In a city jampacked with universities but largely lacking elite college sports, Boston College often has Beantown’s top football and basketball teams by default.
That’s been far from the case in hoops this season.
After pulling off what may have been considered road upsets of the Eagles each of the last three seasons, 24th-ranked Harvard is the clear favorite Thursday night when it makes the short trip to Chestnut Hill.
The Crimson (10-1) have been one of the surprise stories in college basketball throughout their torrid start, with their only loss coming at reigning national champion Connecticut on Dec. 8. They’ve already beaten one ACC opponent, outlasting then-No. 22 Florida State 46-41 on Nov. 25.
They jumped into the Top 25 for the second time after winning their only game since Dec. 10, 63-51 over Florida Atlantic last Thursday.
Keith Wright and Brandyn Curry led Harvard’s balanced attack with 12 points apiece, with Wright adding 11 rebounds and Curry seven assists. The Crimson shot a season-high 55.3 percent, hitting at least half their field-goal attempts for the sixth time.
Meanwhile, Boston College (5-7) is in rebuilding mode and will enter ACC play without a winning record even though it hasn’t faced a ranked opponent until Thursday.
Although they’ve recovered slightly by winning three in a row, the Eagles already have fallen to a series of typically inferior programs. That includes double-digit losses in all three of their games against in-state opponents - Holy Cross, Massachusetts and Boston University.
Harvard has won 13 straight against Bay State foes - a stretch that has featured three consecutive victories at Conte Forum, starting with a stunning upset of then-No. 17 BC on Jan. 7, 2009.
“We have familiarity with winning here, certainly that doesn’t hurt us,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the most recent victory in the series, 78-69 last Jan. 5.
That victory, over an Eagles team that ended up with a winning record in the ACC, had special meaning for the Crimson. Last season was BC’s first under coach Steve Donahue, a longtime Harvard rival in the Ivy League while coaching Cornell.
“It feels great,” current Harvard senior Oliver McNally said after that game. “They’re the team in Boston - ACC team. Our team has all the respect in the world for coach Donahue and for what he did at Cornell.”
Donahue said last season that his team already was feeling the pressure of its losing streak to Harvard.
“I think they allowed the thoughts of the past, and for the first time, I felt that negative vibe,” he said. “They shouldn’t be like that. … We’re going to bounce back and learn from this.”
Then a freshman, Laurent Rivard posed the biggest problems for BC last season, scoring a game-high 23 points off the bench to lead five Harvard players in double figures.
BC’s top four scorers from that game are gone, and Donahue’s roster is loaded with freshmen - four of whom started last Wednesday’s 83-73 win over Sacred Heart. Newcomer Matt Humphrey, a junior transfer from Oregon, led the Eagles with 18 points.