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MIT-Harvard Preview

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – Harvard has won four straight Ivy League titles with players such as Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard. They’re all gone now, and coach Tommy Amaker needs to show he can win with a rebuilt roster.

Opening their season Friday night against Division-III MIT, the No. 25 Crimson are the first Ivy League team since Penn in 1975 to appear in the AP preseason poll.

After winning a game in the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years, Harvard (27-5) is hoping the loss of three key seniors won’t slow it down following a season in which the Crimson went 27-5 overall and 13-1 in the league.

“When I first got to Harvard, nobody expected us to do the things we did,” said forward Steve Moundou-Missi, a senior who averaged 10.5 points and six rebounds last season. “This year’s different: We’re not going to come into a gym and surprise people.”

Harvard had never won an Ivy League title until 2011, when it shared the crown with Princeton but lost a one-game playoff for the NCAA bid. The next year, the Crimson won the conference title outright and went to the tournament for the first time since 1946.

They took the next step the following season with a victory in the first round over New Mexico. Last year, Harvard beat Cincinnati in the round of 64 to become the first Ivy League team in three decades to advance in back-to-back years.

If the Crimson can win 20 games for a sixth straight season, they’ll match Penn (1969-75) for the best streak in Ivy League history.

Harvard returns its top three scorers. Small forward Wesley Saunders was last season’s Ivy League player of the year, averaging 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Point guard Siyani Chambers (11.1 points per game) led the team with 4.6 assists and also hit 50 3-pointers. Moundou-Missi was the No. 3 scorer and top rebounder.

Without Rivard, who set the school record for 3-pointers, the Crimson will look to Corbin Miller as a long-distance threat. After spending the past two years on a Mormon mission, the 6-foot-2 Miller will try to follow up on a freshman season in which he made 26 of 57 of his 3-point attempts.

Center Kenyatta Smith returns after playing just two minutes last season due to a broken bone in his foot. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 Smith started 15 games and averaged about six points and four rebounds. Sophomore Zena Edosomwan and freshman Chris Egi – both 6-foot-9 – will also provide height for the Crimson.

Only a loss to Yale kept Harvard from going undefeated in the conference last season.

The Elis return Ivy player of the year candidate Justin Sears, a junior forward who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds last season. Yale and Harvard meet Feb. 7 in New Haven, Connecticut, and on March 6 – the final weekend of the season – in Cambridge.

Although Amaker insists his team ignores expectations and instead concentrates on its own standards, there is no doubt both have changed.

Games are selling out and a renovation of Lavietes Pavilion is planned. The Crimson are 49-3 (.942) at home since the start of the 2010-11 season, ranking behind only Belmont (51-2, .962) and Duke (63-3, .955) for the third-highest home winning percentage in the country over the last four seasons.

“The notoriety has picked up some since I’ve been here,” Chambers said. “It’s brought the community a lot closer.”

MIT (20-8) advanced to the D-III tournament last season for the sixth straight year, but lost to Plattsburg State in the opening round.

The Engineers, who have won four conference titles in six years, return their top three scorers: seniors Matt Redfield (13.0 points per game) and Andrew Acker (11.8), and junior Justin Pedley (11.6).

Harvard has won every meeting with MIT over the last five seasons, including a 79-37 rout last Nov. 12.

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