The Harvard Crimson (26-4, 13-1) and Cincinnati Bearcats (27-6, 15-3) square off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a match-up of underrated teams. Both teams fared extremely well in within their respective conferences. The Bearcats were co-champions in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) during the regular season, tied with the much more highly regarded Louisville. Harvard also finished first in their conference, albeit with a much weaker level of competition in the Ivy League.
Game: #5 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #12 Harvard Crimson
Play: Thursday, Spokane, WA
Key Match-up: Cincinnati G Sean Kilpatrick vs. Harvard G Laurent Rivard
The pair of opposing guards will be chasing each other on the perimeter for much of the game. If Kilpatrick cannot get hot from deep with Rivard on him then Harvard may be able to switch over to a 3-2 zone they used at times this year and force the Bearcats to try to outshoot them. If this game turns into a shooting contest and Kilpatrick isn’t hitting his shots then his team will have an uphill battle.
Harvard Notes: Harvard absolutely ran over their conference this year. They have made the NCAA Tournament three straight years and have won their conference regular season title in four consecutive seasons. The Crimson only lost once in conference, a seven-point defeat to the team that finished just behind them in the standings, Yale. Among their other three losses were Connecticut and Colorado, both of whom are NCAA Tournament teams this season. Harvard faced a relatively weak level of competition, but hung tight with Connecticut and took care of business otherwise. They were a team good enough to deserve consideration in the Associated Press top 25 ranking, closed the season on an eight-game win streak, but ended up with a 12 seed. Harvard plays strong defense and rebounds well, and they pass efficiently with minimal turnovers. They can also shoot from deep, with a pair of players in Laurent Rivard and Siyani Chambers who hit 40 percent of their threes.
Cincinnati Notes: The Bearcats play very tough defense, carrying that signature Big East style of play with them to their new conference and now into the NCAA Tournament. Whatever measure is used, their defense stacks up favorably against that of any team in the nation. They have the sixth best scoring defense, were 19th best by opponents field goal percentage, make it tough to shoot either twos or threes, and in spite of all of this they still don’t foul very often. Nearly one-third of their per game scoring comes from senior guard Sean Kilpatrick, who was named to All-Conference First Team in the AAC. Kilpatrick shoots nearly eight three-pointers per game and makes them at a 35 percent rate. While his field goal percentage is in the low-40’s, when the massive amount of threes he takes is considered, along with his excellent free throw shooting (nearly 85 percent), Kilpatrick actually has a very good true shooting percentage at 58.4. He is also a respectable rebounder for a guard, and is capable of getting hot and carrying the team, with five-or-more three pointers made in six different games this year.
Prediction: Both teams have to travel a long way for their game. Leading up to their NCAA Tournament game, Cincinnati will not have played in six days, while Harvard will not have played in 12 days. The early part of the game will be sloppy between the long layoffs and the tough defense each team brings. Harvard is a surprisingly big team for an Ivy League unit, and will be able to match up physically with Cincinnati. The Crimson’s superior shooting from nearly every area of the court will let them gradually pull away for a 62-53 win.
Commentary by Brian Moore