CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Coming into the season, the general consensus was that the Ivy League was Harvard’s to lose.
With their entire roster returning from a year ago, the Crimson were in the enviable position of boasting continuity and talent – plus a little nudge from Linsanity – to break down the door and earn the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in the modern era.
That can still happen. In fact, the odds are that it will happen, but the road to March Madness is now anything but a sure thing, as the Crimson now find themselves tied for first in the Ivy with just a pair of games to play, following the Penn’s come-from behind victory on Saturday night.
“I mentioned to our kids before that we have a lot of basketball to be played,” Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker said after the loss to the Quakers. “There are many games to be played. Right now, I don’t think my kids are able to digest all that. But we’ll get there in our practice next week leading up to our travel.”
“All that”, in this situation, is Harvard’s two remaining road games against Columbia and Cornell, and Penn’s three remaining games against Brown, Yale and Princeton. If both teams win out, the two will play for the third time this season to determine the league’s automatic berth recipient. The Bulldogs and the Tigers, currently third and fourth in the conference, respectively, also have an outside shot at creating a mini-playoff to determine the definitive league champion.
Some claim that Harvard’s non-conference victories over Florida State, St. Joseph’s and Central Florida is enough to yield an at-large berth, but there’s no way that’s a discussion being had amongst the Crimson’s personnel.
Instead of a week of premature celebrating and discussing the inevitable history-in-the-making angle, there’s a sizable amount of leg-work remaining.
Additionally, because of the focus on academics nearly all Ivy League games are played on Friday and Saturday — a scheduling quirk allows for a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, a lot of time to think about what went wrong before getting a shot at redemption.
This elongated pondering has extended into the student body.
“In general, I think people here are a bit nervous,” said Scott Sherman, The Crimson men’s basketball beat writer. “Every road game in the Ivy League is tough and there is a lot of travel involved in going to Columbia and then to Cornell.”
“The Crimson came as close as you could come last season without actually winning it. There were really high expectations coming into the season.”
Asked what his primary focus will be at practice this week, Amaker kept focusing on “us”.
“There’s no question that we need to make sure that our psyche and our spirits are right,” he said. “It’s not like the sky is falling…but now we get to fully and honestly evaluate things and figure out where we are.”
By next week, Harvard will know if they’re going dancing for the first time since 1946.