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. 13 Florida Gators from the SEC.
Record: 25-6 (14-4 SEC)
Best Wins: Wisconsin, Marquette, Missouri
Worst Losses: at Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Kentucky
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 1
Projected seed (from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi): 3
Star Players: Erik Murphy (Sr. Forward) 12.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, Patric Young (Jr. Center) 10.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, Scottie Wilbekin (Jr. Guard) 9.2 ppg, 5.0 apg
Currently a 14 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, the Harvard Crimson have a good chance of landing an intriguing round of 64 matchup against the puzzling Florida Gators. The Gators, currently given a three seed by Joe Lunardi, are ranked 13th in the country according to the AP poll but are given the number one ranking by stats guru Ken Pomeroy.
Pomeroy’s rankings take into account every possession a team plays, calculating opponent-adjusted defensive and offensive efficiency rankings that create a Pythagorean expectation for the squad. The Pythagorean expectation is a metric that calculates a team’s odds of wining based on its play throughout the season and prioritizes margin of victory over actual wins. As such, Pomeroy is more likely to look at the Gators’ stretch of ten consecutive wins in the middle of the season (including an undefeated January) and ignore their four road losses in SEC play.
The discrepancy between the metric and realized wins on the court is displayed by Lunardi’s seeding of the Gators, who have been up and down throughout league play. In addition to blowing out then-no. 17 Missouri, then-no. 16 Mississippi, and then-no. 25 Kentucky by an average of 21 points a game, the Gators have also lost to fringe bubble teams Tennessee, and Arkansas on the road during SEC play. Playing in a weak SEC that will likely get only one team into the tournament seeded six or lower, the Gators have had few chances to make statement wins. During the nonconference season, they blew out Wisconsin (by 18) and Marquette (by 33) but lost two other games against noteworthy teams, falling by one in Tucson and losing by six to Bruce Weber’s Kansas State squad.
What it adds up to is a team that statisticians and pundits are at odds over, as well as a nightmare first round matchup for Harvard. Looking at the Gators’ six losses, only one came by more than six points. The team boasts a deep rotation where eight players average 16 or more minutes a game and the team pursues a breakneck pace up and down the floor. The Crimson have seen nothing like Florida’s athleticism not pressure in Ivy League play and co-captains junior Laurent Rivard and senior Christian Webster will struggle to contain forwards Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy in the open court.
However, there is a silver lining for Harvard against a squad that has played up and down all year away from the friendly confines of Gainesville. Unlike most other teams that Harvard could play, Florida’s myriad losses on the road signify a tendency to play down to the level of their opponents. Even with a possible win in the SEC tournament final against Mississippi, they will arguably not have played a team of their caliber since December.
Harvard employs a valuable giant killer technique in its three-point shooting and if it can lull the Gators into a slower-paced game that favors the less-athletic Crimson, it will have a chance. While the smart money is on the Gators to repeatedly attack Webster and Rivard on defense, exploiting their speed with their swarming press and full-court attack, Crimson fans can take solace in that the season has already shown this Florida team to be vulnerable to inexplicable losses.