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Friday, March 7, 2014
Harvard can clinch NCAA berth tonight

By Jack McCluskey

The calendar has flipped to March, which in most of the country means tournament time.

For teams like BU, BC, Holy Cross, Northeastern and UMass, it’s time to play in the conference tournament (Patriot League, ACC, Patriot League, Colonial Athletic and Atlantic 10, respectively) for the right to play in the NCAA tournament (the Terriers, Eagles, Crusaders and Huskies would have to win their tourneys for a berth; the Minutemen are considered a lock regardless).

But the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament, so for Harvard (24-4 overall, 11-1 Ivy) the last weekend of regular-season play will determine whether there is dancing on the docket.

By beating Cornell and Columbia this past weekend, the Crimson clinched at least a share of their fourth straight Ivy League title. And if they beat Yale (15-11, 9-3) at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, Conn., on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET), the Crimson will win the Ancient Eight outright and secure a third straight spot in the Big Dance.

This is exactly the type of success the Crimson hoped for seven years ago, when they brought in a new coach with big ambitions for a program that hadn’t historically had much success.

“It’s the vision we had from years ago,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the win over Columbia. “This is an amazing institution. ... We just thought how neat and cool could it be to create something that would be worthy of that name.

“I’m very proud that we’re on that path and we’ve had some success, we’ve been fortunate and we’re very hopeful for some more.”

A win over the Bulldogs, the Crimson’s traditional rivals, won’t come easy. Led by 21 points and 11 rebounds from Justin Sears, a sophomore forward who leads the team in scoring (16.3 PPG), Yale became the only team to beat Harvard on its home floor in 2013-14 with a 74-67 win on Feb. 8.

The Bulldogs are also 8-2 at home this season, with the only losses coming in nonconference play.

But with a two-game lead in the Ivy with two games to play, Harvard just needs one win (or one Yale loss) to clinch.

“It’s definitely a great accomplishment,” Harvard junior Wesley Saunders said of the team’s fourth straight Ivy title. “It’s just great to be in a position where we kinda control our fate.”

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