(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard: East Region
Vanderbilt 24-10, 10-6 SEC (Conference Tourney Champions)
Harvard 26-4, 12-2 Ivy League (Regular-season Conference Champions)
Time: 4:40 p.m. Thursday
Location: The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Winner will face: (4) Wisconsin or (13) Montana, Saturday
Vanderbilt No. 20 AP; No. 24 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Harvard No. 36 AP; No. 35 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Line: Vanderbilt -5½ (O/U 123)
Players to Watch
Vanderbilt: G John Jenkins, 6-4 Jr. (20 ppg, 48.5% FG, 45.3% 3s); F Jeffery Taylor, 6-7 Sr. (16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 50% FG); C Festus Ezeli, 6-11 Sr. (9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 50% FG). X
Harvard: F Keith Wright, 6-8 Sr. (10.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 59.4% FG); F Kyle Casey, 6-7 Jr. (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 51.9% FG); G Brandyn Curry, 6-1 Jr. (7.8 ppg, 5 apg, 1.6 spg). Curry came up big when the Crimson needed him most. In the second half of March 3’s 67-63 league-clinching win over Cornell, the junior scored all of his 12 points – on four 3-pointers – in the 67-63 victory.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Vanderbilt: Jenkins and Taylor are capable of carrying the Commodores, and while Ezeli wasn’t the player he was expected to be this season, he adds bulk and a defensive presence in the paint. Laurence Goulbourne and Brad Tinsley can score and create, as well, and Vandy has talented depth. Their 38.9 3-point percentage was 23rd-best in the country, so they’re never out of games. Sunday’s win over Kentucky can do nothing but help a team that has had some confidence issues.
Harvard: The Crimson get contributions from all five starters and a handful of players off of the bench. All five starters average 30 minutes and at least 7.4 points per game. The Harvard defense is very strong at times. They allowed fewer than 55 points 18 times this season and opponents shot just 40.6 percent against its D.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Vanderbilt: Vandy has had some inconsistency issues and a lot of that has to do with its inability to take care of the basketball. Tinsley is a strong scorer, but he struggles with turnovers at times. The Commodores have to be the best team in the country with a negative turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s likely to cause them trouble in the long run. They are an average rebounding team – at best – with a plus-1.1 rebounding margin.
Harvard: This is Harvard’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946, so needless to say, no one on the team – outside of coach Tommy Amaker – has any NCAA experience. Honestly, the Crimson aren’t playing their best basketball of late and they just got in. After losing at Princeton and at home to Penn in February, Harvard needed an overtime win at Columbia and a 4-point win over Cornell to earn the berth. While the balance on offense is nice, the Crimson lack a true go-to scorer. Wright never seemed comfortable with the role he expected to fill.
The Bottom Line: Vanderbilt is better than an average 5 seed and the 12 seed was way too high for a Harvard team that underperformed from its pre-season expectations. This should be an easy cover.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 80, Harvard 65
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)