Ask New Mexico last year. Ask Cincinnati now.
“I’ve heard this before where there really aren’t upsets anymore,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “There may be some surprises, but I just think when you’re looking at seeds and if you’re playing this time of year, you’re probably a pretty good basketball team.”
Wesley Saunders led the Crimson (27-4) with 12 points as Harvard proved last year’s upset of New Mexico as a 14 seed was no fluke. The Crimson became the first Ivy League school with NCAA tournament wins in consecutive years since Princeton in 1983-84. They will play either Michigan State or Delaware in the third round.
Harvard never trailed after the opening moments. They played with confidence and scrap against the fifth-seeded Bearcats, who shared the American Athletic Conference regular season title. Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati (27-7) with 18 points, but the Bearcats failed to win a tournament game for the second straight year.
“Getting a victory in this kind of environment and this kind of setting is very exciting,” Chambers said. “You can never describe it, no matter how many times you do it.”
But don’t call it an upset. At least not in the eyes of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin or Amaker. Last year’s win over New Mexico was the time for celebration. This victory — as evidenced by the subdued locker room — was expected by the Crimson.
“In my mind, today’s game was anything but an upset,” Cronin said. “They’ve got a great team. Tough draw for us. In my opinion, they’re one of the best teams we played all year.”
The reason Harvard was a popular pick: defense and balance. All five starters averaged in double figures for the season and that balance was needed against Cincinnati’s aggressive defense. Laurent Rivard, the Crimson’s 3-point specialist, finished with 11 points, while Steve Moundou-Missi and Brandyn Curry both scored nine.
Harvard improved to 15-0 this season when holding its opponent to 60 points or less. They entered the tournament with the 13th-best scoring defense in the country. That defense helped overcome a shaky performance at the free throw line where Harvard was 17 of 28.
“We definitely want to make a statement that we can compete at the national level,” Moundou-Missi said. “I think we showed up today and we did a good job. Now we get to move on.”
Cincinnati had its chances. Justin Jackson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bearcats shot only 37 percent from the field and missed a number of shots around the rim.
“We had way too many empty trips,” Cronin said.