With Selection Sunday just around the corner, the Harvard men’s basketball team will know who it will be matched up with in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament soon enough. But sometimes speculation is more fun than reality, so we at The Back Page decided to look at what we consider to be the Crimson’s potential opponents in the NCAA tournament and to try and speculate what chance—if any—Harvard will have at pulling the upset. First up? The No.6/7 Michigan Wolverines from the Big Ten.
Record: 25-6 (12-6 Big Ten)
Best Wins: No.17 Pittsburgh, No. 11/12 Kansas State, No. 9/10 Ohio State, No .7/8 Michigan State.
Worst Loss: at Penn State
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 10
Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 3
Star Players: Trey Burke (So. Guard) 19.2 ppg, 6.8 apg, Tim Hardaway Jr. (Jr. Guard) 14.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, Glenn Robinson III (Fr. Forward) 10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg
With Harvard projecting to be a 14 seed and Michigan a three, the Wolverines are one of the more likely matchups for Harvard in the NCAA tournament. Michigan has been one of the high profile teams in the country all season and for good reason. Hardaway and Robinson, the sons of retired NBA stars Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson II, may not be as good as their Dads were, but they would be noteworthy without the famous last names (and the first names, way to be original, guys).
But its Burke that really makes the Wolverine offense go. The sophomore guard has really come into his own this season and is one of 15 finalists for the Wooden National Player of the Year Award. Harvard freshman point guard Siyani Chambers has had a breakout season of his own, but he has not had to match up with anyone as quick and dynamic of a scorer and distributor as Burke. The closest Chambers has seen was UConn’s Shabazz Napier back on Dec. 7, and though Napier was limited to six points on two-of-seven shooting from the field, he also snagged seven rebounds and dished out nine assists while limiting Chambers to three points and forcing five turnovers. Chambers has gotten better since then, but Burke still has a definitive edge.
But if the Crimson was to solely match-up one-on-one at each position it would be smoked by almost all of its potential opponents. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has done a great job at increasing the talent level on his Crimson squads, but most three seeds have one, if not more, NBA-level talent; that's just not the case for Harvard. What matters more if the Crimson wants to win a tournament game for the first time in program history is if it can land a team that won’t totally take advantage of its two biggest weaknesses: size and speed. Here, Amaker and co. might be in luck—kind of.
The Wolverines only have one player, 6’10” freshman forward Mitch McGary, over 6’8” that gets any significant playing time. With the emergence of sophomore forward Kenyatta Smith down low, there likely won’t be an incredible mismatch in the post which has been the Crimson’s weakest point all season. Unfortunately for Harvard, that’s just about where the good news stops. Michigan has one of the most efficient offenses in the country, ranking second in Adjusted Offense according to Pomeroy, and is battle-tested after making it through the country’s deepest and most talented conference this year.
On the bright side, the Wolverines have yet to play a truly impressive game away from Ann Arbor, but no matter where the team’s end up playing it’s an almost certainty that there will be more Michigan fans than Crimson faithful. In all likelihood, Burke will do this and Harvard will be sent packing in the first round again. But it’s called March Madness for a reason, and crazier things than a Crimson victory over the Wolverines have happened.