At last, AP poll features Harvard
No. 25 Crimson get No. 9 UConn next
It is a moment that could become an historic footnote in a season that is moving along at warp speed, with Thursday night’s game in Storrs, Conn., simply the next milepost.
But when Harvard meets Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion, it will not only be a meeting of two New England teams with ambitions of playing deep into March - it will feature teams that are ranked nationally.
The last item, of course, is noteworthy, not because UConn is ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll - the Huskies are the defending national champions and geared up for another postseason march.
No, it is Harvard coming in at No. 25, the first time in school history the men’s basketball team has cracked the AP poll.
Harvard’s early success - the Crimson are 8-0, and checked in at No. 24 in the USA Today coaches poll - is not a surprise. Harvard was the overwhelming favorite to win the Ivy League title this season, and coach Tommy Amaker had all five starters returning from a 23-7 team that played in last season’s National Invitation Tournament.
The Crimson already own a win over a ranked team. Harvard beat then-No. 22 Florida State last month at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, and could have faced UConn, which was also in the field, in the final. But the Huskies were upset by Central Florida, and it was Harvard returning as the champion, bringing with it a rapidly-growing reputation.
“They are a pretty good team,’’ UConn coach Jim Calhoun said yesterday. “If we don’t come to play on Thursday, we can get beat.’’
Calhoun is quick to give Harvard its due because he remembers his early coaching days at Northeastern, looking for respect that had to be earned.
In Amaker, he sees a perfect fit of a coach and a school on a mission.
“I think it’s the perfect place for Tommy,’’ said Calhoun. “Not that I want to put any walls around him about where he can go.
“I think Tommy has found a perfect place, because of his competitiveness, his philosophy coming from a place like Duke, and getting kids who will fit the academic profile and athletic profile of the school.’’
The last time an Ivy League team was ranked in the AP poll was on March 10, 1998, when Princeton was No. 8. With Harvard’s inclusion this week, Brown is the only Ivy League team that has never been ranked.
Kentucky is No. 1 for the second week in a row, cementing the top spot with a 73-72 home win on Saturday over then-No. 5 North Carolina. The Wildcats (8-0) received 47 of 65 first-place votes. Ohio State is also 8-0, received the other 18 first-place votes, and is ranked second.
The Tar Heels moved up one spot despite the loss and are No. 4, right behind Syracuse. Louisville is fifth.
Harvard isn’t the only newcomer to this week’s AP poll. Georgetown (7-1) is 18th, Creighton (7-0) is 19th, and Illinois (8-0) is 24th.
Amaker greeted the announcement with the proper blend of satisfaction and determination to remain focused on the larger goal of winning championships.
“It’s a great accomplishment,’’ said Amaker, “and I’m happy to be a small part of it. Obviously these things can be very fleeting. But it’s nice to have people saying good things about us. I hope we can live up to it.
“The good news is that we’re ranked, but the bad news is now we have to go to the University of Connecticut on Thursday.’’
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at email@example.com.