Second-round action in the West Region of the 2013 NCAA Tournament carries on Thursday night, as the New Mexico Lobos clash with the Harvard Crimson at EnergySolutions Arena.
Harvard, the 14th seed in the region, is back in the tournament for the third time in program history but has yet to break into the win column. The Crimson gained access to the event by virtue of winning the regular-season title in the Ivy League with a record of 11-3, just ahead of Princeton (10-4).
While the Ancient Eight dates back quite a way, history in the NCAA Tournament has not been kind to those teams representing the league, as none have taken home the crown as of yet. In fact, the schools have a combined record of 40-79 in 69 total appearances dating back to 1939.
Steve Alford, the Mountain West Coach of the Year, has the third-seeded New Mexico Lobos hitting their stride at just the right time. Not only did the program win the MWC regular-season title with a record of 13-3, New Mexico, which is ranked 10th in the nation in the latest AP poll, also took care of business in the MWC Tournament as well with victories over Wyoming, San Diego State and host UNLV.
Last season, New Mexico took down Long Beach State in the second round of the West Region in Oregon by a score of 75-68, but two days later the Lobos were defeated by Louisville, 59-56. Overall, UNM has a record of 8-14 in this event over the years.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will go up against the survivor of the Belmont/Arizona contest in the third round of the tourney on Saturday.
Harvard, which posted non-conference wins over California and Connecticut during the month of December, averaged a modest 68.9 ppg on the campaign, with the defense limiting the competition to just 63.9 ppg. Both players who started every game for the Crimson show up as the two top scorers for the group with Wesley Saunders pouring in 16.5 ppg on 53.8 percent shooting from the floor, and Siyani Chambers another 12.9 ppg as he played almost 38 minutes per game and knocked down 44.0 percent of his 3-point tries. Chambers, who was good for 81.9 percent accuracy at the free-throw line, was first in assists with 160, while Saunders logged another 96 dishes and the pair combined for 99 steals. Laurent Rivard (10.4 ppg) was another impressive perimeter shooter (74-of-184), as was Christian Webster (8.4 ppg) with his 53 conversions, which means the top four scorers accounted for all but one of the unit's made triples.
Perhaps the greatest testament to New Mexico's strong team play is the fact that, during the three conference tournament games, Kendall Williams produced a combined 25 points. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you consider that Williams was named the MWC Player of the Year and he wasn't exactly streaking up and down the floor when the Lobos could have used him the most, it gives even more credence to UNM being a complete team that doesn't just hinge on the efforts of one specific player. Over the course of 34 games Williams did lead New Mexico in scoring with 13.5 ppg, but his passing was perhaps even more critical as he dished out 166 assists. Many of those successful connections surely went to Tony Snell (12.6 ppg) and Alex Kirk (11.9 ppg), the former coming up huge during the conference tournament as he was named the tournament MVP. Kirk (7.9 rpg, 62 blocks) and Cameron Bairstow (9.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) have made sure to give the Lobos a presence in the paint when needed.