Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:35 pm

Casey, Harvard players celebrate tourney berth

By Jeff Goodman

Tommy Amaker had to take the call on the other line -- and who could blame him. 

"It's Coach K," Harvard's head coach said just moments after his team earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1946 via Penn's loss at Princeton. 

Of course, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was calling his former player and assistant coach to offer his congratulations. 

"It's exciting," Amaker said on his team's automatic berth. "No question about it." 

And how are his players celebrating?

"Some of them have mid-terms tomorrow," Amaker said. 

Others, like Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, were officiating intramurals. 

"We kept our routine like normal," Casey said. "People kept coming over and giving us the score of the Penn game. We got back to our room and started playing Call of Duty." 

Then they found out the final score -- and the players rounded up and ran through the floors yelling and screaming. 

"I'm so pumped," Casey said. "This is a huge reason why we all came here." 

Amaker has pulled off one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country since getting fired at Michigan and taking a job that many began to question his sanity. Harvard was a graveyard job. The last time the Crimson had even finished over .500 in the Ivy was back in 1997. 

I covered every Harvard home basketball game for a few years in the mid 90s -- and Lavietes Pavilion was basically dead. Now the Crimson have become a hot ticket around these parts, selling out home games. Harvard earned a share of the Ivy League crown last season, but lost to Princeton in a one-game playoff. This time the Crimson won the league title outright and, more importantly, have earned a trip to the Big Dance. 

"It's unbelievable for the seniors," Casey said. "They were the first recruiting class for Coach Amaker. They deserve it." 

I remember the day Casey committed to Harvard. He said he was going for the education and to make history, with the intent of taking the program back to the NCAA tourney. 

He and his teammates have done just that. 

"I'm almost speechless," he said. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:43 pm

Tiny Dancers: Harvard

A year ago, Harvard lost to Princeton on a last-second shot in a one-game playoff. 

It appeared as though the Crimson might again be forced to play a winner-take-all contest, this time against Penn. However, the Quakers lost Tuesday night at Princeton, which meant that Tommy Amaker's team will make its first NCAA appearance since 1946. 

Harvard got an automatic bid rather than having to sweat it out on Sunday. The Crimson went 12-2 in the Ivy and had a couple of impressive wins this season - including a victory over Florida State back in November down in the Bahamas. But there were a pair of league setbacks to Penn and Princeton that put Amaker & Co. on the bubble. 

Now Harvard is able to celebrate -- by studying for mid-terms on Tuesday night. 

The Crimson are a balanced group. 

Kyle Casey leads the team at 11.3 points per game. Senior big man Keith Wright is at 10.7 points and shooter Laurent Rivard is next at 9.7 points. The starting backcourt of Brandyn Curry and Oliver McNally combines to average a shade over 15 points per contest. 

But that's what makes Harvard dangerous. These guys are unselfish, share the basketball and defend. 

After losing in a playoff last season, Tommy Amaker steered Harvard to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Kyle Casey - The junior forward led a balanced team in scoring at 11.3 points per game and he's the most talented guy on the team. Athletically, he can match-up against guys from bigger leagues. Casey played much of last season with a broken foot, but he's healthy and finished the season averaging 15.5 points over the final four games. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-4 overall, 12-2 in Ivy
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1946
  • We’re thinking: 10 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 37
  • Sagarin ranking: 35
  • RPI: 43
  • Best wins: Florida State, St. Joe's
  • Worst losses: Fordham, Princeton
  • Notable stat:  The Crimson earned its first national ranking in program history this season. Harvard was ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll at one time. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:06 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:02 pm

Poppin' Bubbles: Do-or-die in league tourneys

Seton Hall kept its at-large hopes alive with a dominant win over Providence in the Big East first round. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

It truly is do-or-die time for bubble teams. With a loss, they will be left to sit on the sidelines until Selection Sunday, anxiously awaiting the committee to announce their fate. With a win, they get to keep boosting the profile and also stay squarely in the forefront of the committee’s collective mind. With the Big East and Atlantic 10 tournaments getting underway on Tuesday, several bubble teams have work to do.

Note: This page will be updated throughout the day, with bubble discussion and analysis.


Connecticut: The Huskies, with their quintet of top-50 wins and terrific strength of schedule, seem to still be in pretty good shape. What they couldn’t afford, however, would have been a loss in the first round to DePaul. Jim Calhoun’s troops obliged, cruising to an easy win over the Blue Demons. Connecticut improves to 6-8 away from home, which doesn’t look as bad anymore. The Huskies will play fellow bubble team West Virginia on Wednesday. The winner will be locked in, the loser will sweat until the selections. 

Seton Hall: The Pirates likely had to win two Big East tournament games to get into the NCAA tournament (or at least feel remotely comfortable about it), and they accomplished the first step of that task on Tuesday. Seton Hall overcame a slow start to throttle Providence over the last 20 minutes. Next up for the Pirates is a battle with Rick Pitino and Louisville. Can Seton Hall survive a loss there? Depending on what else happens around the country, they might not be able to. A win would certainly help.

The Flyers still have a extremely strange profile, but they also have at-large hopes after taking care of business against George Washington in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. In the quarterfinals, Dayton will get Xavier for the third time this season. It's a huge bubble game, as both teams need a win and neither team might be able to overcome a defeat. The Flyers have three very good wins over Temple, Saint Louis and Alabama, but four sub-100 losses makes things difficult.

Saint Joseph's:
The Hawks have a lot of work to do in order to get an at-large bid, but they are still alive after holding off Charlotte in the second half. Next up is a rematch with St. Bonaventure, which beat Saint Joseph's last week and really hurt the Hawks' at-large hopes. If SJU wants to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, it needs to beat the Bonnies and then probably also beat Temple in the semifinals. 
The Crimson will not have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, and they certainly won't have to sweat a one-game playoff on Saturday. Princeton beat Penn in the regular-season finale, meaning Harvard clinched the outright Ivy League championship for the first time since 1946. Harvard is going to the NCAA tournament.

Everyone else:
With Harvard getting the automatic bid, there is no chance the Ivy League gets two bids to the NCAA tournament. For yet another time this season, it seems power conference teams on the fence are continuing to luck out. The bubble hasn't shrunk yet. 


Proponents of mid-majors:
As I mentioned in the prior sentence, the bubble hasn't shrunk yet. What that means is that we haven't seen the mid-major conferences get any extra bids as a result of a surprising tournament champion. We almost saw it happen in the Missouri Valley, where Creighton had to hold off Illinois State, while Murray State barely escaped Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley. Moreoever, with Penn losing tonight, there's no chance that both Harvard and the Quakers get a bid. Throw in the fact that Oral Roberts, Iona, Middle Tennessee and Drexel all lost in their conference tournaments, and we're on the path to seeing a plethora of middling power-conference teams get a bid -- and very few potential upset picks in the first round. It could make the NCAA tournament slightly less exciting on the first two days. 

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: March 3, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 11:02 pm

Poppin' Bubbles: Statement time for bubblers

Iowa State answered all remaining questions about its at-large candidacy with a win over Baylor. (AP)

By Jeff Borzello

Saturday is not just for Duke vs. North Carolina and a trio of conference championship games. The final weekend of the regular season has bubble implications galore. There are intriguing bubble battles, chances for bubble teams to get big wins and other spots where bubble teams just simply can’t lose if they want an at-large bid. For some teams, losing might mean their hopes are dashed even before the conference tournament.

Note: This page will be updated throughout the day, with bubble discussion and analysis.

Locking things up

Memphis: The Tigers are all set after clinching the outright Conference-USA regular-season title with a win at Tulsa on Saturday. They finished the conference season with a 13-3 record, have a top-20 RPI and SOS, and own nine top-100 victories. They could wear home jerseys for the first round of the NCAA tournament at this point.

Saint Louis: The Billikens essentially clinched things with their win over Xavier earlier in the week, but avoiding a loss at Duquesne – without head coach Rick Majerus – on Saturday cements things even more. There aren’t any truly marquee wins, but an 8-4 record against the top 100 and a top-30 RPI will get the job done.

Iowa State: If there was any debate about whether the Cyclones would get an at-large bid, it ended on Saturday, when Iowa State knocked off Baylor to clinch the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament. They now have four top-50 wins, including victories over Kansas and a sweep of Kansas State. The soft non-conference schedule was a question mark for a bit, but there's no keeping out Iowa State anymore.

Helped itself

West Virginia picked up a big bubble win by defeating South Florida. (AP)

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had the biggest bubble win in the first few hours of Saturday, going into South Florida and knocking off the Bulls in the final minutes. The win gets West Virginia to .500 in the Big East, and is their fourth top-50 win of the season. The bubble pecking order in the conference is completely up in the air, but two wins in the Big East tournament would likely get a bid for West Virginia.

Connecticut: The Huskies simply couldn’t lose to Pittsburgh on Saturday, unless they had plans to make a run to the Big East title game. It wasn’t pretty, but Connecticut pulled out a win in the final two minutes. 8-10 in the Big East doesn’t look great, but the Huskies have five top-50 wins, including victories over fellow bubblers South Florida, Seton Hall and West Virginia. The No. 2-ranked SOS is also a huge plus. They will need a couple of wins in the Big East tourney as well.

Dayton: Beating George Washington isn’t going to get the Flyers in the dance, but it keeps their hopes alive heading into the conference tournament. They have three top-30 RPI wins over Temple, Alabama and Saint Louis, as well as a win over bubbler Xavier. Nine top-100 wins are more than most bubble teams can say. On the negative side, the computer profile is mediocre and they have three sub-100 losses. They might need a marquee win in the A-10 tournament; could that mean a trip to the title game?

Cincinnati: For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bearcats went into Villanova and came out with a win. They improve to 12-6 in the Big East, including six top-50 wins. The Bearcats should feel pretty comfortable right now, but the three sub-100 losses and the horrendous non-conference SOS still make things shaky. The RPI is slowly getting better, and one win in the Big East tournament could be enough to get the job done for Mick Cronin's crew.

For a while on Saturday, it looked like the Musketeers were ready to see their bubble popped. They were down at home to Charlotte, before going on a huge run in the second half and pulling out the win. Xavier is currently third in the Atlantic-10 standings, which could be helpful for the profile. It looks like they will need a semifinal win to really improve the profile, though. There are good wins over Vanderbilt and Purdue, as well as victories against bubblers Cincinnati, Dayton and Saint Joseph's. They will be an interesting case.

The Wildcats escaped at Iowa, finishing at 8-10 in the Big Ten. A loss on Saturday would have ended their chances, but now they still have life heading into the Big Ten tournament. They are only 2-10 against the top 50, but suffered zero sub-100 losses and have a top-10 strength of schedule. The win over Michigan State back in January carries some weight, but there's not a ton of heft besides that victory. There is damage to be done in the tourney.

Miami (Fl.):
The Hurricanes were one of the last teams out of the field heading into the weekend, but they stayed alive with a dominant victory over Boston College. With Maryland sneaking into the top 100, Miami has four top-100 wins, including victories against Duke and Florida State. However, the 4-11 record against the top 100 is a huge eye sore and the computer profile isn't overly impressive. They need another big win for the ledger, meaning they have to win a couple games in the ACC tourney. 

Colorado State: The Rams took care of business at Air Force, avoiding a letdown after the huge win over UNLV earlier this week. Had Colorado State lost to the Falcons, most of the good vibes earned by the UNLV win would have been erased. That's irrelevant now, though. The Rams have a very solid resume, with wins over UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, as well as a great computer profile. Moreover, Saturday's win gives them another road victory (they only have three). One in the MWC tourney should get it done. 

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs did what they needed to do to finish the season, winning their final two regular-season games and getting back to .500 in the SEC. They still have to do work in the SEC tournament, as the computer profile is mediocre. However, they do have eight top-100 wins, including victories over Vanderbilt, Alabama and fellow bubbler West Virginia. Mississippi State will need to get at least one win in the SEC tournament, and two wins would be more comforting. 

The Ducks continue to make a run toward at-large consideration, hammering Utah to finish 13-5 in the Pac-12. However, they are only 3-7 against the top 100 and 19 of their 22 wins are against teams ranked below 100. They are playing well at the right time, and the availability of Devoe Joseph is certainly something the committee will consider. They need to make a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament, though, as the profile is rather barren at this point.

Drexel: As the outright CAA champion, Drexel has a nice chip compared to some of the other bubble teams, but the Dragons need to get to the tournament title game to have a legitimate chance. They took the first step there by handling UNC-Wilmington in the quarterfinals. We’ll look again if they win in the semifinals.

VCU: Like Drexel, VCU needs to get to the title game to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid. The Rams handled Northeastern on Saturday, meaning one more win would get them there. The Rams have a terrible SOS and two sub-100 losses, but they are very good away from home and did beat South Florida. The lack of meat on the resume could be a problem.

Tennessee: It seems there is another movement afoot to get the Volunteers some at-large consideration. I would still hold off on that talk, though. The computer profile is poor and they have four sub-100 losses. Even factoring in the arrival of Jarnell Stokes, the overall resume is still mediocre. With all that said, if the Vols get the No. 2 seed in the SEC tourney and make a run to the title game, things could get interesting.

Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles nearly lost to IPFW in their first game of the Summit tournament, but they pulled out a win late to keep things somewhat interesting. I still think they need to win the automatic bid to get to the NCAA tournament, but a close loss in the title game could raise some questions. Zero top-50 wins is a major problem. 

Could the Crimson have survived a loss to Cornell and a second-place finish in the Ivy? We came close to finding out on Saturday night, as Harvard barely pulled out a win in the season finale. Now, the Crimson will wait and see what Penn does at Princeton this week. If the Quakers win, Harvard has a one-game playoff with Penn for the automatic bid. As far as at-large consideration, the win over Florida State looks good, but the schedule is terrible. 

Hurt itself

Kevin Willard knows his Seton Hall Pirates are in trouble. (US Presswire)

Seton Hall: The biggest bubble loser of the day has to be the Pirates. Going into the week, Seton Hall was in good shape. It just had to beat Rutgers and DePaul and things would be pretty comfortable heading into the Big East tournament. Well, the Pirates lost both games, including an absolutely embarrassing performance on Saturday against the Blue Demons. Things are now very shaky for Seton Hall. The Pirates finished just 8-10 in the Big East and have three sub-100 losses. They now have to win at least two games in the conference tournament; falling short of the quarterfinals won't get it done. 

South Florida: The Bulls had a chance to get a double-bye in the Big East tournament with a home win over West Virginia, which would have looked fantastic on the resume. However, they couldn’t make plays late in the game and dropped an important one to the Mountaineers. South Florida is only 2-7 against teams ranked in the top 50, but they have a solid computer profile and 12-6 in the Big East is nothing to scoff at. They need at least one win in the conference tourney, and most likely two.

Washington: If the Huskies had won the outright Pac-12 title, it would be a heck of a chip heading into Selection Sunday. However, after their loss at UCLA on Saturday, it's likely they will need to share the championship with California. The resume on its own is far from impressive. The Huskies have yet to beat an NCAA tournament team and 18 of their 21 wins are from the sub-100 region. The computer profile isn't awful, but Saturday's loss gives them a sub-100 loss. They need to reach the title game, at the very least.

Southern Miss:
 The Golden Eagles continue to make things difficult for themselves, after losing at Marshall to drop to 11-5 in Conference-USA. The RPI is still in the top 20 and they have a 9-4 record against the top 100, but there are also three sub-100 losses. Moreover, by finishing at 11-5, there is little separation betwen Southern Miss and the rest of the league. They have work to do in the conference tournament if they want to feel comfortable come Selection Sunday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are still very likely to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, but they missed out on a chance to truly lock themselves in by losing at Ole Miss on Saturday. Alabama has a very solid computer profile and a 9-7 SEC record, with 10 wins against the top 100. The lack of truly good wins against the top 50 is something of a wart on the resume, but it would be tough to leave Alabama out at this point. Winning one game in the SEC tournament would solidify things, though.  

Texas: I'm not sure anyone actually thought the Longhorns were going to go into Lawrence on Senior Night and knock off Kansas, but the loss hurts nonetheless. Texas drops to 3-9 against the top 50 and 4-10 against the top 100, which doesn't compare favorably with most other bubblers. They also have two sub-100 losses. Getting the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, Texas will have a quarterfinal matchup with Iowa State. The Longhorns need to win that one to have an at-large chance. Two wins would seal the deal. 

Long Beach State: A loss in the Big West championship game is one thing, but a loss in the season finale is quite another. The 49ers dropped Saturday night's game late to Cal State Fullerton, and now enter the conference tournament in some trouble. If they lose in the championship game, I'm not sure they can survive as an at-large team. They did beat Xavier and Pittsburgh in the non-conference, but neither win is all that impressive right now. They are 0-6 vs. the top 50 and now have a bad loss on the resume.

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: February 14, 2012 4:30 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 9:55 pm

The Religion and Community of The Palestra

You only get one chance to experience The Palestra for the first time. And you only get one chance to write and react about your first time at college basketball’s holiest of churches. So I wanted — had — to document it.

By Matt Norlander

I knew that had to be it. That oversized war memorial gym-looking, all-brick building set back behind the construction site. I quickened my gait up the only walkway available outside the abandoned-for-the-night patch of renovation in front of the historic building. I narrowed my eyes and made sure. I could barely make out the letters at the top; dusk challenged my scope. But that was it, all right, in such an unassuming, ordinary appearance. That made my hunch feel more rewarding — I guessed right. The rectangle cement sign engraved with the building’s name told me.



The anticipation for the trip was tingly and excruciating, like waiting for the package you know is coming in the mail that day. Under battleship-gray skies, I took the train from Stamford, Conn., and snaked approximately 140 miles down to Philadelphia. The Amtrak car slid through and under the thick slabs of New York City, then cruised by the repetition of architecture in northern New Jersey until the tracks were slipping behind the simple, Monopoly-looking houses along nearing border of Pennsylvania.

I got out at 30th Street Station, took a left and briskly made my way through Drexel’s campus, which serves as the buffer in walking from the Station to The Palestra. I too had a backpack on, and amid the end-of-day student shuffle, felt like an undergrad again as I made my way toward New Deck restaurant on Sansom Street. After inhaling the crab dip there, I quickly made my way toward the general direction of the reason I was in Philadelphia to begin with.


Walking into The Palestra was a blast of déjà vu. I’d never been, but there was familiarity in the moment I approached the 85-year-old monument to our sport. I couldn’t have picked a better time to enter into the arena. One small thing I love about going to game is the walk from the concourse, through the tunnel entrance and into the cavernous space where the action happens. No matter the venue, when transitioning from bowel to bowl, your eyes seek upward, the head coinciding as it tilts back in obligation or awe. This felt like both. It was aided by a soundcheck, the perfect one. As I walked through section 202’s tunnel and entrance, the Star-Spangled Banner was booming from the body of the 13-year-old girl who had the privilege of performing that night.

The room was bigger than I’d expected. Gray tint arches, 10 of them, support the structure across the top, below the baby-blue ceiling. There are no beams that block anyone’s view. Fifty — 51 if you count the Ivy League flag that hangs above at center — banners are draped, all of them related to Penn’s accomplishments. Temporarily, the Ivy and Big 5 banners/representation are not dangling from the wires. Although The Palestra is the Big 5’s home, the place belongs to Penn. The sliced P logo is at center court and all Penn home games are hosted here.

The single-floor concourse that surrounds the shell of the gymnasium is a Philadelphia basketball sports hall of fame. Dedications to Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova are treated with equal esteem and respect as Penn. There is only one level to circumnavigate, and the white brick is covered every few feet by some sort of plaque, mounting, window encasement or dedication to teams, coaches, media and games past.

Structurally, there isn’t much to The Palestra; its simplicity is what makes it so embraceable. I was able to dip behind the bleachers and investigate every corner of the place in less than an hour prior to tip-off. The only rooms I didn’t walk into where the locker rooms, which I saw well after the game had finished. The officials’ locker room is tucked near a utility closet and is unguarded. The laundry room is four steps from the visitors’ locker room. The media room, which can’t be more than 100 square feet, is behind/underneath the bleachers on the “main side” of the gym. All storage rooms — rooms of any kind — are at court level. It’s a basic build. Simplistic and charming and economical.

Old-style radiators, at least 40 of them that have faded white paint cracking off, are aligned along the top of the seating rows. Not that you’d need them. The place bakes up pretty well once more than 6,000 bodies getting to clapping and yelling, which was the case for the Harvard game on this Friday night.

The building feels comforting in its haunt. It’s also fairly poorly lit, which is of course intentional. The lights that dip from vertical steel rods, and are spaced fairly far apart, give most of their energy to the floor, signaling to everyone in attendance: that’s all you need to concern yourself with. Not that you’d ever want to do this during a basketball game, but if you tried to read a book in the upper rafters behind either basket, it’d be impossible without a portable light of your own.

Still, there’s a clash of contemporary vs. fastened, old-style beliefs in The Palestra now. Players still sit on plastic bleachers, the way most of them not so long ago during AAU games. (Those things just kill your back after 30 minutes.) It still feels like you could be watching a game in 1964, except for one bright addition. There’s a new HD video board that’s been installed on the east side of the structure. I get the idea most think it’s completely unnecessary, like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park adding a monster screen. Just pay attention to what’s happening on the floor, lest you miss it, well, that’s your problem.


As the game gets underway, the first thing I notice is the constrained, swirling echoes of chants from the student section on the floor. In the elevated press box, the sound from down there is canned and tinny. In the second half, when Miles Cartwright hits a 3 for Penn to tie the game at 30 and complete a 7-0 Quakers run, the 7,000 (I’ll deduct the 462 other souls accounted for as Harvard fans, team members and media in attendance) people cheering hits me in the face and slams me in the ears. It’s the combustion I’d hope for all night long. I’d love for it to get louder, but Penn’s shooters won’t oblige me or the crowd.

Late in the second half, I couldn’t resist anymore. I’d been eyeing it all night, and I had to make the move. Row 1, Seat 13 on the opposite side of the benches and scorer’s table had been vacant since I arrived. During a timeout I scooted down there, asked the gentleman next to the seat if I could sit for a few, and he had no issue at all. He wanted to talk, I wanted to watch. I sat for about 12 minutes, essentially taking in the game as a spectator. You’re right there, a leg stretch from being a nuisance. It’s one of the best seats in the city. That photo is from Row 1, Seat 13.

Harvard went on to win, 56-50, continuing on its path toward the team’s first NCAA tournament berth in 66 years. The W in this building means as much to this team as any other non-tournament win it will get this year. Perhaps even as much.


After the game, fans filed out into the streets of Philadelphia, onto South 32nd or Walnut Street, driving or walking or training or cabbing their way home, to campus or a local bar. Thirty minutes of interviews went by, and then I moved from the upper press box down to court level to write my game story. I couldn’t concentrate. The buzz was still humming in my brain as much now as it was when I walked in four hours earlier. There were a dozen kids on the floor, just shooting on the hoop. About 100 bodies still occupied the arena and no one was in an obvious rush to leave. It was a scene many who attended high school basketball games would recognize.

I learned that’s the essence to The Palestra experience. You come, you watch, you stay afterward and get a few shots in. Anyone can. Fran Dunphy emphasized this sort of culture and community when he got to Penn in the late ’80s, and his vision has remained a principle of the Penn program and The Palestra ever since.

The Palestra is the world’s gymnasium. Doesn’t matter who you are — anyone can get some shots in on either one of the hoops. I wanted mine. But I wanted to wait. At 10:09, a bald black janitor strolled past me, a white towel tucked into his khakis, gray bucket in hand, filled with cleaning supplies. Three of Penn’s players shot on one hoop, and on the other, four children, a teenager and a grown man continued to toss jumpers.  He’s used to this.

“Nobody wants to go home,” he said to me.

No, we don’t. The bodies linger afterward for as long as they’d like. Eventually the crowd thinned out. A loose ball skipped my way and I didn’t wait any longer. While guys like Dick Jerardi from the Philly Daily News were squeezing in work on deadline, I snapped a few dribbles and took my first shot from about 22 feet out.


I almost called it quits immediately. I could be 100 percent from the floor for my life at The Palestra. Fortunately, I’m not a perfect man. The dopamine rush had begun. Ball players know there’s not much better way of personal introspect and therapy than by shooting alone. I was getting my chance in a unique, cherished setting.

At first, though, it was a few of us shooting hoop. The grown man I mentioned above, his name is Charles Lanier. We immediately shared two things in common: an insatiable love of college basketball and our first trip to The Palestra. Lanier is in his ‘50s but on the court his energy, like mine, resembles an 11-year-old's. He attended the ’78 and ’82 Final Fours. He’s from North Carolina, and this is his vacation. His loving wife understood and made the trip with him after all those years of waiting. Lanier had a mean sweat going. He was squeezing as many shots into a 20-minute window as he could.

We exchanged stories. He’s the one who took that picture of me. Soon enough, he was off, as was almost everyone else. I had another 15 minutes of practice in me. I took off my sweater to see oval stains of sweat sopping parts of the arms of my dress shirt and felt more moisture in the middle of my back. It was more than a half hour of nonstop shooting. The silly fadeaway jumpers, mandatory half-court heaves, tempting 3-point shots and seriously paced free throws — a hoops fan’s dream. Eventually, second-year Penn coach Jerome Allen came onto the floor to take a few pictures with his son and his friends. I asked if he needed the final ball to be put away.

“Young man, you can shoot yourself to sleep,” he said.

I nearly did. I know I could have. I’d love to know what it’s like to sleep in that church. Eventually, I dribbled the ball into Penn’s quaint locker room and placed it back on the rack. I had a train to catch. I began to pack up my computer. I looked up and listened and had my first chance to stop and experience the place without a crowd around. Six janitors slowly milled about, the clinking and rattling of cans and ricocheting bouncing off the walls. Two hours after the game had finished, it was only me and them now. They were scattered. Two sat, slouched over in Section 116. Another hauled one of those big black garbage bags over his shoulder. I wasn’t outlasting them, nor should I.

I slowly showed myself out.

Posted on: February 11, 2012 2:27 am

Harvard a near lock for NCAAs -- but incomplete

Freshman Corbin Miller came off the bench and put in 17 against Penn. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

PHILADELPHIA — Now, it all seems a matter of arithmetic and inevitability.

Harvard got by against what’s considered to be its stiffest test of its Ivy League gantlet this season, playing Penn at the Palestra, with a 56-50 win Friday night. The Crimson are now a 7-0 Ivy team with a chokehold on the conference race and seem destined to represent the eight-team league in the NCAA tournament.

When it officially locks up the crown in a couple of weeks — or sooner; the team’s magic number is 5 — and earn the auto bid, it will be the first time Harvard’s gotten to the NCAA tournament since 1946, when the bracket had an iota of the cache then as it does now. It's a memorable year already in Cambridge, Mass. I'll inject straight opinion right here by stating what everyone in the Ivy knows. Nobody's catching Harvard now.

But there are kinks to this team that prevent it from being the giant-slayer that some thought it was/could be at the start of the season.

Against Penn, Harvard won the way it has so often this season: slow and ugly and through sheer force and unusual reliability of its relentless depth. This team’s doing well, yeah. It’s 21-2 overall and will finish with one of the best records in school history. But it’s not yet reached its potential. It's odd to see the Ivy favorite continue to win but to fail to run inferior foes out of the gym. Senior 6-8 forward Keith Wright, who was the Ivy Player of the Year last season, only managed two points against the Quakers. He’s failed to score in double digits in five of the past six games.

“I think I draw a lot of attention no matter who we play or wherever we go,” Wright said. “I knew that it probably wasn’t going to be my, but the game’s not all about scoring.”

Wright had 13 rebounds and two blocks. He took five shots.

“My head’s not down at all,” he added.

The fact one of the team’s two best players could hit a nadir like this in the stretch of the toughest part of league play and still not hurt the team to the tune of an L is a good sign. Plus, Harvard got a career night out of freshman guard Corbin Miller, who lit it up with 17 points, matching star forward Kyle Casey’s 17, which also happens to be the number Harvard alum Jeremy Lin dons with the Knicks.

It was certainly noteworthy that Harvard got the definitive, toughest win of its conference season on the same night Lin’s reputation exploded at Madison Square Garden. Harvard's win did not bring the attention nor the appeal of Lin's magic up in New York, but the Palestra did have more than 7,500 in attendance to watch the most anticipated game in the Ivy this season, a game that wasn't available to be watched on television anywhere.

Back to what's wrong with Wright. He lacks aggression and nobody can tell me why this is. Fortunately, thanks to the bench, this still isn't an issue that's had to be nakedly addressed. That should change soon. If Harvard wants to be a team that can win in the NCAA tournament, even a game, it needs Wright to be dogmatic. If he’s able to corral control of the team’s post offense again, then it'll  see an uptick in offensive efficiency and respectability. Right now, this group looks good — a 10 seed at worst — but won’t alarm anyone.

“It’s scary to think about because coach Amaker talks about it all the time,” Wright said. “We haven’t put two halves together yet. We’ve gotta finish around the rim, including myself.”

This isn’t Cornell from a few years ago. It doesn’t have the size or consistent deep threats that team embodied. Now that the team's done what was expected and played half its league games without a scratch, addressing cosmetics and needs down low should become top priority. Casey admitted as much outside the locker room after the win.

“I think we have to finish down low and punish teams when we can,” he said. “This is what we came here for. Everyone in this program essentially came here to make history and do what we’re doing right now. We remain hungry and fight each other harder than opponents are going to fight us.”

The Casey-Wright dynamic last year was what made Harvard not only interesting as a budding program but also so damn hard to defend and contain. Some of that's been lost. Casey gets better as his teammate complements him, but he's not concerned.

“We’ve (he and Wright) got a really good relationship on the court and feel for what we can do with each other and play off each other,” Casey said. “We’re going to definitely need him if we’re going to do what we say we want to do.”

What they want goes beyond getting to the first tournament in 68 years. They want at least an NCAA win. They want to be heroes at Harvard and that requires reaching a Saturday or Sunday March game. Ivy schools that snatch a W or two immediately become something of legend in that league and in the eyes of the public who watch the always-endearing smart schools "overachieve" on the big stage. Wright's a senior. Time's running out. Harvard can get by now without his top-level play, but they can't be their best, something the NCAA tournament mandates from almost every underdog.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 6, 2012 12:02 pm

Podcast: The NFL hands the baton to college hoops

Duke's home loss flew under the radar yesterday. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Matt Norlander

It was a great night Andy Glockner. He's a Giants fan. Against most convention, his team won a fourth Super Bowl, and so it's only appropriate that he makes another podcast appearance today.

Glockner does bracket and bubble updates weekly for SI.com. You can check out his consistently measured and terrific work here. Follow him on Twitter if you want more soccer talk than anyone could ask for. He tends to tweet about hoops, too. And the Knicks. And the Islanders. You've been warned.
  • From the beginning: Glockner, being a huge Giants fan, gets his moment to bask. Some NFL talk before we get to the hoops, because the pod can get diverse like that.
  • 5:56: Duke went out and lost at home to Miami Sunday afternoon. It was a home loss. Did you miss it? That's because it happened while everyone was spilling chips into the bowl and finishing up the guac dip. Blue Devils know when to lose their worst games. But is Duke now out of the question to get a 2 if it doesn't run the table?
  • 8:39: Which bubble team is in pretty good shape despite its reputation and which team is in a lot more trouble than you'd be led to believe?
  • 12:42: Murray State loses one game and one game only, and that game is to Saint Mary's. Harvard finishes with two losses overall. Where would both of these teams get seeded?
  • 15:27: The committee doesn't seem to rely on KenPom all that much, yes? Why? We get into some selection committee methodology and mindset. Best part of the pod here, IMO.
  • 24:00: The Pac-12 is even more confounding than you realize.
  • 30:18: The bubble is actually not that weak this year. You wouldn't think that with a lot of drive-by commentary, but the at-large crop is better than in most recent years. Glockner explains why.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast--whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Posted on: January 30, 2012 1:00 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2012 6:25 pm

The pieces seem to be coming together for Harvard

Harvard hoops is on the cusp of creating something special for the long-term. Tommy Amaker can feel it. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The line to get into Payne-Whitney Gymnasium began to form more than an hour before the tip. By the time the ushers were ready to remove the blue-plastic barriers and start checking stubs, it was easily more than 300 people long, crowding out most of the lobby in the famed, historic athletic complex at the center of Yale’s campus.

Harvard-Yale basketball. It had never been this big nor this anticipated nor this good. At least it was that way in the days leading up to the game. Unfortunately, said game didn’t live up to expectation, not even for Harvard players and coaches, who expected something closer and more cosmetically appealing. Two teams playing in one of the biggest January Ivy League games in conference history fell far short of entertaining the home crowd. As for the busload of Harvard students who made their way down from Massachusetts and sat near the top of the rafters of John J. Lee Ampitheater: they were consistently entertained because, last Friday night, the Crimson earned the largest win (30 points) in the history of their 183-game, century-old rivalry with the Bulldogs.

Harvard won 65-35. It was ugly. I’d prefer to never watch a game like that again. However, Friday night did offer up new information about the Crimson, who should most certainly win the Ivy and take with it the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. See, 18-2 Harvard dismantled 13-5 Yale with its two best players, Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, totaling 12 points, one offensive rebound and four turnovers. They were largely absent, yet Harvard had no problem completely shutting down Yale, who averages 72.4 points per game.

Bench and balance. It’s the two Bs Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker has been preaching to his team this year. Give him some balance, and then the bench will flourish. Both Bs came to be in New Haven. There’s no other way to explain the beatdown and complete shutdown of Yale, who scored 18 points on 5-of-25 shooting if your remove big man Greg Mangano’s play.  

The win over Yale was the second consecutive game the Crimson held an opponent under 40 points. (Teams are scoring less than 45 points against them in Ivy play.) The next night, Harvard handled Brown on the road, 68-59. This group is healthy and deep and developing weapons — freshman weapons — that lead me to believe Amaker’s in the infant stages of building an Ivy dynasty. Something's growing and catching on in the Harvard program. We're seeing the existence of program, not team, with the Crimson. That's not something commonly found at Ivy schools, who've often had one- or two-year runs and then started piling the bricks again.

Those close to Amaker have said he's not necessarily looking to leave for another big job, either. He had that at Michigan. Now, he's able to control so much of what he wants in Cambridge, Mass. He's getting really good players there, and if short-term, spotlighted success can happen this year and next, who knows, Harvard and Amaker may be able to commit to each other for the long-term, altering the perception and dedication of Harvard basketball going forward.

Nine players saw significant minutes in the Yale game. Afterward, Amaker sat in the tiny press room, smaller than the average common room in a Yale college dorm, and sounded like a man unsurprised with how his team completely dismantled the boys in white and blue despite his best two players failing to play a game worthy of a starter’s role.

“This has been great. … We’ve had a couple of kids injured, (Christian) Webster and (Corbin) Miller, who came back the game before the Yale game,” Amaker said. “Christian’s been a starter. We have six starters in our program. That’s what we’ve been saying.”

When Webster suffered a hip injury earlier in January, sophomore Laurent Rivard stepped in. He’s kept his starting role since. He had a team-high 18 points Friday night. The bright spots for the future can also be found in subtle frosh forward Steve Mondou-Missi, who Amaker calls “a gem” and someone who embraces his dirty-work role; and freshman guard Wesley Saunders, who’s barely tapped his potential. The team is now seeing sold-out Ivy crowds at every game. They've become the target. Freshman are already acclimated and the team is easily the deepest in the league.

“I’m pleased we’re seeing these kind of environments in our conference,” Amaker said. “It’s pretty nice and neat to see great crowds and turnouts, and to see all you [the media] here, in terms of the coverage and exposure. I’m proud of that.”

Harvard's been very good all season long. It defeated Florida State playing Florida State's game. It's an exceedingly good defensive team that will click to a next-level type of squad if it learns how to score in bunches. Only Rivard and senior Oliver McNally are a legitimate deep threats right now. But in that classic dial-it-down Ivy style, Harvard's maintained its identity and is playing its way toward a respectable seed if it can get through the Ivy without a scratch. Bus league play in the Ivy can be tricky, playing back-to-back nights for six straight weekends.

All things considered, this year's gone nearly as well as anyone in the program could have expected. The win over Yale was as obvious a flag-planting moment Amaker could have had. The Ivy is now Harvard's to have, and with only two seniors on this year's team, the Crimson have set themselves up to be something they've never been before: respected and dominant.
Category: NCAAB
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