Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker played at Duke for Coach Mike Krzyzewski for four years from 1983-87. Amaker also served as the Hall of Fame coach’s assistant for seven seasons and his associate head coach for two years in Durham from 1988-97.
Now, after Harvard’s 53-51 defeat of Yale on Saturday earned the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Amaker’s Crimson will face his once greatest adversary.
The West Region’s No. 13 seed Harvard (22-7, 11-3 Ivy League) will face fourth-seeded North Carolina (24-11, 11-7 ACC) on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla.
But before then, it doesn’t appear that Amaker will be dialing his longtime mentor.
“Well everyone has their own things that they are trying to get prepared for. So you always have to be sensitive to that,” said Amaker on an Ivy League postseason media teleconference Monday morning, without giving a direct answer. “(Duke is) in the midst of a historic season ...”
“We’ll do our due diligence to see if we can get prepared as best we can.”
The Tar Heels will present Harvard with a great challenge. But on paper, UNC isn’t the best team the Crimson will have faced this season. Virginia is. The Cavaliers, who are the No. 2 seed in the East Region, defeated Harvard, 76-27, in late December.
The 76 points against Virginia are the most Harvard has given up all season — a far cry from the 57 points a game the Crimson surrenders as the nation’s No. 12 scoring defense.
“Our defense has been our calling card,” Amaker said. “We’re very hopeful that we can be sound and disciplined against an ultra-talented team like Carolina. That’s easier said than done.”
So is rebounding. UNC is ranked No. 1 in the nation with 41 boards a game. Harvard is ranked 276th.
“Coach has a saying: ‘No rebounds, no way,’” said senior Harvard forward Steve Moundou-Missi. “That’s definitely gonna apply to this game, especially with those guys from UNC.”
This year, the Crimson will be making its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
In the Round of 64 of the 2014 tournament, then No. 12 seed Harvard upset No. 5 seed Cincinnati before the Crimson fell to No. 4 seed Michigan State by just seven points.
“Playing against Michigan State really gave us an opportunity to see what it’s like to play on a huge stage against another storied program,” said senior swingman Wesley Saunders.
Amaker knows UNC is different.
“Obviously, they’re as good of a team we’ll face all season, have faced all year,” Amaker said. “As talented, as big, and as long and athletic.”