Mar 22, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
On Thursday night, Harvard won their first-ever NCAA tournament game in their second NCAA tournament appearance since 1946. That’s impressive, especially when you consider the fact that, when head coach Tommy Amaker took over the program, Harvard basketball was a joke. They had never won a conference title or 20 games in a season. In fact, they had only won more than 10 Ivy League games twice.
Now consider this: Harvard won the Ivy League and knocked off New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA tournament despite the fact that a) two starters from last year’s team graduated, and b) two more starters from last season, and arguably their two most important players heading into this season, were suspended for the year due to an academic scandal at the school.
In other words, Harvard just won their first NCAA tournament game despite the fact that they lost their four best players off of last year’s team.
So what happened?
It’s simple, really. Harvard has been able to recruit at an unprecedented level for an Ivy League program. They are bringing in kids that are on top 100 lists. They are beating out Big Ten and Big East schools for recruits. And they’re doing it, believe it or not, by selling a Harvard degree.
Back in the summer of 2011, I wrote a fairly in-depth feature for my old site about Harvard’s recruiting and how they were have been able to reel in so much high-major caliber talent. The short version is this: Harvard goes out and identifies all of the talented recruits that they know a) have the grades to get into an Ivy League school and b) care enough about an education that they will consider a school like Harvard over someone in the ACC or the Pac-12. And then the Crimson sell their pitch as well as any program you’ll come across: come here and you can play in NCAA tournaments (see: the last two years) and make the NBA (see: Jeremy Lin), and when you graduate, you’ll have the single most valuable degree that money can buy.
To quote assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel, “Harvard’s not a four year decision, it’s a 40 year decision.”
Obviously, it’s worked. According to his Rivals page, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers was being recruited by Nebraska, Georgia Tech, St. Louis and Washington State. Wesley Saunders, a sophomore leading the team in scoring, was a top 100 recruit with offers from Colorado, USC and San Diego State, per Rivals. 2013 commit Zena Edosomwan was recruited by every school in the Pac-12, including the likes of UCLA, Arizona and Gonzaga.
How do you survive the loss of four starters? Have an absurd amount of talent stockpiled on your roster.
Harvard’s emergence is not without controversy, however.
Ivy League schools aren’t enthralled about the idea that the Crimson are able to recruit at this level. They believe that Harvard has reduced their standards for admission. They aren’t breaking any rules doing so — any recruit enrolling at an Ivy League school needs a minimum score on the Academic Index to enroll — but the thinking is that instead of requiring their basketball players to adhere to a higher standard, Harvard is letting hoopers with the minimum AI into their program.
Regardless of whether or not you take issue with it, that’s how the Crimson were able to go from the laughing stock of the Ivy League to the NCAA tournament’s Cinderella story in just five short years.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:39 AM EST
There was also a double-overtime game in Charleston, and a buzzer-beating tip-in in Puerto Rico.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:36 AM EST
One impressive stretch of perimeter shooting may stand out, but Cal’s execution against the Syracuse zone was good for most of the night.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EST
Through three games Villanova’s shooting 26.3% from three, but they’ve been able to make up for it in other areas.
Nov 20, 2014, 10:37 PM EST
I don’t know how much they’ll win, but Indiana is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season.
Nov 20, 2014, 9:43 PM EST
Johnathan Holmes sparked the Texas comeback.
Nov 20, 2014, 9:29 PM EST
2015 participants George Mason (2010) and Seton Hall (2011) will play in the Gildan Charleston Classic for the second time in the history of the event.
Nov 20, 2014, 8:36 PM EST
Caris LeVert led the way with 21 points and nine rebounds, and Michigan held Juwan Howard Jr. without a point over the final 5:39.
Nov 20, 2014, 6:59 PM EST
Dominic Woodson injured his left hand in practice Sunday.
Nov 20, 2014, 6:04 PM EST
More than sixty inches of snow have fallen in western New York this week, so it makes little sense to attempt to play a sporting event as scheduled.
Nov 20, 2014, 4:58 PM EST
Arizona, Michigan State and Providence all reached last season’s NCAA tournament.
Nov 20, 2014, 3:32 PM EST
Who is the most clutch player in the country?
Nov 20, 2014, 2:37 PM EST
The 2014 Maui Invitational kicks off on Monday.
Nov 20, 2014, 1:57 PM EST
I cannot respect your intelligence if you think Kentucky beats Philly. I just can’t do it.
Nov 20, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
The last two years, Wichita State, UConn and Kentucky have all made the Final Four as teams seeded outside the top six.
Nov 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
You have to love early morning basketball.
Nov 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Sad: One of the sport’s most notorious coaches is struggling with his health.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
All of today’s college hoops action.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:05 AM EST
There’s more to Shaka Smart than meets the eye.
Nov 20, 2014, 10:32 AM EST
Will we ever see Butler’s head coach on the sideline again?
Nov 20, 2014, 1:05 AM EST
It was a quiet night on the college hoops front, but one ranked team went down.
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb 25
- Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise freshman standout? 0
- After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here? 3
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? 5
- No. 4 Duke proves No. 19 Michigan State cannot win at elite level if they keep missing on elite talent 3
- Wofford’s grueling start to the season began well before their 7:00 a.m. game 0
- No. 13 Gonzaga makes definitive statement with blowout of No. 22 SMU 2
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (25)
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? (5)
- No. 1 Kentucky survives Buffalo despite ugly effort offensively (4)
- Pregame Shootaround: No. 14 Iowa State needs to be on upset alert tonight (3)
- Miami upsets No. 8 Florida thanks to the Angel Rodriguez takeover (3)