(13) Harvard Crimson vs. (4) North Carolina Tar Heels
The No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels (24-11 SU, 11-7 ACC) are a trendy pick to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA Tournament. In order to do so, they’ll have to get by a team that’s already familiar with taking down bigger programs, the No. 13 Harvard Crimson (22-7 SU, 11-3 Ivy League). The Heels and Crimson tip at 7:20 PM Eastern on Thursday, March 19, at Veterans Memorial Arena, in Jacksonville, Florida.
North Carolina looked phenomenal in its run to the ACC tournament final, beating No. 14 Louisville and No. 3 Virginia along with Boston College. They also looked phenomenal for two-thirds of the title game against Notre Dame. But a second half run by the Irish left UNC with a 90-82 loss.
As he often does, UNC coach Roy Williams has his squad playing arguably its best basketball of the season when it matters the most. He’s preaching intense focus heading into the tourney, given its one-and-done nature.
“You have to focus on just the game. Don’t give me any cool stuff; I hate cool. Don’t be careless, don’t be casual, and don’t be cool. You have to stick your nose in and do that. I told them last night to look at the chair they are sitting in at my house because all of them were from the Final Four from the bench. I said I’ve been there, and our coaching staff has been there, and it is a neat deal, but you can’t get there if you don’t play the first game”, said Williams.
Harvard, meanwhile, won the Ivy League by beating Yale in a one-game playoff, 53-51. A late jumper by Wesley Saunders gave the Crimson their fourth straight title. The Crimson have won 11 of their last 13 games, but the team realizes the tourney will bring a step up in competition.
“Obviously, they’re as good of a team as we’ll face all season, have faced all year,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said in a conference call Monday. “As talented, as big, as long and athletic. … They’re dynamic, explosive, and certainly dynamic on the backboard as well.”
Harvard has entered the last two tournaments as a double-digit seed, yet won its opener both years. In 2013, they shocked No. 3 New Mexico and a 14-seed. Last year, as a 12-seed, they knocked off No. 5 Cincinnati, and then gave No. 4 Michigan State all it could handle in the Round of 32 (falling 80-73).
Many key pieces from last year’s squad are back this year, including Saunders (the team’s leading scorer in 2013-14 and 2014-15), guard Sivani Chambers, and big-man Steve Mondou-Missi.
Despite Harvard’s proven upset ability, the Tar Heels are ten-point favorites at the moment for the first ever meeting between the squads.
UNC is 19-15-1 ATS on the year, while Harvard is a disappointing 9-14 against the number.
(Photo credit: Triple Tri (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)