As we enter the home stretch in conference play everybody is going to be looking for this year's Florida Gulf Coast. That's why we've put together "Cinderella Watch" to profile all the mid-major teams you should know before heading into March.
Overall Record: 24-4
Conference Record: 11-1
Key Wins: Green Bay (52), at Boston (85), Vermont (99)
Worst Losses: Yale (129), at Florida Atlantic (257)
Average RPI Win: 195
Average RPI Loss: 110
NCAA Tournament History: 3 Appearances ('46, '12, '13), 1-4
The Crimson got off to a very hot start this season, and by the time they hit their ten day break after playing Dartmouth at home, they were 13-2 overall and 1-0 in conference, with their only losses coming on the road against Connecticut and Colorado. Then they went to Florida Atlantic and lost - by fifteen points. Nobody expected that, but Syracuse can tell you that even the best teams have an unexpected letdown sometimes.
They have since cruised through conference play, with a loss to Yale - one that ended a 20-game home winning streak - serving as their only blemish. The Ivy League is not the strongest conference to begin with, and this year is on a downtrend, as both Penn and Princeton have had both bad luck and bad health to thank for very uneven seasons. Even Yale went out and lost to a debatably inferior Columbia squad.
That said, even in a down year, anything can happen in the Ivy League, thanks in part to their Saturday-Sunday scheduling and teams who become very familiar with each other. The Crimson have been very fortunate to survive all of these back-to-back weekends with only that lone loss. They now need only to win either at Yale or at Brown, and even that wouldn't keep them from dancing unless they then dropped a one-game playoff against Yale.
Key Player: Wesley Saunders
Saunders is important, but it's also important that he's not important. Follow me on this one.
Saunders is the team's leading scorer and their go-to guy when they're in the thick of things. The team is 19-0 when he plays and shoots at least 40% from the floor, but that's a complex number. Usually, when Saunders shoots that well, it's because he is getting into the lane, or getting open looks because an opponent is getting worn down by Kyle Casey and Steve Mondou-Missi, and because Siyani Chambers is doing a great job of distributing the ball. (For instance, they are 21-2 when either Mondou-Missi or Casey scores in double digits, and 12-0 when Chambers tallies at least five assists).
Saunders is their best player, and their most important player, but he also shouldn't be the focus of the offense - the Crimson have nine victories by at least 20 points, and Chambers was the leading scorer in exactly one of those games. Do you want the ball in his hands at crunch time? Absolutely. But not needing it in his hands is what often keeps Harvard out of crunch time to begin with.
Why They Will Succeed in March
This one is pretty obvious - because they've been there, and been successful, in the recent past. An Ivy League championship would mark Tommy Amaker's third consecutive trip to the big dance, and his team will not be intimidated even a tiny bit.
The Crimson have six players who log at least 20 minutes per game on average, and every single one of them was present for last year's tournament, the tournament appearance in 2012, or both. They were a 14 seed last year and had no trouble advancing, and whomever they face this season should be extremely concerned to see their name across from Tommy's Boys when the draw is revealed.