NCAA countdown: No. 31 Harvard
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: One year after leading Harvard to its first NCAA tournament in 66 years, coach Tommy Amaker learned two of his best players were involved in a cheating scandal that forced them to withdraw from the school to protect their eligibility for the following season.
Suddenly, starting point guard Brandyn Curry and athletic forward Kyle Casey were off the team — forcing Amaker to play a youthful, inexperienced roster in a season that was supposed to carry over the momentum from the 2012′s NCAAs.
Amaker’s message to the team was quite simple: We don’t have much, but we have enough.
Led by the underclassmen backcourt of Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers, the Crimson proved to have more than enough. They challenged UMass, Connecticut and Memphis and narrowly lost to Saint Mary’s in non-conference action. Then they started 4-0 in the Ivy League thanks to two overtime victories, before finishing 11-3 to edge Princeton and secure the conference title and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The success could have stopped there, but Harvard put on glass slippers with the second-best upset of the 2013 tourney by stunning New Mexico and earning its first tournament victory.
Now, Amaker’s biggest challenge for 2013-14 will be finding enough playing time for all of the talent. Saunders and Chambers return as premier players, while 2012′s stars — now eligible Curry and Casey — will be integrated into a group. The forecast is much different this time around, as the Crimson is the clear-cut favorite in the Ivy League and a potential top-25 team. Yet Amaker knows the motivation has to remain the same.
2012-13 in review: 20-10 overall (11-3 Ivy League), lost in third round of NCAA tournament to Arizona.
Tournament projection: Automatic bid, No. 8 seed.
Coach’s corner: “I’m optimistic. Right now, we’re trying to figure it all out. On paper, we have a lot of pieces to our puzzle. This team has a chance to be good. Over the last few years, we’ve put our footprints in the sand, so 20-win seasons and NCAA tournaments are expected. It starts by … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 31 Harvard, click here.]