Princeton style. Expect speed to kill.

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SOUTH DAKOTA ST. JACKRABBITS — 27-7, 13-seed - South Region, 1-1 vs. RPI Top-50, 180 SOS

The Jackrabbits raced into the tournament fending off pesky Western Illinois to grab the Summit tourney title, the first ever team to dance from The Mount Rushmore State. As its spanking of Washington in Seattle back in December suggests, South Dakota St. is capable of wearing a glass slipper. It rarely commits mistakes and is lethal from three. The Jacks shoot nearly 40-percent from behind the arc. They're also equally effective from two. Junior Nate Wolters, one of the nation's purest scorers, averages over 21 points per game. SDSU is sketchy defensively, but its matchup against an inconsistent Baylor team is a favorable one. The Bears, despite its considerable length and athleticism. are not the stingiest of defenses along the perimeter. They rank 154th nationally in three-point percentage defense. That combined with Perry Jones III's erratic play are major concerns. Unless the Jackrabbits are blinded by Baylor's fluorescent green jerseys, they could spring the upset.

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WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS — 19-13, 10-seed - East Region, 5-8 vs. RPI Top-50, 18 SOS

The Mountaineers, still fuming from the Buzz Williams "Country Road" controversy, will try to channel their anger and frustration positively in the second season.  Bob Huggins' bunch tumbled down the stretch finishing on the wrong side of the ledger in seven of 11 games. Still, senior forward Kevin Jones, one of the country's best players, is capable of single-handedly overtaking games. If WVU can tighten the screws defensively (70th in D efficiency) and keep Turk Deniz Kilicli out of foul trouble, it could run off a game or two. It's opening round opponent, Gonzaga, isn't nearly as good as advertised. Freshman Kevin Pangos has been a first-year wonder and Elias Harris has finally blossomed into a terrific talent, but center Robert Sacre is a fouling machine. If his minutes are limited by the whistle, WVU's tenacity on the offensive glass will lead to several second chance opportunities and possible easy conversions. Never underestimate a Huggins coached team. Under his direction, Jerry West-U is 7-4 in tourney games since 2008.

TOURNEY TIDBITS

• No. 12 seeds have bounced No. 5 seeds 37.5 percent of the time since 2000. In the second round No. 12s are 19-17 (52.8%) all-time.
• A No. 16 has never defeated a No. 1, though Alonzo Mourning still wakes up in cold sweats about Princeton&
• Since 2000, No. 13 seeds have surived the opening round in just 22.9 percent of its attempts; No. 14s 6.2 percent.
• No. 15 seeds are 1-47 in opening round games since 2000; 4-104 all-time.
• Notable mid-majors' tourney win percentage since 2000: West Coast (47.2%), Atlantic 10 (46.7%), Colonial (42.9%), Missouri Valley (36.1%), WAC (33.3%), Mountain West (32.6%)

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