Harvard (26-4) vs. Vanderbilt (24-10)
Thursday, March 15, 4:40 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Pit/Bob King Court (15,411) -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Television: TNT. NCAA Tournament Record: Harvard 0-1, Vanderbilt 9-13. Series Record: Vanderbilt leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Vanderbilt enters second-round action of the NCAA Tournament flying high off an amazing run to the SEC Tournament championship, as the fifth-seeded Commodores take on the 12th-seed Harvard Crimson in an East Regional battle at The Pit in Albuquerque.
Vanderbilt is making a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, but in a dramatically different fashion coming off its first SEC tourney title since 1951. The Commodores capped a thrilling run through the league bracket as a three-seed with a 71-64 triumph over the top-ranked team in the country in Kentucky. Vanderbilt played the Wildcats tough during the regular season as well, though they came up short on both occasions. Still, Vandy had a nice season in posting a 10-6 mark in the SEC while going 24-10 overall, splitting with Florida during the regular season and beating Alabama in its lone matchup. The Commodores also took on a number of other tournament teams in non-conference play, defeating Marquette, NC State and Davidson while losing to Xavier and Louisville -- both in overtime. This will be Vanderbilt's 13th appearance at the Big Dance with an all-time record of 9-13. The program has gotten as far as the Elite Eight on one occasion in 1965 and has reached the Sweet 16 four times, the last in 2007. Vandy garnered a five-seed as an at- large team in last year's tournament, but was bounced in the second round by Richmond.
Harvard made a bit of history of its own this season, earning the program's first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1946 and for just the second time in school history. The Crimson went 12-2 in Ivy League play to grab the automatic bid with its first-ever outright conference championship and set a school record with 26 wins overall (26-4). Harvard also joined the national rankings for the first time ever, climbing as high as No. 22 in the polls. A big part of Harvard's rise to the national spotlight came early on with a run to the title at the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas, defeating Utah, Florida State and UCF along the way. The Crimson also played UConn tough in Storrs, falling 67-53, while winning at Vermont. The last time the Crimson made the NCAA Tournament the field was comprised of just eight teams with Harvard falling to Ohio State in its opening-round game.
Vanderbilt has faced the Crimson on just one previous occasion, logging a 74-58 victory back in 1993 at Memorial Gym.
The Commodores may have pulled off a surprise win in the SEC championship, but the numbers suggest the squad should have been there all along. Vanderbilt has the SEC's top two scorers in junior John Jenkins and senior Jeffery Taylor. The veteran duo are as impressive as any in the country, with Jenkins topping out at 19.9 points per game and Taylor adding 16.4 ppg. Not to be outdone, senior Festus Ezeli checks in with 10.0 ppg and leads the team in field-goal percentage (52.9 percent). Jenkins and Taylor are much more than just scorers, though, with both ranking among the league leaders in field-goal percentage and three-point shooting. In fact, Jenkins led the nation in three-pointers with 129 on 44.8 percent shooting while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor overall. Taylor is the complete package, dropping 63 three-pointers on a 43.2- percent accuracy with an overall shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 5.8 rebounds per game. Ezeli pulls down 5.5 boards while senior Lance Goulbourne paces the club with 6.9 rpg and chips in 8.9 ppg. Meanwhile, senior Brad Tinsley ranks fifth in the SEC with 4.2 assists per contest, nets 8.7 ppg and drilled 40 threes on 40.0 percent shooting. The parts equal up to an offense that ranked third in the SEC with 72.9 ppg behind only SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Vandy stands in the same position in field-goal percentage at 45.9 percent while ranking second to Florida with a 38.9 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. The Commodores manage to hold down a decent plus-1.2 margin on the glass (34.5-33.4) while the defense often does enough in yielding 65.0 ppg and a 41.8 shooting percentage.
The Crimson get things done in large part on the defensive end, ranking fourth in the country with a mere 54.8 ppg allowed. Teams are held to 40.6 percent shooting from the field, a number that also ranks favorably across the country, as well as Harvard's 74.6 free-throw percentage -- good for 27th in the nation. The Crimson are also inside the top-50 in field-goal percentage, landing 46.7 percent of their field goals, though the offense remains a bit underwhelming at 65.4 ppg. Junior Kyle Casey and senior Keith Wright are at the head of the Crimson attack, averaging 11.3 and 10.7 ppg, respectively. Wright also tops the Ivy League with a 59.4 shooting percentage with Casey not far behind in fourth (51.9 percent). The duo also contribute heavily to the rebounding game with Wright's 8.1 per game ranking second in conference play and Casey adding 5.5 rpg. Sophomore Laurent Rivard chips in 9.7 ppg and is Harvard's top three-point threat with 60 on 39.0 percent shooting. Junior Brandyn Curry slots in fourth in the Ivy League with his 5.0 assists per game while posting 1.6 steals and 7.8 ppg. The Crimson are able to hold down a decent advantage on the boards overall with a plus-4.5 margin (32.6-28.1).
Harvard's Cinderella season of sorts won't likely include a fairy tale ending with Vanderbilt entering the tournament as one of the more dangerous and veteran teams out there. The Crimson's defense should make things respectable and maybe even competitive, but it won't win the day.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 73, Harvard 64
03/15 10:34:07 ET