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Mid-major team to watch: Harvard Crimson

Harvard Crimson Head coach Tommy Amaker calls out to his team during the 1st half of the NCAA basketball game between Harvard vs Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. Photographer: Bill Shettle
Bill Shettle/Icon Sportswire

Tommy Amaker has been, for some time now, turning the Harvard Crimson into a special basketball program. Not only in terms of Ivy League hoops, either. He’s quickly turning some wheels, making some magical moves, all of which has the program on the precipice of being — wait for it — nationally relevant.

That is not hyperbole. It is actually becoming, very literally, a matter of fact. While a few more things need to shake out for that to become fully accepted, Amaker has the Crimson more than three-fourths of the way through the program’s voyage in accomplishing just that.

We’re talking Gonzaga Bulldogs are in a mid-major but matter in the grand scheme of things kind of way. The, Harvard can become the Duke Blue Devils of the north type of dilly. All the positives, and very few negatives.

Well, that’s not 100 percent accurate. There is a small negative. Last season was the first time in a handful of years the Crimson failed to make the NCAA Tournament. While that is actually no big deal at all, it can make some sleep on the idea of what Harvard has become — which is a program that has an absolute stranglehold on the conference in which it plays basketball games.

There is good immediate news, though, not only in terms of the crazy recruiting success Harvard has had and is continuing to have, but also with what people should expect from them this season, which is yet another season of Amaker taking a Harvard team through the Ivy League in a way that would be similar to Paul Bunyan walking through a grocery store — as in, they’re going to get exactly what they want, when they want it, and however they want to do so.

Obviously, Amaker and Harvard will be doing so minus the trusty sidekick ox.

Some of those better tomorrows, acquired by way of the recruiting trail already mentioned, should help Harvard this season.

According to 247Sports, the Crimson have the 24th-best 2016 recruiting class in the nation. Not too shabby for an Ivy League institution, one that isn’t meant to recruit at that type of level, to convince two four-star talents to join four other three-star prospects to run roughshod over the conference the next few seasons.

That alone, in a vacuum, would be enough to start sending out the Ivy League parade to Boston. It is not as if any other program in the conference is landing those sorts of talents. And, to be clear, that’s not a knock on any of them. That’s simply the new cruel reality they all have to deal with. That the Harvard Crimson are recruiting on a major conference level in a conference not exactly known to lure some of the nation’s best to trot about their hardwoods.

Even putting 2016 top-100 talent Bryce Aiken and four-star prospect Chris Lewis to the wayside (though, Harvard isn’t), the rest of the roster remains built in a way that should scare the heck out of any team in the country — no matter the size, funding, history, or whatever other thing we generally attach to programs we assume are good.

The 2015-16 Crimson team may have only won 14 games, but they were so incredibly young. Scary young, actually. Even scarier — save for Evan Cummins, Agunwa Okolie and Patrick Steeves (all productive players, mind you) — many players of consequence are coming back to be mixed with Amaker’s disturbingly-good-for-the-Ivy League recruiting class.

It will be a combination of younger players who are good that got more experienced getting a sprinkle of immense talent from that 2016 class. Hell, when this happens for programs that aren’t members of a (respectably) ho-hum conference, we would normally begin with all the hyperbolic talk of a super-run about to be had.

Except with Harvard, they partake in some Ivy League fun, which should only expedite the team’s chances of winning as well as make the learning curve far less steep than it would be for a team in a similar position playing basketball in the ACC.

Some of that is admittedly a bit hyperbolic on my behalf. Those same “players of consequence” that are returning from last season do need to have developed to have this all work out. After all, those weren’t inherently great players last year on a great team. They were solid players on an iffy squad.

But that’s where Amaker comes back into the fold. A man who has reinvented himself as the preeminent wizard of Ivy League basketball. He’s earned enough benefit of the doubt that it is easy to assume those things have happened.

It just so happens, especially if those things are to be held true, he’s bringing in even more astonishing — over-the-top for the Ivy League — players, that it feels like this is less about how Harvard will do in the Ivy League, and more so about how shiny their slippers will be when they go dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

Moreover, the idea of how far in the dance the Harvard Crimson will manage to go before bowing out.

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