NCAA Tournament East Region Picks: (5) Cincinnati Bearcats vs. (12) Harvard Crimson
Betting odds courtesy of Bovada
For a 5 vs. 12 matchup, this is one loaded with intrigue. Last year, The Harvard Crimson stunned No. 3 seeded New Mexico 68-62 in the second round to advance, though the Crimson met it s demise against the Arizona Wildcats. This year, Harvard returns with hopes to pull another upset, but college basketball oddsmakers aren’t exactly sleeping on the “Ivyrella” this year. Harvard is just three point underdogs to Cincinnati, despite the fact that the Bearcats finished the season ranked 15th in the AP poll.
There’s a lot of reasons to believe that the 26-4 Crimson can do it again. While the Crimson typically lack explosive athletes, it is known for playing smart and disciplined basketball, and that often makes a big difference in the NCAA tournament. It’s difficult to gauge the talent of the Crimson given that it plays a very soft schedule, but Harvard held its own in a 61-56 loss to UConn on Jan 8, and it absolutely obliterated its Ivy League rivals (with one loss coming to Yale).
The Crimson do a number of things well, but its scoring has to be noted, as the team generates 74 points per game and turns it over just 11 times per contest, while averaging 14.5 assists per game. Harvard balances its scoring well, with five Crimson averaging double-figure scoring. Wesley Saunders paces Harvard with 14 points per game, and he’s one of five shooting over 30 percent from three-point range.
Saunders, a 6’5″ junior guard, also led the team in assists (3.9 per game). He had a standout performance in the Crimson’s last game against Brown, for though he shot just 4-of-13 from the floor, he got to the line and overcame a bad night shooting to still finish with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Still, for as strong as the argument can be for Harvard, Cincinnati is a tough and storied program. The Bearcats closed the season with a disappointing loss to UConn in the AAC championship, but it finished the season with a respectable 4-3 mark against AP ranked teams. A disturbing stat is Cincy’s field goal percentage though, as the Bearcats hit just 42.7 percent from the floor this year. It isn’t a particularly good rebounding team, either, nor does it generate an overwhelming amount of points (68.7 per game).
The Bearcats do have an outstanding do-it-all senior guard in Sean Kilpatrick, but outside of his 20.7 points per game the team lacks offensive weapons. Kilpatrick is reliable; he scored in double-figures in all but one game this season, but ideally a tough tournament team has better secondary options in case a team goes box-and-one on its primary scorer. UConn neutralized him well, as he hit just 5-of-15 from the floor and the result was a Cincy loss. If Harvard can manage to throw enough bodies at Kilpatrick to wear him out, this game is theirs to lose.
HAR Trends: UNDER 7-3 in last 10 neutral site games.
CIN Trends: UNDER 8-1 in last 9 neutral site games; UNDER 42-11 in last 53 overall; UNDER 39-12 in last 51 non-conference games.