Last year it was the Lobos. This year it will be the Bearcats.
On the NCAA Tournament Selection show on Sunday, it was revealed that the Harvard men’s basketball team will face Cincinnati on Thursday morning in Spokane, Wash.
While the Crimson has known since March 7 that it would take part in its third consecutive Tournament appearance after winning the Ivy League regular season title, who, when, and where it would compete was left up in the air.
“We are incredibly pleased and incredibly proud to be selected,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “[E]veryone in college basketball aspires to be in this position at this time of the year. We recognize how fortunate and lucky we are, and I know that these guys want to do an amazing job as they always have done on behalf of our program and our great school.”
The Crimson (26-4, 13-1 Ivy) is seeded at the No. 12 slot in the East Region of the bracket, while the Bearcats (27-6, 15-3 American) sit at No. 5.
The dancing partners have shared one opponent in common this season—the University of Connecticut. While Harvard lost to the Huskies, 61-56, in January, Cincinnati faced off against Connecticut three times, winning the first matchup by five, and losing the subsequent contests by six and two, respectively. The third of those matchups was in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.
“I’ve seen [Cincinnati play] here and there with games that have been on throughout the season,” Amaker said. “[From] what I have seen, certainly they’ve been terrific all year…. [The team seemed] incredibly athletic…[and] has played like they’ve always been on a mission and [like they] have an edge about them.”
The Bearcats are led by senior forward Justin Jackson and classmate guard Sean Kilpatrick. Jackson averaged 11.1 points and notched 95 blocks on the year en route to his American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year recognition. Kilpatrick, meanwhile, spearheaded his squad on the offensive end, averaging 20.7 points per contest.
Last season, the Crimson streaked onto the national stage when it upset the University of New Mexico in the second round of the Tournament. With a spotlight on the squad, there is less of a chance that Harvard can sneak by a team—and through the tournament—by staying under the radar.
“I don’t think we’re going to surprise anybody anymore,” said junior wing Wesley Saunders, Ivy League Player of the Year. “I think we just have to go out and expect everybody’s best shot, and give our best shot.”
“This is what we want,” senior forward Kyle Casey added. “We don’t want people to look past us, we want people’s best shots. So we prepare for big games, for battles, and we’re going to go out there with the confidence that we can win…. [I don’t think] anybody will be looking past Harvard, and we definitely won’t be looking past anyone else.”
For Casey and co-captain Brandyn Curry, this year’s outing marks an opportunity to capture an experience that they missed out on last year, as each player took a leave of absence during the 2012-2013 season.
“You just cherish moments more,” said Casey, when asked about the difference in his mentality since returning to the team. “Being away from it, it was definitely a humbling experiencing. Coming back, you really try to take advantage of every day.… As much as I was happy for these guys last year, it’s definitely better to be part of it this year.”
The squad will likely fly out to Spokane by Monday night, and will hit the hardwood on Thursday. While the Crimson has had over a week to rest and re-energize after clinching its Tournament bid, Cincinnati reached March Madness thanks to an at-large bid, and played its last contest this past Friday in the AAC Tournament.
Despite the fact that this is the third straight year that Harvard dances in March, Amaker stressed that the sense of pride that comes with the berth is as strong as ever.
“[Our players] have worked very hard,” Amaker said. “Guys all year have sacrificed, looking towards opportunities like this. I think they’ve been amazing at staying in the moment and taking advantage of the opportunities right in front of us. I think this is something else where we’ll feel good about [ourselves] as long as we stay true to our identity, our standards. [If we do that], then we can feel good about whatever the scoreboard says.”
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twiiter @JulietSpiesGans.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: March 17, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the mascot of Harvard's first round opponent, Cincinnati. In fact, Cincinnati's mascot is the bearcat.