Harvard looking at history Saturday

March, 10, 2011

Quick hits for Championship Week Thursday:

1. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker checked his voice mail Thursday morning and listened to Don Swegan's message. Amaker paused for a moment and realized the enormity of what the Crimson have accomplished and what could still come Saturday.

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Tommy Amaker
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesTommy Amaker is one win away from taking Harvard to the Big Dance.

The 85-year old Swegan was a member of Harvard's only NCAA tournament team in 1946. The Crimson made the NCAA tournament that season, eight years before the Ivy League was formed. Harvard tied for its first-ever Ivy League title when it beat Princeton last Saturday in Cambridge, Mass. Princeton's win over Penn on Tuesday means the Tigers and Crimson will play Saturday (ESPN3, 4 ET) in rival Yale's gym for the Ivy's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Amaker said Swegan was excited about the Crimson winning the Ivy, in addition to having a chance to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time since he played.

"You can tell how big this is getting," Amaker said in relaying Swegan's phone call. "People that played a role in this program all feel a part of this. This has skipped generations, not years, to get this program to this level."

Amaker said it's still hard to grasp that winning the one-game playoff with Princeton would mean an NCAA berth. But taking over the dormant Crimson wasn't going to be easy so why should getting a bid be easy? Jeremy Lin's presence the past few seasons put the Harvard program on the map nationally. Lin departed to the NBA but the Crimson are actually more balanced this season and had the Ivy League Player of the Year in junior Keith Wright.

But Amaker said the Crimson should at least be in the conversation for an at-large bid, even if they lose to Princeton. The Crimson are 23-5 overall, with wins over possible NCAA teams Colorado at home and Boston College on the road. Four of the losses were to likely or possible NCAA teams in UConn, George Mason, Michigan and Princeton -- all on the road. All-Ivy forward Kyle Casey wasn't at the Mason game because he was injured and three of Harvard's losses were by a total of eight points. And more importantly for the number folks, the Crimson have an RPI of 34, which is higher than BC, Virginia Tech, Colorado and others.

"We're gaining momentum now," Amaker said of the program. "This has been fun and exciting. This is what we envisioned. I'm hoping we can take this to a different stage."

2. The NCAA should be applauded for how quick it has been to defend itself and offer further explanation in response to violations, especially when schools protest the timing and the penalties. But the NCAA needs to change the process. The NCAA is pointing the finger at Baylor for the timing of the Perry Jones III suspension Tuesday. NCAA spokesperson Erik Christianson told ESPN.com that the NCAA had notified Baylor in January of potential eligibility issues with Jones. But Baylor didn't declare Jones ineligible until Monday and then sought reinstatement from the NCAA. Baylor, not the NCAA, declares a student-athlete ineligible and then has to seek reinstatement from the student-athlete reinstatement committee. It's a technicality. The NCAA is essentially telling the school that if it doesn't rule the player ineligible and plays him then the school is subject to forfeiting games in which the ineligible player competes. So Baylor has no choice. What is hard to accept is that this information was available only in January when the issue occurred prior to Jones' enrollment. That's an issue for the NCAA.

As for Baylor, if it knew that Jones could be ineligible in January then it should have declared him ineligible then and sought reinstatement -- which probably would have come -- so that the postseason wouldn't have been a disaster. Now Baylor is out of the Big 12 tournament and off the NCAA tournament selection committee's board since its loss to Oklahoma, in which Jones didn't play.

3. I still think the Big East made a major mistake by sending all 16 teams to New York. Connecticut will have to win five games to win the tournament. That's simply ridiculous for one of the best teams. The Big East Conference, notably the coaches who fought for this, put their own at risk. UConn had no business playing Tuesday against DePaul. That game did nothing for the Huskies. It could have only hurt UConn.

4. If Colorado makes the NCAA tournament field then two coaches who were at Northern Colorado last season will be in the field: Buffs head coach Tad Boyle and Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill. This has been quite a revival of hoops in the area with Colorado State having one of its best seasons in years.

5. I still would be high on Pitt and Kansas State going into the NCAAs despite conference losses, and I'm not down on teams that struggled Thursday like Kansas and BYU.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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