Harvard gets 12 seed, will play Vanderbilt

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Harvard gets 12 seed, will play Vanderbilt

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Kyle Casey remembers hearing Vanderbilt called "The Harvard of the South" when he was recruited by both coming out of high school.

Vanderbilt, which has the advantage of playing in the Southeastern Conference, was in his final three with Harvard and Stanford. But Casey, who's from Medway, Mass., chose to stay close to home with the goal of trying to get Harvard back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Truman administration.

"I couldn't be happier with my decision to come to Harvard," the Crimson forward said Sunday after they were given a No. 12 seed and a matchup with fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in Albuquerque, N.M., in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "I'm at THE Harvard University. There's no beating that."

Harvard has not been to the NCAAs since 1946, and it had never won an Ivy League title before sharing the crown with Princeton last season. With no conference tournament, the schools played a tiebreaker for the right to the league's automatic NCAA berth, and Princeton won the game on a buzzer-beater with 2.6 seconds left.
This year, Harvard (26-4) won the Ivy title outright, clinching it when Princeton beat Penn in the regular-season finale on Tuesday. But even though they knew their name would be called during the selection show, the Crimson players still looked tense waiting for the brackets to be filled out on television.

"Last year, just praying and hoping our name is going to come up on the board, just makes the moment even more special for us," guard Brandyn Curry said.

Sitting in a function room in the school's athletic administration building, with an eight-seat crew shell suspended from the ceiling above them, the players waited as two other regions were announced. During commercials, they tapped away on their cellphones while fans - at least one wearing a Jeremy Lin Harvard jersey - milled around.

When they were finally announced, the players jumped into the air and hugged.

"To make the tournament and see our name come up to make it legit, all the specifics didn't mean anything to me," guard Oliver McNally said. "I love the sport of college basketball. I love the tournament; I think it's the best sporting event. This is one of the dreams I've had in my life."

He's about to experience reality.

Vanderbilt (23-10) was still in New Orleans, where it upset No. 1 overall seed Kentucky on Sunday in the SEC tournament final, when it learned that it was a No. 5 seed. The Commodores are making their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and fifth in the last six years; they have lost three straight first-round games.

"We were just excited to hear our name called," said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who played in the tournament when he was at Duke. "We know this great tournament is going to be as sensational as it's always been, with a number of great games that we hope to be a part of."

Harvard set a school record with 26 wins this year, breaking into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in its history and climbing as high as No. 21. The Crimson also won with Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving, beating then-No. 22 Florida State in the process.

"We've done a lot of things a lot of players have come here to do," Casey said. "It's really humbling to do something here that's never been done before, when so many things have been done here."

Harvard's last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1946, when the Crimson lost to Ohio State and then fell to NYU in a regional third-place game. If the Crimson can win their first NCAA game ever, they would face either fourth-seeded Wisconsin and No. 13 seed Montana for a chance to reach the round of 16.

But if they do, they would be playing the regional semifinals at the TD Garden in Boston.

"I want to win. My career's over when we lose so I want it to last as long as we can," said McNally, a senior. "It's just going to be heartbreaking if you don't win. We wouldn't be competitors if that's not how we looked at each game."

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.