The Harvard men's basketball team cracked the top 25 in two major polls for the first time in program history Monday. It takes on No. 9 UConn Thursday evening.
The number 24 holds a very special place in basketball lore.
It’s the number worn by Kobe Bryant and Moses Malone, the number of seconds on an NBA shot clock, the date in November 1960 in which Walt Chamberlain recorded 55 rebounds, and the number of points Michigan State’s Magic Johnson scored in the classic 1979 NCAA championship game against Larry Bird’s Indiana State.
For the Harvard men’s basketball team, the number now has a new historic meaning.
It’s now the Crimson’s national ranking in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
For the first time in the program’s 101-year history, Harvard (8-0) was ranked in a national poll on Monday, earning the distinction after just missing out a week ago. The Crimson was also ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“This is a significant achievement,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m proud of the hard work [the team] put in, and I’m very pleased and flattered that we’ve been thought of in that capacity at this point of the season.”
The distinction marks another in a long line of firsts that the squad has achieved under Amaker. Last year, the Crimson won a share of its first Ivy League title, and this season played in its first regular season tournament, the Battle 4 Atlantis, which it won over Thanksgiving break.
The Crimson’s championship in the Bahamas—which included wins over Utah, then-No. 20/22 Florida State, and Central Florida—garnered the squad a wave of media attention that nearly pushed it into the national rankings a week ago.
Harvard ended up just barely missing out on the Top 25, finishing essentially 27th in both polls—14 points behind then-No. 25 Texas A&M in the AP poll and 17 points behind then-No. 25 St. Louis in the coaches poll.
But losses this week by AP No. 18 UNLV, No. 19 Gonzaga, No. 20 Vanderbilt, No. 23 St. Louis, and No. 24 California opened a door for the Crimson to break into the rankings, and Harvard took care of business by defeating Vermont on the road Thursday and Seattle at home yesterday to stay undefeated.
“There’s been a lot of good basketball played around the country,” Amaker said. “It’s neat to be thought of as one of those teams. … But it’s early. There’s a long way to go.”
Harvard just missed out on being ranked 22nd in the coaches poll, finishing a single point—equivalent to one more ballot listing the Crimson as No. 25—behind the Bulldogs and the Fighting Illini. But with 95 points, Harvard is 16 ahead of the No. 25 Aggies.
The Crimson received 191 points in the AP poll, two behind No. 24 Illinois and three ahead of the next closest team, the Rebels.
Harvard is the first Ivy League squad to be ranked since the 2010 postseason, when Cornell’s Sweet 16 team finished No. 17 in the coaches poll. The last Ancient Eight team to be ranked in the AP poll was No. 8 Princeton in 1998.
With the distinction, the Crimson left just seven other Division I teams—Brown, Citadel, Colgate, Furman, Lafayette, Lehigh, and William & Mary—as the only squads never ranked in the Top 25.