Harvard coach Tommy Amaker knows nothing about New Mexico but plenty about the man who leads the Lobos.
The Ivy League champion Crimson (19-9) were awarded the No. 14 seed in the West Regional and pitted against No. 3 New Mexico (29-5) in the NCAA Division 1 tournament matchups released last night. The teams will square off Thursday night at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City.
The Lobos are coached by Steve Alford, who played for Bobby Knight at Indiana and is the second-leading scorer in school history. Amaker was making his mark in the ACC at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski at the same time Alford was tearing up the Big Ten.
"Steve and I go back way before the Big Ten," said Amaker, who coached against Alford frequently while he led Michigan (2001-07) and Alford guided Iowa (1999-2007).
"Steve and I were in the same class (year) out of high school and we played against each other in college. My last college game was against Indiana when Steve was a senior. That year was 1987 and they went on to win the national championship.
"Steve is a good friend and a great player. He's done an incredible job everywhere he's been as a coach. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Steve Alford."
The Lobos represent the biggest and most physical team the Crimson have faced all season. Alex Kirk, a 7-foot center, averaged 11.9 points and 7.9 boards per game. Tony Snell is a 6-7 guard who contributed 12.6 points per game. Kendall Williams runs the offense with a team-high 13.5 points per game and 166 assists.
Cameron Bairstow is a 6-9, 250-pound power forward who averaged 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Amaker knows all these productive numbers were compiled under Alford's creative stewardship.
"For me knowing Steve, he's a terrific coach and he's been outstanding everywhere he's been so you expect his teams to play exceptionally well," said Amaker.
"That's what they have done. I'm sure they are sound fundamentally and balanced. I'm sure they have a terrific following and I think we should expect how well their fan base will travel to follow their program.
"It is going to be a great environment and a very tough opponent from what I know of Steve."
The Crimson assembled in the Hall of Athletics History at the Murr Center to watch the broadcast. The hall fell silent when Amaker's alma mater Duke drew the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. Laughter followed when the Blue Devils were paired with the Albany Great Danes.
Harvard won a share of the Ivy League title in 2011 but was excluded from the Big Dance when it lost a playoff game to Princeton. Harvard captured the title outright last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946. Harvard was eliminated by Vanderbilt in the first round.
The Crimson's chances of repeating as Ivy champs appeared derailed out of the gate when seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Kasey voluntarily withdrew from school following an academic cheating scandal.
Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers took control of the Harvard offense and averaged 12.9 points with 160 assists. Veteran Wesley Saunders (16.5) provided a high-low scoring option while shooting guard Laurent Rivard led the Crimson with 74 3-pointers.
Captain Christian Webster provided stability and leadership and those traits will be needed in the days leading up to the New Mexico tilt.
"This is a brand new year and a new opportunity for the guys who have been through it," said Amaker. "With the youth of our team and the ways these guys responded and accepting different roles, you can't say enough about what they have done this season." ___