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. Here, we take a look at the No. 15 New Mexico Lobos from the Mountain West.
Record: 26-5 (13-3 Mountain West)
Best Wins: Colorado State (twice), San Diego State, Cincinnati, UConn
Worst Losses: at Air Force, vs. South Dakota State
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 26
Projected Seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 3
Star Players: Kendall Williams (Jr. Guard) 14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, Alex Kirk (So. Center) 12.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg
In last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Harvard men’s basketball team squared off against Vanderbilt in The Pit, the home arena of the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque, N.M.
Though The Pit is not one of the game sites for this year’s iteration of The Big Dance, the Crimson’s lofty title goals may once again run through New Mexico, as the regular-season Mountain West Champion Lobos are a potential first-round opponent for Tommy Amaker and Co.
Should Harvard (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) meet No. 15 New Mexico, its most obvious disadvantage lies close to the basket. The Lobos’ starting lineup boasts sophomore seven-footer Alex Kirk and 6’9” junior forward Cameron Bairstow, who average a combined 13.8 rebounds per game. Together, Kirk and Bairstow could cause major problems for the Crimson frontcourt, which ranks last in the Ancient Eight in team rebounding. Harvard’s trio of sophomore bigs, Kenyatta Smith (6’8”), Jonah Travis (6’6”), and Steve Moundou-Missi (6’7”) will have their hands full with Kirk, who averages 12.1 points per contest and shoots 70.7 percent from the charity stripe.
New Mexico junior guard Kendall Williams, who was recently honored as the Mountain West Player of the Year, is the Lobos’ biggest scoring threat. Though his season average is just 14.0 points a game, he has the potential to heat up and terrorize opposing defenses. In New Mexico’s Feb. 23 win over conference rival Colorado State, Williams exploded for 46 points, converting on 10 of 13 attempts from downtown. Harvard sophomore Wesley Saunders, the squad’s best perimeter defender and most prolific scorer, would likely be tasked with defending Williams.
Defensively, the Lobos are led by guard Tony Snell, who stands at 6’7” and uses his length and quickness to harass opposing guards. Snell would likely be assigned to contain Saunders, the Ivy League’s leading scorer at 16.5 points a game. Behind Snell, Kirk is the Mountain West’s top shot blocker, averaging 1.8 per contest.
But in spite of New Mexico’s strengths, the team has turned in a few dismal performances this season. The Lobos’ offense relies heavily on its jump shooting, which has been spotty at times, including a season-worst showing against San Diego State. New Mexico shot 25% from the field en route to a 55-34 shellacking at the hands of the Aztecs. If Harvard were to catch the Lobos on an off-shooting day, it could have a shot at pulling off the Cinderella upset.
The guard play of freshman Siyani Chambers would also be key for the Crimson in its potential matchup with New Mexico. He would start opposite sophomore Hugh Greenwood, who is a proficient facilitator, but lacks Chambers’ athleticism. Chambers is a bigger scoring threat than Greenwood, averaging over five points per game more than the sophomore. Harvard’s chances of knocking off the Lobos will be significantly higher if Chambers has a strong performance in the first NCAA Tournament contest of his collegiate career.
Overall, New Mexico’s combination of a dominant frontcourt, explosive scoring, and effective defending make the squad a daunting first-round opponent. ESPN’s Seth Davis recently tweeted that the Lobos are the non-BCS team (excluding No. 1 Gonzaga) with the best shot at reaching the Final Four. If the Crimson is paired with New Mexico on Selection Sunday, it would need a stellar outing from its freshman point guard and a little bit of luck to stop the Mountain West Champions from getting there.
—Staff writer Dominic A. Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @dominicmTHC