Steele | The impact of Harvard’s upset on the Ivies




As the analysts began to discuss the ramifications surrounding Harvard’s upset over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night, Seth Davis of CBS Sports summed up the Crimson’s win as best he could.

“Harvard shot 52 percent in this game,” he said. “But if you ask any of the team’s players, they’d probably tell you it was actually 52.4 percent.”

Even in victory, it’s easy for broadcasters to overlook the athletic accomplishments of an Ivy League basketball team and instead comment on the team’s high academic standards.

Nonetheless, in a result that stunned the entire nation, 14-seed Harvard shocked the three-seed New Mexico, 68-62, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was the Crimson’s first Tournament win in school history.

While Harvard’s run in the Big Dance concluded Saturday when the team fell to six-seed Arizona, its upset on Thursday night offered a glimpse into the future state of affairs within the Ivy League.

With consistently strong play throughout the 2012-13 season from Princeton plus the development of fresh talent at Yale and Penn, it seemed as if any of these teams could give Harvard a run for its money next year.

But does one Crimson win over the Mountain West Conference Champion already slam the door shut on next season for the rest of the Ivies?

Maybe not, but there’s no question that Harvard’s confidence will be sky high in 2013-14.

Next season, the Crimson feature a group of young players who can only improve, including sophomore guard Wesley Saunders and freshman guard Siyani Chambers. And they’ll probably even get back 2011-12 All-Ivy forward Kyle Casey and once-starting point guard Brandyn Curry after both withdrew last year when they were accused in a widespread academic cheating scandal.

Coming off an upset of a team that boasted the No. 1 RPI in the nation at one point this season, it’s hard to see next year’s Harvard team dropping games to teams as lowly as Columbia and Penn were this season again.

After all, back-to-back Tournament appearances should boost the Crimson beyond their Ivy foes even more this upcoming season.

In fact, Harvard’s effort over the weekend cast the biggest spotlight on the Ancient Eight itself.

Other than the occasional flashback to 1979, when Penn became the first (and only) Ivy team to make the Final Four, and 1996, the year of Princeton’s upset over defending national champion UCLA, modern-day college basketball fans rarely get a heavy dose of Ivy hoops.

Last Thursday’s performance will change that.

An upset that big will surely force Ivy administrators to find new ways to increase the league’s visibility. Of course, the win will generate additional revenue for the league as well.

And while the Quakers’ late-season improvement provided optimism moving forward, it’s difficult to believe that next year’s squad can make a strong enough push to remove Harvard from atop the conference.

Yet less than a month ago, a Penn team that finished its season at 9-22 upset the Crimson and almost derailed Harvard’s title hopes. If Princeton had only taken care of business the next weekend, it’s possible that the Tigers could have been the team to shock the nation by the time March Madness rolled around.

In the end, maybe the expectations for Penn in 2013-14 shouldn’t be a League championship. Penn needs to learn how to walk before it can hit the ground running. And if the Quakers can model themselves after their Ivy brethren in terms of recruiting and shooting consistency, then maybe they’ll be in a position similar to Harvard’s sooner rather than later.

Because “athlete” applies to the hoops players in our conference just as much as “student.”

RILEY STEELE is a College freshman from Dorado, Puerto Rico, and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@thedp.com.

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