Ticket Punched: Harvard overcomes key personnel losses to earn a return trip

Kyle Ringo
The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

A full-strength Harvard might have torn up the Ivy League this season, but without its two best players and senior co-captains it had just enough to eke out the league title and earn a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Tip of the cap to coach Tommy Amaker, who lost big man Kyle Casey and point guard Brandyn Curry to a cheating scandal that required them to withdraw from school. Amaker adjusted and coached up the players he did have and it paid off Saturday when the Crimson beat Cornell 65-56 and later learned Princeton had lost on the road to Brown.

If Princeton also had won, it would have been the second time in three seasons Harvard and Princeton would have met in a one-game playoff to decide the winner of the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Princeton won in 2011.

They do this March Madness thing the old school way in the Ivy League. No conference tournament to worry about and no seeding concerns. It's a horse race to the end of the regular season. The team with the best record and, if necessary, tiebreakers in its favor goes to the NCAA tournament, and most of the time the rest of the league does not.

Harvard is going dancing for the second straight year after enduring a 65-year tournament drought prior to last season. Amaker's team earned its way back behind Wesley Saunders, who emerged as a Ivy League player of the year candidate and Siyani Chambers, who played as well at point guard as Amaker could have hoped. Chambers had 16 points and five assists against Cornell. Saunders scored 14.

Harvard won't be an easy out in the tournament. These guys have shown over the course of the season they can play with quality opponents. They beat Boston College and Cal, lost to St. Mary's by one point and fought hard in competitive losses to Connecticut and Memphis.

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