It was just one game, but Harvard”s stunning 68-53 loss to Florida Atlantic on Tuesday has seemingly cast a new light on the conference race. Until Boca Raton, the Crimson had laid waste to its Ivy-level competition—the only blemishes on its record were road losses against Colorado and Connecticut. With Princeton”s defeat at the Palestra two weeks ago, the road to the NCAA Tournament looked like a relative stroll for Harvard, especially compared to the two-month marathons of the Crimson”s last three league championships. But this week”s clunker against the 7-12 Owls (four wins against D-II or sub-300 teams) exposed Harvard and breathed hope into the seven Ivies that stand between the Crimson and March Madness. If Harvard can stumble to Florida Atlantic on ten days rest, doesn”t [insert your school, not Cornell] have a fighter”s chance on a back-to-back?
Well, disappointed Crimson fans, things are neither as gloomy as they seem now, nor were they ever as rosy as they seemed last week. Sure, the #2BidIvy campaign is now sunk, but it was only ever in play in the event of a one-loss tie, which pretty much bit the dust when the Tigers went down to the Quakers. An Ivy title is the only validation for a ticket to the Tournament, and unless you”re a dreamer it always was. In truth, Harvard was punching above its weight for much of the season, and it was fortunate to navigate its non-conference slate as successfully as it did. The Crimson began the season at No. 50 in KenPom, and, after its loss this week, it sit at No. 48. A 14-3 record on Jan. 24 was the forecast, and who, given the choice in the preseason, would not have taken that?
There”s no doubt that Tuesday”s loss is one of the low-points of Coach Amaker”s tenure. The Crimson shot 23% from the field and tallied three assists, both game-lows over the last seven seasons. Harvard continued a troubling trend of getting stuffed at the rim, as the Owls rang up 12 blocked shots. But there were a few positives as well. Wes Saunders played 34 minutes after missing the last two games with a knee sprain, Zena Edosomwan showed a pulse (11 points, nine rebounds), and in spite of everything, the Crimson had a chance to steal a win, scraping within five with 5:36 remaining.
No, if anything accounts for Harvard”s sudden vulnerability, it”s not a bad night against Florida Atlantic. It”s the strength of the rest of the Ancient Eight. Princeton sits at 11-3, Columbia has cracked to KenPom Top-100, Penn is coming off its best win of the year, and, while Brown and Yale are just waking from a holiday swoon, both project to 6-point home underdogs against the Crimson. Harvard may be in it for the long haul, but it always was.