The last time New Mexico head coach Steve Alford and Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker brushed shoulders was in the Midwest Regional semifinal in 1987. Both Alford and Amaker were the hot-shooting focal points of their respective teams; Alford under the tutelage of Bobby Knight's eventual champion Indiana Hoosiers, Amaker under that of Mike Krzyzewski and the fifth-seeded Duke Blue Devils.
If that sounds like fodder for a 30 for 30 episode describing in vivid detail the hardwood-covered pedestal that men's college basketball finds its home, it probably should. And if a more current manuscript is to be added to the history book, it's only fitting that it begins on the sprouting limbs of the enormous oaken tree planted by The General and Coach K.
Alford has his Mountain West champion Lobos in tip-top shape to begin the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Taking the league by storm with an RPI of 2 and a second-ranked strength of schedule, the 29-5 Lobos have cut their teeth on some elite competition with a smothering defensive tenacity. While streaky, their offense has become an asset of late led by G Tony Snell who averaged 17.1 points on 51% shooting during the Mountain West tournament. New Mexico's biggest advantage--a recurring theme all season--will be inside, as the offense lives and dies with the success of their big men C Alex Kirk (7'0") and F Cameron Bairstow (6'9"). New Mexico may need continued offensive production from Kendall Williams who, after winning the Mountain West Player of the Year on the heels of a 46-point explosion, has cooled down tremendously to the tune of 13.5 points and 5 assists per game.
Amaker's Ivy League champion Harvard Crimson (19-9) notch their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance after making their first last season following a 66-year drought.. They are admittedly guard heavy, relying on an edge scoring triumvirate of Wesley Saunders, Laurent Rivard and Siyani Chambers to shoulder the load. 6'8" Kenyatta Smith and 6'7" Steve Moundou-Missi are seemingly overmatched in the post against New Mexico, but a lights-out shooting performance by their guards could place the Crimson on equal ground with the lengthy Lobos. It might not be such an impossible feat, as their 48.2% field goal percentage is good for 12th in the country.
The Lobos have a sizable advantage at Salt Lake City, a venue at high altitude that is a 10-hour drive from Albuquerque--a stone's throw for the Lobo faithful, who showed up en masse (an estimated 8,000) for the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.
The Crimson and the Lobos are two battle-tested that seem to perform at their best when the odds are stacked against them. Harvard managed to compile an excellent résumé while finding a way to return to The Big Dance even after losing Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to an academic scandal in August. New Mexico wasn't given a prayer's chance at the beginning of the season to escape a conference boasting perennial powerhouses San Diego State and UNLV.
Alford's Hoosiers did edge Amaker's Blue Devils to the tune of 88-82 in 1987, but just like Indiana's landmine-ridden march to the national championship that year, the result for New Mexico will have to be similarly earned.
|Avg Points Allowed||63.9||60.4|