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The Dagger

Ticket Punched: Harvard secures third straight NCAA bid, now hopes for more

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Siyani Chambers and Tommy Amaker (USATSI)

In the 61 years prior to Tommy Amaker's arrival in 2007, Harvard basketball never won 20 games in a season, never captured the Ivy League title and never reached the NCAA tournament. 

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It's a testament to the job Amaker has done that those feats are gradually becoming the norm. 

Siyani Chambers scored a team-high 17 points on Friday night as Harvard defeated second-place Yale 70-58 to earn its thid straight outright Ivy League title  and secure a third straight bid to the NCAA tournament. The Crimson are the first team to guarantee itself a spot in the field of 68 this season.

The next step for Harvard is to establish itself as a program capable of consistently doing damage in the NCAA tournament. 

Despite the season-long suspensions of all-conference point guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, Harvard upset third-seeded New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last March before getting clobbered by Arizona in the round of 32. With Casey and Curry returning for their senior seasons and last year's young nucleus also back, this is clearly a deeper, more talented team than the one that upset the Lobos last March.

Whereas last year's team was dependent on perimeter standouts Chambers and Wesley Saunders to generate offense, this year's team has six players averaging nine or more points per game despite playing at a very slow tempo. Saunders is a high-scoring wing, Laurent Rivard is a deadly shooter, Kyle Casey and Steve Mondou-Missi score with their backs to the basket and Curry and Chambers both create for themselves or their teammates off the dribble.   

Defense has also been a strength for Harvard. Superior length, depth and athleticism has enabled the Crimson to limit Ivy League opponents to 40.4 percent shooting from the field and 0.88 points per possession.

The question is whether Harvard's strengths will translate when it faces superior competition. 

The three best teams Havard faced this season were Colorado, UConn and Green Bay. It blew a 12-point halftime lead in Boulder against an NCAA tournament-bound Buffs team that had Spencer Dinwiddie at the time. It fell by five in Storrs despite Saunders sitting out the game with an injury. And it won by 12 against a Green Bay team that won the Horizon League and beat ACC champ Virginia this season. 

Aside from its attrocious 14 of 32 free throw shooting, Harvard looked the part of a dangerous NCAA tournament team on Friday night against a Yale team that handed the Crimson their lone league loss earlier this season. Justin Sears scored 28 points to keep Yale competitive in spurts, but the Bulldogs trailed by as many as 17 before  a late 11-1 surge made the score more respectable. 

When Yale finally stopped fouling and allowed Chambers to dribble out the clock Friday night, Harvard celebrated the victory with business-like swagger.

The NCAA tournament was once an impossible dream for Harvard. Now this is a program that expects to be in this position. 

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