Sushaan Modi | The best way to start the tourney

· March 15, 2012, 11:38 pm   ·  Updated March 16, 2012, 1:48 am

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Pete Lodato | DP

In Harvard’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946, coach Tommy Amaker and the Crimson fell to Vanderbilt in their first game Thursday, 79-70.


On the first day of madness, CBS gave to me: four-dollar streaming, three awful refs, two busted brackets and a tournament that’s now Harvard-free.

I am a firm believer that the first day of March Madness should be a national holiday. On no other day do millions of Americans show up to work and spend hours upon hours watching 20-year-old kids go after each other as if today were their last day on earth. (In addition to the ritual that is filling out your bracket.) The NCAA tournament is a celebration of sport in a country that idolizes athletes.

But it didn’t start exactly the way that I had hoped.

Murray State and Colorado State, meh. Southern Miss and Kansas State, decent. Syracuse and UNC-Asheville, awful refereeing and overall disappointing finish. No buzzer beaters shocking upsets. But in the back of my mind, only one game today truly mattered: the Harvard game.

It had been on my radar since last Tuesday when Penn’s loss to Princeton sealed the Crimson’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1946.

The Crimson were the prototypical tournament darlings. The team that the media could not get enough of with story lines galore: Jeremy Lin, the country’s most prestigious institution and the Krzyzewski-prodigy who had been cast off by two major programs and had finally made the NCAA tournament.

But those in the Ivy League saw a different side to it. The alleged recruiting violations, my dear friend Cal’s assertion of the Evil Empire and the omnipresent pout on the face of Tommy Amaker.

I must say I am slightly jealous. Having a team playing in the tournament used to be a proud Penn tradition. And hopefully it will be once again.

In the meantime, March has been hijacked by Harvard. Amaker’s squad is the antagonist that everyone hates. Penn students hate them. Princeton students hate them. And a few friends from Columbia too. (But seriously, they’ll never be in the tournament again.)

However, Amaker recruited and recruited. And recruited some more. And after he stopped recruiting — wait, actually, he never stops recruiting.

He scored a Top 25 class. He garnered commitments, powerful big men (have you seen the size of Kyle Casey?), deep threats (Casey can hit threes!) and has received heralded freshmen year after year.

The success did not come without its fair share of supermarket run-ins and academic index queries.

It didn’t matter though. The Crimson reached the promised land, and as quickly as they celebrated their triumph, they crashed into a very good Vanderbilt team.

Harvard even played with heart, battling back from an 18-point deficit in the second half, but ultimately fell, 79-70.

“This is a huge step for our program,” senior forward Keith Wright said. “To be able to be part of the team that laid the foundation down, being Coach Amaker’s first recruiting class and really taking the risk, you know. We’re leaving our mark here on the university and the basketball program itself.”

Call me bitter, but the loss was even sweeter than I could have imagined. Along with the rest of the Ivy League (well, at least Princeton), I rejoiced in the prospect of Amaker’s long flight back home to Boston.

Christmas in March, and we haven’t even reached the Round of 32.

SUSHAAN MODI is a sophomore international studies and business major from Demarest, N.J., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at Modi@theDP.com

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