No. 12 Harvard draws No. 5 Cincinnati in NCAA tournament

NCAA_tournament_bracket_2013-14For the third consecutive year, Harvard is headed west for the NCAA tournament. The 12-seed Crimson will play 5-seed Cincinnati in Spokane, Wash., on Thursday, tipping off at 2:10 ET.

In the world of NCAA tournament selection, Harvard’s 12-seed wasn’t particularly surprising; most had the Crimson at that spot (or possibly an 11) for several weeks. Harvard finished at #46 nationally in RPI; though it ranked much better in other metrics (#21 in Sagarin ELO, #33 in Pomeroy, #37 in Sagarin Predictor), those couldn’t boost the seed of a team that went 26-4 but without any wins over tournament teams. By most other metrics, the Crimson deserved more like a 9- or 10-seed, if not better (#21 in Sagarin Predictor,

Of course, given the Crimson’s immediate draw, it might as well have been given a 10-seed. Cincinnati is a bit weak for a 5-seed (especially in a conference that the committee largely judged unfavorably), and could easily have been a 7-seed; meanwhile, potential second-round opponent Michigan State is more of a 2- or 3-seed, especially after beating Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday in a game that was probably too late to change any seeds.

Cincinnati is quite similar to American Athletic Conference leaguemate Connecticut, which beat Harvard 61-56 earlier in the season, albeit in Connecticut and with eventual Ivy Player of the Year Wesley Saunders injured. Both Harvard and Cincinnati have better defenses than offenses and play at relatively slow paces, so the game as a whole might not be pretty, but the matchup of Saunders and national PoY candidate Sean Kilpatrick will be juicy indeed.

It’s a long shot, but if the Crimson can win twice and get to the second weekend, things might get really interesting. According to early returns, most experts have Michigan State favored to come out of what is otherwise a pretty weak bracket. Nobody seems sold on Virginia, which earned the final 1-seed practically by default; 2-seed Villanova plays a high-variance, upset-prone style; and the computers aren’t terribly fond of 3-seed Iowa State. So if Harvard fans want to really dream big, they’ve got a pretty good bracket in which to do so.

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Two other random thoughts on the bracket:

-Usually, I get a little thrill of predicting things accurately. This is not one of those times:

Wichita State entered the tournament as the nation’s best story, having gone 34-0 in mostly dominant fashion, and is probably the best mid-major team in at least a decade. For that, they got a #1 seed … and a path to the Final Four that might go through Kentucky (preseason No. 1), Louisville (preseason No. 3), and either Duke (preseason No. 4) or Michigan (preseason No. 7).

If the Shockers get back to the Final Four, nobody’s allowed to talk shit about their schedule ever again.

-I’m disappointed by the first-round pairings in high-vs.-low-seed games. The low seeds were already weak due to conference tournament carnage, and the ones I thought were most capable of a surprise (Manhattan, Delaware, American) drew tough matchups, while the top seeds I thought were most vulnerable (mainly Villanova) got off with easier draws. North Carolina Central and New Mexico State are the best bets to make things interesting, I think.

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