Harvard (26-4) will play its first NCAA Tournament game since 1946 Thursday afternoon when they take on No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (24-6) Thursday afternoon at 4:40 in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the team's second round game.
The game will be available on TNT with Spero Dedes, Bob Wenzel, and Jamie Maggio on the call. WHRB-FM in Boston will also broadcast the game with Charlie Hobbs, Scott Reed and James Yoon providing all the coverage.
While many people have jested about the school's superior academic prowess, both schools are out to prove that their basketball programs can compete on the national stage as well. After just barely missing the Big Dance last season, the Crimson is making its first tournament appearance since 1946 by finally breaking Princeton and Pennsylvania's hold on the Ivy League. Vanderbilt achieved some history of their own this season when they won their first SEC Tournament Title since 1951 with a 71-64 victory over Kentucky Sunday.
The Crimson are 0-1 against the Commodores and 0-4 against SEC opponents all time. Vanderbilt won the only meeting against the Crimson in 1993, when the Commodores cruised to a 74-58 victory in the Music City Invitational.
While Harvard is making just its second appearance all time (0-2), Vanderbilt is back for its third consecutive trip and fifth in six years. In 12 prior appearances, the Commodores are 9-13, with one trip to the Elite Eight when the tournament only included 23 teams. Vanderbilt has been upset in each of the past two years, with a buzzer-beater loss to (13) Murray State in 2010 and a 69-66 loss in the 5-12 game to Richmond last season in Denver. The two losses, coupled with their difficulties in the past, have given the Commodores the stigma of an underachieving program in the tournament.
While everyone on the Harvard roster will be making their first tournament appearance, Tommy Amaker brings a veteran group into Thursday's matchup. Senior captains Keith Wright and Oliver McNally have both played well over 100 games and have been the heart and soul of the team's resurrection under Amaker. Wright was the Ivy League Player of the Year last season and while his numbers have dipped this year, he's still averaging 10.7 ppg and a team-high 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. McNally has changed his role a bit as well, as he's become the glue guy for a team that has seen an influx of young talent.
Junior forward Kyle Casey leads the team with 11.3 points and adds 5.5 rebounds per game. His classmate Brandyn Curry has done a terrific job manning the point for the Crimson with 7.8 points and a team-high five assists per game. Sophomore guard Laurent Rivard is the team's fifth starter and is by far the most volatile of the five. The sharpshooter averages two made 3-pointers per game and has scored 16 or more points eight times this season.
Four freshmen come off the bench to play regular minutes for the Crimson who played a difficult non-conference schedule that included games against Florida State, UConn and road games at Vermont and Loyola Marymount. Defense is Harvard's strength, as the Crimson have only allowed opponents to average 54.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting. The defense has been so good, that the Crimson have held opponents to less than 50 points twelve times in 30 games.
Vanderbilt fields an even older starting lineup than the Crimson with four seniors and a junior who have all made their mark on the program. Junior guard John Jenkins led the SEC for the second consecutive season with 19.9 points and is five threes short of tying the Commodores single season mark of 134 made 3-pointers. New Mexico native Jeffery Taylor is third all-time in scoring in program history and provides a nice one-two punch with Jenkins, as he pours in 16.4 points per game. Point guard Brad Tinsley isn't a huge scorer but he's second all time in program history in assists and is an 84.6 percent free throw shooter.
The Commodores front court isn't too shabby either, as Festus Ezeli owns the program record in blocks (199) and Lance Goulbourne has led the team in rebounding in each of the past two seasons. The pair have combined for 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds and over two blocks per game. Add in a pair of 6'9" forwards in Steve Tchiengang and Rod Odom and the Commodores have four players at 6'9" or taller who average 14 minutes or more.
While the Commodores have tremendous size inside, the team relies heavily upon their 3-point shooting. Vanderbilt takes over 22 3-pointers per game and knocks down 8.64 per game, shooting at just under 39 percent from behind the arc. Harvard's best chance at pulling off the upset might come in defending the perimeter, as they will give up a ton of size inside and don't have much depth behind Casey and Wright.
The winner of Thursday's contest will take on the winner of the early game between (4) Wiconsin vs. (13) Montana game Saturday in Albuquerque.