ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Harvard reloads with a good friend of ours

Longtime Harvard basketball booster Thomas Stemberg on Wednesday announced the appointment of the boosters’ latest Director of Communications.

“I am delighted to report what I consider a recruiting coup on a par with the Keith Wright hocus pocus of several years ago. IHO’s Ancient Quaker has signed a contract in perpetuity with our club.’

The AQ recently resigned his position as Chairman Emeritus of the End the Nightmare Society in the City of Brotherly Love, a move most observers expected after the nightmare ended.

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ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Harvard awards Tommy Amaker honorary degree

Harvard announced Tuesday that Tommy Amaker will receive an honorary degree from the university.

Amaker will be awarded a Doctor of Sports for his excellence in recruiting, the university announced.

“We’ve created a Doctor of Sports just for Tommy Amaker because of the outstanding success he’s brought to our men’s basketball program,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. “He just wins, baby.”

“The best thing about this honor is we’ve won the right way,” Amaker said. “We don’t fudge things around here. That makes this honor all the more satisfying.”

ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Siyani Chambers to declare for NBA Draft

Harvard guard Siyani Chambers will declare for June’s NBA Draft, a source at the NBA league office tells Ivy Hoops Online.

Chambers averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 assists per game as he started all 28 of the Crimson’s games this season. His points per game declined for the second straight season, but Draft Express projects Chambers as a late second-round player who should be taken by one of Philadelphia’s 13 second-round picks in the draft.

Chambers declined comment for this story but reviews from NBA executives are mixed at best, with one Western Conference general manager telling IHO “Siyani Chambers is “certainly a guard” and a scout who works for an Eastern Conference team asking, “Seriously? Am I being punked? Is that still a topical reference?”

With Chambers declaring along with seven seniors graduating including Wesley Saunders, Steve Mondou-Missi and Jonah Travis, Harvard’s projected 2015-16 lineup as of now is Corbin Miller, Agunwa Okolie, Patrick Steeves, an advanced basketball-playing android developed at MIT named Wendell and Kevin Love.

Final thoughts on the 2014-15 Harvard season

Harvard took North Carolina to the wire last week in Jacksonville, bowing 67-65 to the Tar Heels in the Crimson's sixth NCAA tournament game since 2012. (Rob Crawford)
Harvard took North Carolina to the wire last week in Jacksonville, bowing 67-65 to the Tar Heels in the Crimson’s sixth NCAA tournament game since 2012. (Rob Crawford)

A few days after watching Harvard’s season end in Jacksonville with Wesley Saunders’ final shot clanking off the rim and backboard, it seems an appropriate time to look back on the Crimson season that was. Amid the shock and nostalgia comes perspective … and withdrawal. Here are my final thoughts on Harvard’s memorable 2014-15 season:

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North Carolina ekes past Harvard, 67-65

Wesley Saunders scored 26 points in his final collegiate game Thursday night. (zimbio.com)
Wesley Saunders scored 26 points in his final collegiate game Thursday night. (zimbio.com)

So close. So very close.

After trailing 50-34 with 16:36 remaining in its NCAA tournament matchup with North Carolina, Harvard looked done. The No. 13 Crimson looked one-dimensional nearly the entire game up to that point, with that dimension being senior guard Wesley Saunders.

But a true team comeback propelled Harvard to its first lead of the game with 1:17 remaining, and Saunders had a chance to win the game with a three-pointer as time expired. The shot hit the glass and rim before popping out, ending Harvard’s season and giving No. 4 North Carolina the 67-65 victory in Jacksonville.

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North Carolina leads Harvard at halftime, 36-25

No. 4 North Carolina leads No. 13 Harvard at halftime in Jacksonville, 36-25.

It’s been a game of many runs so far, and a whole lot of Wesley Saunders. The Harvard senior guard posted 15 points in the stanza, including the Crimson’s first 10 points. It took 10:56 for a Harvard player other than Saunders to score, and at one point, Harvard was shooting 1-for-14 outside of Saunders.

And yet the Crimson reeled off a 16-5 run in 6:04, cutting North Carolina’s lead to 26-23 before the Tar Heels in turn bounced back to finish the half on a 10-2 run driven by sophomore forward Isiah Hicks, who leads UNC with nine points off the bench.

Eight Tar Heels have scored, many of them notching easy buckets in transition off of long rebounds. Still, three Tar Heels also have two fouls – freshman forward Justin Jackson and junior forwards Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto.

Can Harvard ride Saunders to another improbable victory? We’re about to find out.

How Harvard can beat North Carolina

1. Play to your strengths

The only way Harvard can win this game is if they continue to play stingy defense and to rebound exceptionally well. UNC boasts the 44th-best defensive efficiency in the country (with the second-toughest “strength of schedule”), so Harvard has practically no chance of winning a high-scoring game. Also, the Crimson must limit Carolina’s scoring opportunities by not allowing the Tar Heels any offensive rebounds. At the other end of the court, offensive rebounds would be a bonus for the Crimson, but second chances against this UNC defense (which held Duke’s Jahlil Okafor to his lowest offensive rating of the season) won’t be easy to come by. If the Crimson’s defense isn’t clicking, the Tar Heels will be headed to the round of 32.

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Should you root for Harvard?

Don
Don”t you just love watching Harvard celebrate? Oh right, you probably don”t. (gocrimson.com)

With Harvard set to take on North Carolina Thursday in the Crimson’s fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, Peter Andrews and I debate whether non-Harvard Ivy hoops fans should root for the Crimson to win their third straight opening NCAA tourney game.

MT: Look, I know you probably hate Harvard. And you have every reason to.

The cheating scandal that forced Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to withdraw from the team in 2012-13 only to win another Ivy title the following year.

The loosening of academic standards for basketball players.

The sending of an assistant out on “unethical recruiting trips.”

The way Harvard teases Ivy fans every year by getting entangled in close games against underdog conference competition only to emerge victorious almost every time. (The Crimson have won five straight games this season decided by three points or fewer.)

But Harvard beating UNC wouldn’t be so bad.

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Harvard-UNC: What to expect

As mentioned in Tuesday’s On the Vine podcast, pace of game will determine whether Harvard can win a NCAA tournament game for the third straight season.

The Tar Heels are 1-5 in games with fewer than 65 possessions, while Harvard has played in only eight games this season with more than 65 possessions. In other words, the slower the game, the more successful the Crimson are likely to be.

Harvard ranks 34th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, and North Carolina has been a turnover-prone team all season, prone to poor passing and occasionally pushing tempo at the expense of smart offense.

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No. 13 Harvard to play No. 4 UNC in NCAA first round

No. 13 Harvard (22-7, 11-3 Ivy)  will play No. 4 North Carolina (24-11, 11-7 ACC) in the West Region in Jacksonville Thursday in the Crimson’s fourth straight NCAA appearance. The game will tip off at 7:20 p.m. Thursday on TNT.

The Crimson clinched their NCAA bid Saturday with a 53-51 win over Yale in the Ivy playoff game at the Palestra. Harvard defeated Cincinnati as a 12 seed last season before losing to then-No. 4 Michigan State. In 2013, Harvard defeated New Mexico as a 14 seed before losing to then-No. 6 Arizona.

The matchup interestingly pits Harvard coach and Duke grad Tommy Amaker against the Tar Heels, which made best online casino the round of 32 last season as a 6 seed before losing to then-No. 9 Iowa State. North Carolina has never lost its first game in the NCAA tournament under coach Roy Williams, who took over at UNC in 2003, and Williams has never lost an opening-round game in 24 NCAA tourney appearances at UNC and Kansas.

The last time UNC played an Ivy League team in the NCAA tournament was 2001, when No. 2 North Carolina defeated No. 15 Princeton, 70-48. No. 1 North Carolina also defeated No. 16 Penn in 1987, 113-82, eight years after losing to the No. 9 Quakers as a 1 seed in 1979, as Penn went on to a Final Four appearance.