CAMBRIDGE — Harvard coach Tommy Amaker knew it would be difficult to repeat as Ivy League champions, especially since it took the school more than 50 years to win the conference just once.
Then things got a whole lot harder.
The team’s senior co-captains withdrew from school in the wake of an academic cheating scandal, and suddenly Amaker was plugging untested players into new roles. So when the Crimson managed to clinch their third consecutive Ivy title, it was that much more rewarding.
“Every year’s a different year. Even if you have the same players, the kids have different roles and expectations,” Amaker said this week as he waited for Selection Sunday, when he would learn of Harvard’s first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament.
“This year, for me personally, so far to this point it’s been as gratifying a year I’ve been a part of as a coach. This year they had the odds against them, the obstacles they were faced with. For them to do what they’ve done, it’s been as gratifying as any.”
A 375-year-old institution that has produced U.S. presidents and Nobel Laureates and even won a Rose Bowl, Harvard had never claimed an Ivy League championship in men’s basketball before tying Princeton for the conference title in 2011.
But because the Ancient Eight is the only conference that awards its NCAA tournament bid to the regular-season champion, the schools played a one-game tiebreaker for the right to play in the tournament. Princeton won.
Last year, the Crimson won the league title outright and returned to the NCAAs for the first time since 1946. They were the favorites to return before captains Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey were forced to with draw from school in an academic cheating scandal that involved as many as 125 students in a single class.