As the No. 12 seed Harvard Crimson closed out a grinding victory over the No. 5 Cincinnati Bearcats on Thursday in the first wave of games in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64, it became clear that we should’ve seen it coming. Yes, it was an upset victory which is always hard to call—but all of the signs were there.
Harvard earned an upset victory last season as well, knocking off New Mexico as a 14-seed last year. With almost their entire roster returning this season, this team was hardly rattled by the moment or a talented Cincinnati team and came out with poise and a strong game-plan in hand.
While we’ve seen Ivy League schools in the past knock off opponents in the tournament thanks to sweet shooting from long-range, it was Harvard’s defense that shined over the Bearcats. In holding Cincy to just 57 points on the afternoon, the Crimson also held the Bearcats to just 36.8 percent shooting from the floor and 4-12 shooting from deep.
This was the 15th time this season that Harvard has held an opponent under 60 points and the 15th time that they’ve scored a victory when that’s happened. Their strategy was simple: nullify the impact of high-scoring guard Sean Kilpatrick to the best of their ability, which they were largely able to do. Sure, Kilpatrick still put up 18 points, but offense was often hard for him to come by which really threw the Bearcats out of rhythm offensively.
However, the Crimson aren’t looking to stop here. Their Round of 32 opponent waiting in the wings for Saturday is another Goliath that the Ivy Leaguers are looking to spoil things for: the highly touted Michigan State Spartans.
Against Michigan State, Harvard’s defense is going to be much more tested than it was against Cincinnati. Now healthy, the Spartans are able to beat you with a number of guys offensively. Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are all guys that can take over games coring. Keying in on just one player like the Crimson did to Kilpatrick isn’t going to suffice.
While it was technically an upset, this Harvard team is mature, experienced, and capable of fighting, scrapping, and keeping pace with any team in the country. We’ll see just how well the slipper fits on the Crimson, though, on Sunday when they try to take down one of the tournament’s favorites.