Vanderbilt will be stiff test for Harvard in NCAA Tournament

Brandyn Curry looks for the open man against Columbia earlier this month.

Vanderbilt is sometimes referred to as the “Harvard of the South,” whereas those on the Nashville campus like to look at Harvard as the “Vanderbilt of the North.”

Clearly, the two institutions take their academic reputations very seriously. However, when they tangle on the hardwood Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, you will see few similarities.

The fifth-seeded Commodores have a great go-to guy in guard John Jenkins, who topped the SEC in scoring and leads the nation in 3-pointers, and plenty of size up front. Harvard starts nobody over 6-foot-8, has a leading scorer in Kyle Casey who averages just 11.3 points per game and is one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation.

If the Crimson assert themselves early, set a defensive tone and get some production on the other end from Casey and a few others, they may be OK. But if Jenkins gets going and big men like 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne prove too much along the frontline, Harvard could fall to 0-3 all-time in the NCAAs, the first two losses taking place 66 years ago in the Crimson’s last trip to the tourney.

And if (yes, another if) Harvard pulls off the upset (the 12-seed has won this game seven times in the last four years), a possible date with Wisconsin looms in the second round. The Badgers lead the nation in scoring defense (52.9 points per game) while the Crimson ranks fourth (54.8). The first to 45 may take that one.

First things first, however. In regards to Vanderbilt, here’s a little more to get you primed for the Crimson’s first NCAA tournament game since March 23, 1946.

When and where:
Thursday, 4:40 p.m., Albuquerque, N.M., TNT
Record vs. tournament teams: Harvard 2-1, Vanderbilt 6-5
Key matchup: Harvard F Keith Wright vs. Vanderbilt C Festus Ezeli – The two biggest starters in the contest will be central in the battle of the boards. Despite giving up three inches and about 20 pounds, Wright grabbed nearly three rebounds more per game. Goulbourne, a senior like Ezeli, led the Commodores on the glass this season.

Matching wits

Breaking down the Harvard-Vanderbilt matchup:
   
Numerically speaking: Seniors made 40 percent of Harvard’s starts this season. They comprised 79 percent of Vanderbilt’s.

Harvard ranks 27th in the nation in free-throw percentage at 74.6.

SEC?tournament In Vandy’s run to the tournament title, in which they beat No. 1 overall seeded Kentucky, John Jenkins shot 32-of-his 41 shots from deep…


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