Now tourney vets, Crimson are confident

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Harvard has been coming to the same party for three years now, and in no way is that anything but exhilarating for the Crimson and their fans.

“We knew we were going to be here,” Harvard co-captain Brandyn Curry said, “but it really doesn’t hit you until you see that name up there on that screen.”

Curry meant the Crimson knew they’d be in the NCAA tournament, by virtue of their third straight outright Ivy League title. But he might as well have been referring to the party, as the Crimson were picked to win the league prior to the season and did so fairly handily, losing only once in Ivy play and rolling to a 26-4 overall record.

So for the third straight season, the Crimson hosted a Selection Sunday viewing party in the Murr Center’s Hall of History. They invited fans, handing out free “Ivy League championship” T-shirts to the first 100 to show up, set up the folding chairs and rolled out the crimson velvet ropes.

And when the announcement came, in the final region bracket unveiled, the sound on the two wall-mounted TVs was drowned out by cheers -- the loudest of the evening, louder even than those accompanying the broadcasters’ mention of Harvard’s upset of New Mexico in last season’s tourney.

The Crimson received a No. 12 seed and will face No. 5 seed Cincinnati (27-6) in a second-round game in Spokane, Wash., on Thursday.

“Everyone in college basketball aspires to be in this position at this time of year,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We recognize how fortunate and lucky we are.”

Not to mention talented. After the selection show, Amaker was flanked for the pre-tournament news conference by all six members of the Crimson’s All-Ivy contingent (most in program history, tied for most in Ivy history). Among them was the Ancient Eight player of the year (Wesley Saunders) and two former rookies of the year (Siyani Chambers in 2012-13 and Kyle Casey in 2009-10).

And coming off the program’s first postseason win -- the aforementioned upset of New Mexico in the second round last season -- the Crimson are a confident bunch ahead of the Big Dance.

“We’ve been playing really well this year. We’re playing well right now as a team, as a unit,” Casey said. “So we’re going into the tournament with a lot of confidence. We know what we do well, what kind of players we have and what we need to do in the tournament.

“Going in with more experience, playing well and the confidence that we have as a collective group this year gives us more of an edge, more of a confident swagger going into the tournament.”

Though the national media may still look at Harvard as a fun little sidebar -- the Crimson as kings of the nerds, if you will -- to the tourney’s main story, the Crimson feel their performance last season should be remembered.

“I think definitely as a result of kind of what happened last year in the tournament, I don’t think we’re going to be surprising anybody anymore,” Saunders said. “I think we’ve got to go out and just expect everybody’s best shot and give everybody our best shot.”

And that’s just what they want.

“We don’t want people looking past us,” Casey said. “We want people’s best shot. We prepare for big games, for battles and we’re going to go out there with the confidence that we can win.”

Beating Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson & Co. won’t be easy, as the Bearcats boast one of the nation’s best defenses -- ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency at 91.4, according to kenpom.com data -- and knocked off American Athletic Conference foes and top-25 teams Louisville and UConn early in the season.

“I’ve seen them here and there with games that have been on throughout the season, but never watched a full game,” Amaker said of Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. “What I have seen, certainly they’ve been terrific all year. They’ve had a great season.

“[They’re a] terrific team, and I think a team that’s played like they’ve had a mission and had an edge about them.”

Though when you think about Harvard in specific and the Ivy League in general, the first thing to come to mind is unlikely to be “edge,” and might more likely be “leather-bound books” and “rich mahogany,” these Crimson have proven that they’re kind of a big deal.

People know them. And on Selection Sunday, they were understandably feeling good about that.

“I don’t think Cincinnati or anyone else in the tournament will be looking past Harvard,” Casey said. “And we definitely won’t be looking past anyone else.”

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