Harvard makes NCAAs as Penn loses

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
9:44
PM ET
Crimson fans likely found themselves in an unexpected position on Tuesday night: Glued to their computer screens, rooting for Princeton.

Yes, Princeton. The team that dealt Harvard a crushing blow with a buzzer-beater in last season’s Ivy playoff game, and one of only two Ivy teams to beat the Crimson in 2011-12.

Yet because Princeton happened to be playing host to Penn, the other Ivy team to beat Harvard this season, in the regular season’s final game, there was no alternative for Crimson fans but to pull for Princeton.

Princeton held Penn to just 17 points in the first half, survived a second-half Quakers rally and won 62-52.

With the Tigers win, Harvard (26-4, 12-2 Ivy) is the outright Ivy champion and the recipient of the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"We are thrilled and honored to have an opportunity to compete in the 2012 NCAA tournament," fifth-year Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said in statement released by the school. "This is a tremendous moment for Harvard University, our basketball program and our community. Go Crimson!"

If the Tigers had lost, Harvard would have been co-champion for the second consecutive season and faced a one-game playoff with Penn for the right to claim the NCAA berth.

After carrying his team on his back for most of the month, Zack Rosen couldn’t quite get the Quakers over the top. The point guard shot just 8-for-24 for 19 points in the finale.

And though Brandyn Curry said after the loss to Penn at Lavietes Pavilion on Feb. 24 that part of him would like to see the Quakers again -- “Definitely. I mean, yeah, I don’t like going out losing against somebody, so if we have a playoff with them that’d be great.” -- the Crimson will no doubt be content to take the title outright without a playoff.

“Whatever happens, I’m fine with it,” Curry said that night, as the Penn band played the conquering Quakers out of Harvard’s gym.

The NCAA berth is Harvard’s first since 1946, and the outright Ivy title is the first in program's history.

Now, instead of preparing for the winner-take-all playoff with Penn, the Crimson can finalize plans to watch the Selection Sunday seeding show to see where they will land. In his latest Bracketology update, ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has Harvard slotted in as a No. 11 seed in the Midwest Regional, which in that scenario would mean a matchup with No. 6 seed St. Mary’s in Pittsburgh.

Then all Amaker & Co. have to do is try to win a game on the biggest stage possible, in the Big Dance.

And a year after they were dealt a crushing blow by them, the Crimson can thank the Tigers at least in part for the opportunity.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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