Harvard’s Upset Salvages a Tough Day for Mid-Major Teams

The second round of the NCAA tournament provided some intriguing matchups between mid-major programs and those big bad BCS conference teams. With plenty of opportunities for our beloved low-budget squads to pull off the upset, we broke out our mid-major pom-poms while channel surfing through the madness.

How did the mid-majors fare on Thursday? Well, not too swell. Let’s run through some of the carnage…

#4 Michigan 71, #13 South Dakota State 56
If you were excited to watch Nate Wolters compete on the big stage, you certainly weren’t alone. The sharpshooter had a phenomenal season (a 124.8 KenPom offensive rating when handling 30.3% of his team possessions is damn phenomenal), averaging 22.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Michigan apparently wasn’t impressed, as they held Wolters to only ten points on 14 shots on Thursday evening. Even worse, the senior failed to net a three-pointer for only the sixth time in 35 games. The Wolverines, on the other hand, survived an off night from Trey Burke by getting tremendous efforts from Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. The teammates combined to score 42 points on 16 of 22 shooting.

In the end, the Jackrabbits fell short for the second straight season in the NCAA tournament, continuing the Summit League’s miserable run in the Big Dance. The conference still hasn’t won a game in the round of 64 since Valparaiso made a run to the Sweet 16 in 1998.

#6 Butler 68, #11 Bucknell 56
Of all the mid-major shortcomings, this one may have hurt the most. When analyzing this game, many of us saw one thing, and one thing only: Mike Muscala. That’s never a solid approach to figuring out your trendy upset special, but it’s even worse when failing to recognize Brad Stevens’ career NCAA record of 11-4. Yeah, that was foolish.

After slogging through a nearly unwatchable first half, Butler used a well-timed run late to pull ahead for good. Stevens’ Bulldogs defense stymied the Bison, to the tune of a season low 0.79 points per possession. Bucknell was only able to convert 39.1% of their two pointers, with Muscula converting 17 of his shots into a mere nine points. It was surely not the way we all envisioned the Patriot League champion going out, especially after both Bucknell and Lehigh made some serious postseason noise last year.

#6 Arizona 81, #11 Belmont 64
When a mid-major program qualifies for the Big Dance six times in eight seasons, and you’re not Gonzaga, that my friends is one hell of a run. Rick Byrd has to be proud of his team’s accomplishments, but frustrated at the same time for failing to convert any of those six appearances into a single NCAA tourney victory.

After a dominant season in the Ohio Valley, Belmont’s best seed ever afforded the Bruins a chance to break their postseason losing streak. It’s too bad the veteran rich squad never had a shot. Arizona absolutely manhandled Belmont on the glass, 42-15, while also converting 57% of their shots in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. With the Bruins three leading scorers soon to graduate, including the sensational Ian Clark, Byrd will have a difficult time replicating his team’s success in the near future.

#6 Memphis 54, #11 Saint Mary’s 52
Memphis held off a late charge by the Gaels to hold on for Josh Pastner’s first ever victory of the postseason. Somehow, we feel like the Tiger faithful will still complain, but a NCAA win is a NCAA win. Memphis was dominant on defense, holding Saint Mary’s to only 37.2% shooting from inside the arc while also blocking 12 shots. Joe Jackson steadied the Tigers with 14 points, seven assists, and six boards in the victory.

#9 Wichita State 73, #8 Pittsburgh 55
Finally, we have a mid-major victory! Over a BCS program! Who cares if the Gregg Marshall’s program spent $3.8 million in basketball expenses last season. They’re in the Missouri Valley – that’s a mid-major league, right?!

Umm maybe not, but we’ll take anything at this point. At the very least, allow me to give credit to Marshall for retooling a roster that lost five of their top six scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team. Cleanthony Early was tremendous for the Shockers, while Carl Hall was an efficient, loose-ball corralling beast down low. Thursday afternoon was no different, as the terrific trio of Early, Hall, and Malcolm Armstead combined to score 54 of Wichita State’s 73 points. Pittsburgh’s latest setback is only the second time in the Jamie Dixon era that the Panthers lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

#5 VCU 88, #12 Akron 42
OK, moving along. Nothing to see here! Maybe the Big Sky can give us a Cinderella story to write about??

#4 Syracuse 81, #13 Montana 34
Yeah, no. I didn’t watch this train wreck, but I’m guessing Syracuse’s athleticism was a little too much for the Grizzlies.

#3 Marquette 59, #14 Davidson 58
Davidson was red hot heading into the East region, having won 17 in a row. In fact, many of us were ready to make it 18 straight when the Wildcats held a seven point (that felt like 12 points) lead with less than two minutes remaining. But after hitting only one three-pointer in the first 39 minutes of the game, Marquette drained three rainmakers in the final minute to give themselves a chance. Then Vander Blue went nearly coast to coast for a layup to give Buzz Williams an improbable victory late. Blue finished with a team high 16 points, including seven in the final 1:33 to help will his team to victory.

For Davidson, they dominated in most facets of the contest, yet came up short in the clutch. Jake Cohen concludes his remarkable career with 20 points in the defeat.

#14 Harvard 68, #3 New Mexico 62
And we finally have it, a true mid-major upset, a red-line special! Tommy Amaker’s Crimson saved the best for last, with Harvard earning their first ever NCAA victory over the favored Lobos. Who would have ever guessed this scenario was possible after Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were kicked off the team in the preseason?

Going in, Harvard matched up fairly well with Steve Alford’s Lobos, considering it was a daunting #3/#14 matchup. The Crimson used their quick perimeter oriented lineup to spread New Mexico out and make the bigger Lobos defend them for all 35 seconds of the shot clock. The strategy paid off, as Harvard impressively finished with a shooting line of 52%/44%/80%. It was only the seventh time all year that a New Mexico opponent was able to score more than 1.00 point per possession. Junior Laurent Rivard lead the charge with 17 points off five three-pointers, while All-Ivy first teamer Wesley Chambers scored an efficient 18 points on only eight shots.

New Mexico did little to capitalize on their major size advantage, other than get the Crimson frontcourt in foul trouble for the second half. Despite the foul trouble, Amaker was able to get by with playing just seven guys. Harvard’s victory marks the second time the Ivy League has won a NCAA tournament game since 1998. Congrats to the Crimson!

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