Wesley Saunders

Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

How Harvard spent 62 minutes waiting on its NCAA Tournament fate

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Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – An hour before tipoff, there was no power inside Lavietes Pavilion.

That appeared to be an ominous sign for Harvard, which needed a win over Brown and a Yale loss to Dartmouth, on the final day of the regular season, in order to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

By 9:02 p.m., in a state of bliss, Harvard senior forward Jonah Travis laid motionless on the court staring directly up at the Lavietes’ lights.

After an agonizing 62 minutes of sitting and waiting, an improbable sequence of events resulted in Harvard and Yale sharing the Ivy League title (the fifth straight for the Crimson), meaning the two teams will square off next Saturday at The Palestra in Philadelphia for a trip to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

“Live to fight another day!” Travis told NBCSports.com.

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Harvard had just completed a 72-62 win over Brown in the regular season finale on Saturday night. For the next hour, the Crimson would see if Dartmouth would do its part by upsetting league-leading Yale. The night before, the Bulldogs had taken control of the Ivy League with a 62-52 win at Harvard, leaving Yale one-win shy of the program’s first tournament appearance since 1962.

“What’s the score?” Harvard’s Tommy Amaker asked reporters after the game, a rare instance in which a coach asks the first question during a press conference.

Two computers were streaming the game with the Bulldogs leading the Big Green 39-35 with 15:30 left in regulation. Amaker answered questions for 15 minutes before he exited the lounge that hangs above the far baseline of the arena.

Of course, not before he could get another update as he exited through the door.

“What do we got? What’s the score?” Amaker asked.

“49-46, Yale. 8:39 left,” he was told.

“Here we go,” Amaker said.

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With less than 30 seconds in the game, Harvard was up 69-60 when reserve forward Evan Cummins was fouled after corralling a miss from Brown’s Tavon Blackmon. Cummins made his way to the line as the Harvard student section began chanting, “Let’s go Dartmouth!” At that point, it was halftime in Hanover with Yale leading 30-29.

“We were talking a little bit about [the Yale-Dartmouth game] on the bench,” Harvard senior forward Wesley Saunders said.

“Somebody heard the score. I guess someone in the crowd was keeping up with the game. It was like [the game] Telephone … passing the score along.”

Once in the locker room, players were quick to confirm the scores they had heard while on the bench, tracking the Yale-Dartmouth game on their phones. With a senior night reception scheduled at the nearby Murr Center Lounge, many of the players filed out of the gym with their eyes glued to their screens.

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Several players chose to stay, watching the online stream along with two-dozen spectators, a far cry from the 2,195 fans that had packed the arena half an hour earlier.

By now, it’s 8:52 p.m. Yale has extended its lead to 57-52 with 35.2 left in regulation. Dartmouth freshman guard Miles Wright was fouled on the ensuing possession and went to the line shooting two.

“I can’t watch this,” shouts freshman guard Andre Chatfield, who left his spot at the scorer’s table and headed for the locker room.

Wright made both free throws, which cut the Yale lead to 57-54.

Chatfield came back to center court to hear that Dartmouth had forced a jump ball and re-gained possession. The 6-foot-4 freshman wanted to see what’s going on, but superstitious fans prohibited him from watching. Things have turned around since he walked away.

Chatfield and sophomore guard Matt Fraschilla stood together at midcourt, as Dartmouth took a 30-second timeout.

“Where’s my man, [Alex] Mitola?” asks Fraschilla.

“Is that your boy now?” a fan asks Fraschilla.

“I need him to be,” Fraschilla answers.

“Hey, if he can do it to us, why can’t he do it to them?” another fan says.

Mitola, Dartmouth’s leading scorer, went a perfect 10-for-10 from the line in the final two minutes to give the Big Green a 70-61 win over Harvard on Jan. 24. Everyone, in both gyms, knew he’d be the first option for Dartmouth.

Mitola wasn’t open on the flare screen, but Wright was coming off a pindown and tied the game with a 3-pointer.

With only two seconds remaining, Yale’s Javier Duren was fouled. At this point, Travis, one of two Harvard seniors still in the building, went and sat on the opposing team’s bench, by himself, hunched over, eyes glued to the gamecast app on his phone.

Duren split the pair. Yale is up 58-57.

On the ensuing inbound play, Wright, a former Division I quarterback prospect, heaved a two-handed pass, which is knocked out of bounds by Yale’s Justin Sears. The deflection by Sears puts Dartmouth in an ideal spot, under the Yale hoop with 1.9 seconds left.

Travis heard this, but refused to leave his spot, alone, on the bench.

Then this happened:

Gabas Maldunas gave Dartmouth a 59-58 lead with 0.5 seconds to go. Maldunas still had a free throw to shoot, but once Travis realized Dartmouth had taken the lead, he sprinted to half court and jumped into the arms of Chatfield. In that moment of euphoria was a freshman experiencing his first taste of madness with a senior whose hopes of wearing the slipper in March one more time remained alive.

Travis outweighs Chatfield by 40 pounds, so that moment lasted briefly before they both went crashing to the ground. Literally floored by what had just transpired, Travis stared up at the ceiling. Senior forward Charlie Anastasi dove right next to him. Fraschilla jumped on top of him to give him a hug, but Travis’ eyes were still locked on the lights.

“You can only dream about a moment like this coming true,” Travis told NBCSports.com. “If he (Maldunas) wants to come down to Harvard we’ll make sure to throw a big party for him.”

————————————–

It had been 62 minutes from the time Harvard had won its game until Dartmouth had completed the comeback against Yale. The coaching staff was out of sight shortly after Amaker’s press conference, and many of the players have been out of the arena for more than 30 minutes.

“Let’s go be with everyone,” said Anastasi, referring the senior night reception.

For the remaining members of the Harvard basketball team inside Lavietes Pavilion, it was officially time to party.

But next Saturday, at The Palestra in Philadelphia, the Crimson will find out if it’s time to dance.

Video courtesy of Maureen Anastasi

Weekly Awards: Kansas returns to form, Belmont star explodes for 42

Craig Bradshaw (Getty Images)
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Craig Bradshaw (Getty Images)

Player of the Week: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

It simply does not get any better than the week that Craig Bradshaw just had. In three games — all Belmont wins — Bradshaw averaged 33.0 points while shooting 58.2% from the floor and 58.6% from three. Those are absurd numbers, but they didn’t come against no-names. Belmont knocked off intra-city rival Lipscomb for the second time this season, following that up with wins against two of the country’s best mid-major programs in Denver and Ohio.

It still gets better. The win against Ohio came on the road, and Bradshaw just so happened to hit the game-winner on Saturday:

Belmont looks like they will once again be a favorite to win their league despite the fact that leading scorer J.J. Mann has graduated. Rick Byrd always has a never-ending line of talented scorers coming through the ranks.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: Washington won the Wooden Legacy on Sunday, and Williams-Goss averaged 16.7 points, 8.7 assists and 5.3 boards in the three wins.
  • JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova: Pinkston led Villanova to a 24-point win over VCU on Monday, following that up with the game-winning bucket and the game-saving block as the Wildcats knocked off Michigan in the Legends Classic final.
  • Aaron Bacote, Old Dominion: Bacote entered Saturday shooting 4-for-25 from the floor and 3-for-13 from three. He had 20 points in five games. In a win over VCU, he went for 31 points, shot 8-for-8 from the field and hit four threes.
  • Wesley Saunders, Harvard: The Crimson picked up a pair of quality wins this week, blowing out Houston before scraping by UMass. Saunders was the star for both, averaging 25.5 points, 6.5 boards and 3.5 assists.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble averaged 21.3 points in four wins this week for Maryland, including 31 in a win over Alabama. The Terps also knocked off Iowa State in the finals of the CBE Classic.
source:
Perry Ellis (AP Photo)

Team of the Week: Kansas Jayhawks

This was the bounce back that the Jayhawks needed. After getting utterly embarrassed against Kentucky in the Champions Classic, Kansas went down to the Old Spice Classic in Orlando and picked up three wins, including a hard fought victory over a good Michigan State team. Perry Ellis led the way, averaging 19.3 points and 9.0 boards, and Cliff Alexander started to looked like the Cliff Alexander that was a top five recruit.

Kansas still has a ways to go, however. Frank Mason looks like he’s coming along at the point, and Svi Mykhailiuk is probably the best option on the wing. But until Wayne Selden works through his shooting issues and Devonte’ Graham and Kelly Oubre find a way to be significant contributors, this team can only go so far.

They were good, too

  • Arizona Wildcats: The Wildcats may not have hit their stride yet offensively, but this group sure does know how to defend and how to rebound. They won the Maui Invitational with a win over SDSU in the title game.
  • Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers won the Battle 4 Atlantis, the nation’s best early-season tournament, with impressive wins over Georgetown and Oklahoma. But they didn’t get to play against North Carolina, who was the second-best team in the field.
  • Butler Bulldogs: Was there a bigger surprise this week that seeing Butler return to form? The Bulldogs knocked off North Carolina and Georgetown in Atlantis.
  • Northern Iowa Panthers: Northern Iowa looks like they be ready to give Wichita State a fight in the Missouri Valley. They are now 7-0 on the season with wins over Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Richmond. They haven’t allowed more than 55 points since that overtime win over Stephen F. Austin.
  • Ole Miss Rebels: Ole miss had an ugly loss to kick off the season, but they’ve bounced back. Wins over Creighton and Cincinnati this week helped that.
  • Colorado State Rams: The Great Alaska Shootout isn’t as good as it once was, but the Rams still notched a trio of nice wins en route to the title.
  • Seton Hall Pirates: Seton Hall won the Paradise Jam, which wasn’t all that noteworthy. But they did beat George Washington in Newark on Saturday, which was.

2014-2015 Season Preview: Stanley Johnson, Sam Dekker lead wing forward rankings

Stanley Johnson (Arizona Athletics)
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Sam Dekker (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.

Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.

POSITION RANKINGS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

THE TOP TEN

1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.

2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.

3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.

4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.

source: AP
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.

6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.

7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.

8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.

9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.

10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.

THE NEXT TEN

  • 11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
  • 12. Justise Winslow, Duke
  • 13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
  • 14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
  • 15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
  • 16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
  • 17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
  • 18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
  • 19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • 20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State

ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).

2014-2015 Season Preview: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans

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source: AP
Keifer Sykes (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Here are our Preseason Mid-Major All-Americans.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.

Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Power Rankings

FIRST TEAM

  • Keifer Sykes, Green Bay, Sr. (20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.9 apg): High-flying, high-scoring point guards aren’t that easy to find. Sykes is the reason that the Phoenix have a shot at winning a game-or-two in the NCAA tournament.
  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 39.5% 3PT): Yeah, I know he plays for Georgia State, but we picked him on this team because he may actually be the nation’s best spot-up shooter.
  • John Brown, High Point, Jr. (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.5 bpg): The nation’s highest-flying wing, Brown is the reigning Big South Player of the Year and a human-highlight reel.
  • Alan Williams, UC-Santa Barbara, Sr. (21.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg): Williams has been a star at the mid-major level for three years now, but the Gauchos simply haven’t had the kind of success as a team that would garner him more national recognition.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr. (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 42.3% 3PT): It will be Long’s Ragin’ Cajuns team this season with Elfrid Payton now in the NBA. His ability to block shots and shoot threes at 6-foot-10 could mean that he winds up in the NBA Draft after this season as well.

MORE: Top 25 Potential Breakout Stars | Top 25 Non-Conference Games | Coaches on the Hot Seat

source:
Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

SECOND TEAM

  • Jalan West, Northwestern State, Jr. (19.4 ppg, 6.4 apg, 40.3% 3PT): His numbers are inflated by Northwestern State’s uptempo style of play. That doesn’t make him any less talented, however.
  • Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State, Sr. (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg): Mullings is the reigning WAC Player of the Year, and he’ll have a chance to play more point guard this season.
  • Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 3.8 apg): Saunders was the Ivy League’s Player of the Year last season and should once again be the leading scorer on a Harvard team that has one a game in the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 46.9% 3PT): Parker won last year’s Southland Player of the Year award and was the best player on a team that went 32-3 and beat VCU in the NCAA tournament.
  • Justin Sears, Yale, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg): Sears is our Preseason Ivy League Player of the Year and the biggest reason Yale has a chance to contend with Harvard for the Ivy title.

THIRD TEAM

  • Siyani Chambers, Harvard, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg): The heart and soul of the Crimson. He’s one of the nation’s most underrated point guards.
  • Ryan Harrow, Georgia State, Sr. (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg): The former Kentucky and N.C. State point guard found his niche back in his hometown of Atlanta.
  • Julius Brown, Toledo, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 6.0 apg): ‘Juice’ Brown helped lead the Rockets to a share of the MAC regular season title last season.
  • A.J. English, Iona, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg): English is the best player on an Iona team favored to win the always-competitive MAAC.
  • Cameron Payne, Murray State, So. (16.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg): The Memphis-native had a terrific freshman season trying to replace the production left when Isaiah Canaan graduated.

HONORABLE MENTION: D.J. Balentine (Evansville), Joel Bolomboy (Weber State), Karl Cochran (Wofford), Brett Comer (Florida-Gulf Coast), Juan’Ya Green (Hofstra), Martez Harrison (UMKC), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Damion Lee (Drexel), Tshilidzi Nephawe (New Mexico State), Andrew Rowsey (UNC-Asheville), Bernard Thompson (Florida-Gulf Coast), Marcus Thornton (William & Mary), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Isiah Umipig (Seattle), Jameel Warney (Stony Brook), Kyle Wilson (Army)

Unprecedented success hasn’t changed the roots of Harvard’s program

Siyani Chambers (AP Photo)
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source: AP
Siyani Chambers (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Ivy League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The job that Tommy Amaker has done turning Harvard into a nationally relevant — and now, nationally ranked — program is criminally underrated, and the proof can be found simply by putting together a list of the best rebuilding jobs in college coaching.

Because you won’t find the Crimson on that list.

In order for something to be rebuilt there has to be a foundation, something to build on, and prior to Amaker’s arrival in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Crimson weren’t just irrelevant from a national perspective, they were non-existent in the Ivy League’s power structure. When he took the job in the spring of 2007, Harvard had never won 20 games in a season. They were the only member of the conference to have never won a title in men’s basketball, and of the 34 teams that Harvard has on their campus, men’s basketball was the only one that had never brought home an Ivy League championship. Their most recent NCAA tournament trip? 1946, a full decade before the first season of Ivy League basketball.

Things are different these days.

Harvard has won at least 20 games in each of the last five years, reaching the postseason each season. The last three years, the Crimson have won the Ivy’s regular season title and advanced to the NCAA tournament, where they pulled off upsets in 2013 (No. 3 seed New Mexico) and 2014 (No. 5 seed Cincinnati).

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Ivy League Preview

With yet another crop of high-major recruits joining the fray this year, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that we have Harvard ranked No. 23 in the country in our preseason top 25. There’s even an argument to be made that the Crimson are the best mid-major program in the country right now.

Hear me out.

Gonzaga can no longer be called mid-major despite the fact that they play in the WCC. It’s been that way for years. Wichita State plays in the Missouri Valley, but with the money they have invested in Gregg Marshall’s program and the success they’ve had in recent seasons, it’s fair to wonder if they still qualify as a “mid-major.” Butler and Creighton are in the Big East now. VCU and Davidson will be league foes in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Who’s better? Maybe Belmont? Stephen F. Austin? Wofford? Ohio? Maybe, but the argument isn’t the point. The simple fact that Harvard is very much in that discussion is, and I was curious: did Amaker actually think that was possible at Harvard?

So I asked him.

“Yes, to be very honest,” he said this week in a phone interview with NBCSports.com, and it makes sense. Remember, this is a guy that played and coached at Duke. He reached the Sweet 16 in 2000 and then reeled in an excellent recruiting class that included Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett and Marcus Toney-El at Seton Hall. He coached at Michigan for six seasons. You don’t get those jobs without having a little bit of confidence in yourself.

And that confidence was easy to see on the recruiting trail, at least in the eyes of Siyani Chambers. Chambers, a junior guard, is one of the best players in the Ivy League. He’s been Harvard’s starting point guard since the day he set foot on campus, picking the Crimson over a handful of high-major programs.

“I was not aware of it,” Chambers said of Harvard’s lack of basketball pedigree in an interview with NBCSports.com this week. “I was just aware of what Coach Amaker was telling me and the future that he saw for us and how I could contribute to the rise of the program.

“When I was looking to come here my senior year in high school, I saw a program on the rise after their first trip to the NCAA tournament and Coach Amaker said, ‘This is what we’re trying to continue to do. So if we work hard and continue to bring in good recruiting classes, this is how we’re supposed to be for a long time.’ I bought into it. So did everyone else that’s come through here.”

And that, more than anything, is the most impressive part of the job that Amaker has done with the Crimson. Not only has he proven that it’s possible to win there, but he’s managed to convince everyone — the school, the coaching staff, the players he recruits — that this is the way it should have been all along.

It hasn’t hurt that he’s been able to bring in a roster full of recruits that had the chance to play at a higher level, but according to Amaker, the key to Harvard’s success has been that the talent in the program has bought into, as he puts it, “our goals, our identity and our standards.”

Case in point: Zena Edsomwan.

Edsomwan was the 82nd-ranked recruit in the Class of 2013, picking Harvard despite holding offers from programs such as Arizona State, USC, California and Colorado. As a freshman, minutes were difficult to come by for Edsomwan despite the fact that he was quite productive when he did get on the court. There were only four games last season where Edsomwan played more than 11 minutes, and in those games he averaged 11.5 points and 4.8 boards per contest. But he didn’t leave the program this offseason. He’s still on the roster, waiting for his opportunity. It’s not hard to see that patience as an example of the faith Amaker’s players have in him.

“We believe in the system that coach puts in front of us,” Chambers said. “We believe that we should be able to win and compete with anyone that plays us.”

It’s Chambers, says Amaker, that helps set that example. It’s why the junior has been named a co-captain on a senior-laden team.

“He knows nothing other than winning,” Amaker said. “His spirit, his presence, his work ethic, he’s ultra-competitive. If any of those aspects change or get pushed to the back, that’s what drives his engine. It’s not so much whether the shot goes in or whether he’s driving to the basket or not, all of that is secondary because of his presence, his way of being. He’s a natural-born leader, and he’s been that way since day one when he’s been with this program.”

Through two years, Chambers and Harvard have been a match made in heaven. But success does breed expectation, however, and at some point, people are going to start wondering when Harvard will have their program-defining tournament run. Winning in the regular season is great. Pulling off opening round upsets are awesome. But, eventually, the question will be asked: will Amaker ever get Harvard out of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend?

“That never crossed my mind,” Amaker said. “I guess, in a lot of ways, if that’s the case, that’s an amazing compliment.”

2014-2015 Ivy League Preview: Is this the year someone catches Harvard?

Siyani Chambers and Tommy Amaker (AP Photo)
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Siyani Chambers, AP Photo

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Ivy League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The favorite to win the Ivy League, as has been the case for the last three or four years, is Harvard. The Crimson are coming off of a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament in which they won a game (No. 3 seed New Mexico in 2013, No. 5 seed Cincinnati last year) and return the two best players from that team in Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, both of whom have a strong argument to be named Preseason Player of the Year. The Crimson will also boast a deep and talented front court, headlined by Steve Moundou-Missi and Zena Edosomwan, but their perimeter depth will be a concern. An injury to either Chambers or Saunders would be a major blow.

Harvard went 13-1 in league play last season, with their one loss coming at home against Yale. The Elis have a chance to put together a truly special season, as junior big man Justin Sears, our Preseason Ivy Player of the Year, is flanked by a pair of all-league caliber guards in seniors Javier Duren and Armani Cotton. Yale is big and they are physical and they love to attack the glass at both ends of the floor, but until they find a way to shoot the ball consistently from the perimeter, the game plan to beat the Bulldogs is fairly straight forward.

MORE: Tommy Amaker’s unprecedented success at Harvard | Harvard is No. 23 in our top 25

source: AP
Steve Moundou-Missi guarding Justin Sears, AP Photo

There are some other good teams in the league, as the Ivy should once again be one of the toughest mid-major conferences in the country. Columbia is the sleeper, as the Lions bring back everyone from last year’s 8-6 campaign. Kyle Smith’s club controls tempo, is loaded with dangerous perimeter shooters, has a handful of big-and-slow-but-tough front court pieces and a pair of big-time scorers in Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg.

Princeton loses T.J. Bray, which would hurt anyone in the conference. They bring back some pieces up front and landed a terrific recruiting class, headlined by high-major prospects Amir Bell and Alec Brennan. Brown, Dartmouth and Penn should all fight for that fifth-place spot, while Cornell looks like it’s destined for the cellar once again despite getting Shonn Miller back.

PRESEASON IVY LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Sears, Yale

Harvard is the most talented team in the Ivy, and while Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders are both deserving of consideration for Preseason Player of the Year, neither does as much for their team as Sears does for Yale. The Elis are built around their ability to attack the glass and control the paint, and Sears (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is the reason why they’re able to do that. A physical, 6-foot-8 forward, he rebounds, blocks shots and can step out and beat a defender on the perimeter. The rising junior will be the focus of every opponent’s game-plan again this season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY TEAM:

  • Siyani Chambers, Harvard: There have been very few Ivy League point guards that are capable of doing what Chambers (11.4 ppg, 4.6 apg) has done in his first two seasons. His influence goes well beyond his stat line.
  • Wes Saunders, Harvard: A 6-foot-5 wing, Saunders is the leading scorer (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg) and most talented player on the best team in the conference.
  • Shonn Miller, Cornell: Miller missed the 2013-2014 season, one in which the Big Red went 2-26. But he’s a beast that will put up numbers (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.9 bpg in ’12-’13).
  • Alex Rosenberg, Columbia: A 6-foot-7 forward, Rosenberg is the leading scorer (16.0 ppg, 43.2% 3PT) for a Columbia team that has an outside chance of winning the league.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ivybball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Harvard
2. Yale
3. Columbia
4. Princeton
5. Penn
6. Brown
7. Dartmouth
8. Cornell