- Associated Press - Friday, March 22, 2013

Talk about revenge of the nerds!

Bill Gates is, like, the coolest guy on the planet. “Big Bang Theory” is the highest-rated show on television.

And, in the strangest twist of all, Harvard is getting ready for the next round of the NCAA tournament.

Being a geek has never been hipper.

Those brainiacs from the Ivy League whipped up big, burly New Mexico 68-62, taking down a third-seeded squad that went into the tournament as a trendy Final Four pick.

Time to reassess the world order.

Go with Harvard in their next game against Arizona on Saturday, no matter how big of a mismatch it seems on paper. Forget points per game and turnover-to-assist ratios. Looking at SAT scores and grade-point averages. My only regret is that MIT didn’t get an invitation to the 68-team field. I don’t even know if they have a basketball team, but if they did, I’d be picking them as well.

Full disclosure: My 14-year-old son is a total nerd. Revels in the title, actually. Was voted “Most Likely To Succeed” by his eighth grade class, but has no idea what’s going on in the NCAA tournament. When I told him Harvard had beaten the Lobos, his reply was, “That’s nice.” When I asked him if he knew what sport I was talking about, he said, “Nope.” Then he returned to reading his “Star Wars” book.

The Harvard players knew how significant it was. They didn’t even have to be brain surgeons to figure it out. Their university was founded in 1636, but this was the first time the Crimson had ever won a game in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s kind of nice to break the stereotype that we’re the nerdy kids and show people that we can play basketball as well,” Wesley Saunders, a sophomore majoring in sociology, said Friday.

Laurent Rivard, a junior guard from that basketball hotbed of Quebec and a player with some serious geek credentials (he’s majoring in computer science), also chimed in.

“Everybody at Harvard _ not just the basketball team, but everybody _ has talents other than being smart,” he said.

Maybe so, but the Crimson’s victory was among the biggest upsets in a tournament already filled with surprises before the second full day was even done. The biggest yet came Friday night, when 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast knocked off mighty Georgetown, a No. 2 seed. Nearly as notable was No. 13 La Salle, winning another for the little guys when it knocked off fourth-seeded Kansas State to give the Atlantic-10 a staggering five teams in the round of 32.

Not one, not two, but THREE 12th-seeded teams _ Oregon, Cal and Ole Miss _ also won their opening games. While it’s become common for teams to move on from that spot, for some reason, having all but one No. 12 make it through only added to the drama.

Sure, the cream will likely rise to the top by the time we get to the Georgia Dome in a couple of weeks, but all these upsets are sure making the first week of the tournament a whole lot of fun, a much-needed boost for college basketball after a lackluster regular season.

For sure, I’d love to see Harvard make it to second week of the tournament.

This is a program that lost its co-captains _ Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry _ after a cheating scandal involving more than 100 students (some were athletes, but this was a school-wide problem that had more to do with young kids making bad decisions than an athletic department run amok).

This is a team coached by former Duke guard Tommy Amaker, who helped clean up the mess at Michigan after its last round of NCAA problems but got fired before he had a chance to finish the job.

The loss of two key players forced Amaker to give more playing time to freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, which has worked out better than anyone expected. The youngster is averaging almost 38 minutes a game and became the first freshman in the Ivy League’s long history to land on the all-conference first team.

“You have to figure things out, move forward, adjust and adapt,” Amaker said. “That’s what makes the ages of these kids amazing, because they can do that very easily.”

Hail, Harvard!

Hail, nerds!

If Sheldon (non-nerd primer: he’s one of the characters on “Big Bang Theory”) was a basketball fan, the rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock game might need a few more levels.

Like, rock keeps going in the basket for Harvard, paper your bracket is written on can be tossed in the trash, Spock declares it all totally illogical.

Here’s something a little more logical that might help the Crimson hang around beyond Saturday. In the Ivy League, it’s typical to play back-to-back games on the weekend, in order to keep the weekdays free for the thing that gets lost at so many other schools: going to class, studying, being somewhat normal students.

Having two whole days between games should feel like a vacation for Harvard.

“We’re used to this in the Ivy League,” Webster said. “It’s nothing new for us.

No matter what, all these kids are surely headed for big things. They may not win an NBA title, but keep an eye peeled when they hand out the Nobel Prizes.

“We have been fortunate to have a brand and an institution to attract some incredibly special kids,” Amaker said. “I’m very proud of the kids that we have in our program, the kids that have been with us and certainly the kids that we anticipate are going to be a part of this in the future.”

So, the next time you’re at school or at work, and you see someone wearing a pocket protector or pants that aren’t quite long enough, don’t smirk or make fun of them behind their backs.

Bow down to them instead.

Nerds rule.


Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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