Harvard has been playing MIT in men’s basketball season openers for a long time.
For example, the Crimson started its 1908 campaign with a 22-20 double-overtime win over the Engineers. But MIT got revenge on its cross-river rivals a year later with a 19-12 victory on Harvard’s campus.
By 1945, scores had increased a bit, and the Crimson got off to a strong start to its season by knocking off the Engineers, 42-21. A preview of that opener in The Crimson said the contest marked the “opening [of] what promises to be the best season for Harvard basketball since 1942-43.”
That prediction proved salient, as the 1945-46 Crimson finished 20-2 during the regular season and reached the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Ohio State.
Sixty-six years later, Harvard has not been back to the Big Dance since.
But heading into 2011-12, it’s rather easy to make a prediction similar to the one The Crimson made just months after World War II had ended—this could be very well be the start of the greatest season in Harvard men’s basketball history.
And this time, it’s not just the school newspaper making that prediction.
Others have jumped on the Crimson bandwagon as well.
A year after winning the first Ivy League title in its history (the Ancient Eight had not yet been established in 1946), big things are expected from Harvard this year.
The squad was a near-unanimous pick to win the conference in the 2011 preseason poll, receiving 16 of 17 first-place votes (the other went to Yale). It is just the fourth time in Crimson history that the squad has received first-place preseason votes.
But it's not just the Ancient Eight where the Crimson is expected to shine; Harvard received two votes in the AP preseason poll as well. Putting the Crimson in the Top-25 may not be such a far stretch, considering Harvard finished 35th in the country in RPI last season and is expected to be even better this year.
“I think they’re going to dominate the Ivy League and have a chance to run the table,” said CBS college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman. “They’re going to be fun to watch. ... The pieces fit so well. Depending on their matchup, I could see them winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament."
Harvard is coming off the two winningest seasons in its long history. After going 21-8 in 2009-10, the Crimson improved to 23-7 last year, earning an at-large bid to the NIT only after missing out on March Madness when Princeton’s Doug Davis hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer in the Ivy League playoff game.
But this year, Harvard wants to win the title outright, and it returns every key player from last year’s championship squad—plus the Ivy’s best freshman class—to help it do so.
The team runs through its big men, co-captain Keith Wright and junior forward Kyle Casey. Wright, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, has been named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 Watch List and the Lou Henson All-America Team this preseason after averaging 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in 2010.
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