CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Harvard has won four straight Ivy League titles with players such as Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard.
They're all gone now, and coach Tommy Amaker needs to show he can win with a rebuilt roster.
Harvard opens the season at No. 25 in The Associated Press Top 25 — the first time an Ivy League school has appeared in the preseason poll since Penn in 1975. After winning a game in the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years, the Crimson (27-5, 13-1 last year) are hoping the loss of three key seniors won't slow them down.
"When I first got to Harvard, nobody expected us to do the things we did," said forward Steve Moundou-Missi, a senior who averaged 10.5 points and six rebounds last season. "This year's different: We're not going to come into a gym and surprise people."
Harvard had never won an Ivy League championship until 2010-11, when it shared the title with Princeton but lost a one-game playoff for the NCAA tournament bid. The next year, the Crimson won the conference title outright and went to the tournament for the first time since 1946.
They took the next step the next season: a victory in the first full round over New Mexico. Last year, Harvard beat Cincinnati in the round of 64 — the first Ivy League team to advance in back-to-back years in three decades.
To improve this season would mean sticking around until the tournament's second weekend.
Here are some things to look for from Harvard this season:
THE POINT: Harvard does return its top three scorers from last year. Small forward Wesley Saunders (14.2 points per game) is the reigning Ivy League player of the year, averaging 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Point guard Siyani Chambers (11.1 points) led the team with 4.6 assists per game and also hit 50 3-pointers. Moundou-Missi was the No. 3 scorer and top rebounder.
RIVARD REPLACEMENT: Without Rivard, who set the school record for 3-pointers, the Crimson will look to Corbin Miller to replace his long-distance shooting. After spending the past two years on a Mormon mission, the 6-foot-2 Miller will try to follow up on a freshman season in which he made 26 of 57 of his 3-point attempts.
HEALTHY HARVARD: Center Kenyatta Smith returns after playing just two minutes last season due to a broken bone in his foot. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 Smith started 15 games and averaged about six points and four rebounds. Zena Edosomwan, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, and 6-foot-9 freshman Chris Egi will also provide height for the Crimson.
IVY COMPETITION: Only a loss to Yale kept Harvard from going undefeated in the conference last year. The Elis return Ivy player of the year candidate Justin Sears, a junior forward who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds last season. Yale and Harvard meet Feb. 7 in New Haven, Connecticut, and on March 6 — the final weekend of the season — in Cambridge. Columbia, which returns all of its starters, was third in the conference's preseason poll, and Princeton was fourth.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Although Amaker insists his team ignores expectations and instead concentrates on its own standards, there is no doubt that both have changed. Since taking over in 2007, the program that had never won an Ivy title is now a threat to advance in the NCAA tournament. Harvard basketball games are selling out, and a renovation of the gym is planned. "The notoriety has picked up some since I've been here," point guard Siyani Chambers said. "It's brought the community a lot closer."