For all of its prestige, new age sports fans never thought of Harvard in athletic terms until Jeremy Lin took the NBA by storm last February. Now the school has some basketball history to add to its’ lore besides just an accomplished alumni, as the No. 14 seeded Crimson earned their first ever NCAA Tournament game victory with a shocking 68-62 upset of No. 3 New Mexico in the West Region.
Let’s be honest, the first day of the tournament was pretty underwhelming. There were a couple of failed rallies, a bricked buzzer-beating attempt or two, and no true monumental upsets. Sure, two No. 12 seeds – Oregon and California – had knocked off No. 5 seeds, but those No. 5 seeds (Oklahoma State UNLV) were pegged as potential upset victims long ago. Heck, you can make the argument that heading into the last group of games, the biggest upset we had seen on Day 1 was No. 9 Wichita State’s rout of No. 8 Pittsburgh in the West Region.
The came Harvard, who woke us up, reminded us why we call it March Madness, and promptly got us excited about this tournament again.
The Crimson went 19-9 in pre-tournament play this season to capture the Ivy League regular season title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament (the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament), but they didn’t play a ranked team this season and finished 94th in the RPI rankings themselves. New Mexico finished second in the RPI rankings, behind only Duke.
But on this night, like so many others in Madness history, the rankings and seedings meant absolutely nothing. Harvard jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, seemingly stunning a Lobos side that didn’t look ready for a real fight from their Ivy League opponents. From their, the Crimson led pretty much wire to wire, with New Mexico holding a lead for all of 11 seconds in this game (a 33-31 lead in the early stages of the second half).
New Mexico was arguably as good as anyone in this season of parity. The Lobos won the regular season title and tournament title in the conference that finished with the best RPI rating, went 4-0 against ranked teams and went 29-5 overall. Harvard was better on this one night, and because of it, their 2012-13 season will continue and will go down as more successful than the 2012-13 season season of New Mexico.
As for that West Region, it appears to be wide open. Gonzaga didn’t look like a No. 1 in barely surviving against Southern University and New Mexico is already out. Is it now Ohio State’s to lose? Are Kansas State and Wisconsin threats for the Final Four? Heck, with the way they looked today in a romp over a very good Pittsburgh team, does No. 9 Wichita State feel like they gave a golden opportunity here?
The last thing to touch on after this shocker is how disappointing the Mountain West Conference remains come tournament time. As mentioned, the conference finished with the highest RPI rating and sent five teams to the tourney, but their biggest threats to make deep runs – New Mexico and UNLV – didn’t even make it to the first weekend and Boise State lost their play-in game against La Salle earlier in the week. The only two of the five left standing are Midwest No. 8 Colorado State, who beat Missouri on Thursday night, and South Region No. 7 San Diego State, who have yet to play.