The conclusion to the Harvard men's basketball team's 65-year NCAA tournament drought will have to wait at least another season.
Exactly 24 hours after its dream of an automatic bid to the Big Dance evaporated in the most heart-wrenching of ways Saturday evening, the Crimson gained some more disconcerting news when it found out it hadn't earned an at-large bid to the tournament, either.
Harvard's RPI of 35 was the highest of any team not invited to participate in March Madness.
“We knew the chances were slim [to get in], but we still had hope,” sophomore guard Christian Webster said. “It’s disappointing.”
But there is still basketball left to be played for Harvard (23-6, 12-2 Ivy).
On Sunday evening, the Crimson was offered and accepted a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, along with 31 other teams left out of the Big Dance field.
Harvard was seeded sixth in its region and will travel to Stillwater, Okla., to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys (19-13, 6-10 Big 12) Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN.
“We’re really excited,” junior co-captain Oliver McNally said. “It’s going to be a fun experience for us...the NIT is a big deal; we’re going to try to win some games and extend our season.”
Oklahoma State, the third seed in the region, enters the tournament with wins over Alabama, Stanford, then-No. 17 Kansas State, then-No. 15 Missouri, and Baylor on its resume.
Most recently, like the Crimson, the Cowboys are coming off an agonizing one-point loss. But Oklahoma State’s defeat was to No. 2 Kansas, whom the Cowboys took to the wire in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday before falling, 63-62.
Oklahoma State is led by senior forward Marshall Moses, who paced the team with 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on the season. He will provide a difficult matchup for Crimson junior co-captain Keith Wright, the Ivy League’s Player of the Year, who also led his team in scoring and rebounding.
The Cowboys frontcourt suffered a big loss in February, when junior Darrell Williams, the team’s second-leading rebounder, was suspended after being charged with felony rape. But sophomore forward J.P. Olukemi has since raised his game and adds 11.5 points off the bench.
In the backcourt, Oklahoma State junior point guard Keiton Page chips in 13.5 points and led the team with 23 against the Jayhawks. He will pose a defensive challenge for Harvard sophomore Brandyn Curry, who did a good job defending Princeton’s Dan Mavraides on Saturday.
“They’re a really good basketball school in a power conference,” McNally said.
Oklahoma State was ranked just 330th out of the 346 NCAA Division I teams in assists per game this season. Sophomore guard Ray Penn led the squad with 2.1 per contest.