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Harvard, UMass Headed to the Big Dance

Chaz Williams (Mary Altaffer/AP)

For the first time since 2007, two Massachusetts teams will play in the NCAA Tournament starting this week, as Harvard and UMass both had their names called on Selection Sunday. Harvard was an automatic qualifier after winning the Ivy League title, while the Minutemen, seemingly a lock earlier in the season, received an at-large bid after losing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals.

UMass started the season very strong, winning its first 10 games and earning its first top 25 ranking since 1998. But the Minutemen went just 10-6 in A-10 play and finished tied for fifth with an overall record of 24-8, three games behind #18 Saint Louis. After defeating Rhode Island 65-61 in the conference tourney’s second round, UMass fell to George Washington 85-77 in the quarterfinals.

Despite the less than stellar end to the regular season, on Sunday UMass was ranked 23rd overall by the committee and given the sixth seed in the Midwest Region, possibly the weakest of the four. The Minutemen are seeded behind #2 Wichita State, #8 Michigan, #7 Duke, #5 Louisville and the aforementioned Billikens. UMass will begin its tournament run on Friday at N.C. State’s PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, against the winner of a play-in game between Iowa (20-12) and Tennessee (21-12). Should they win, the Minutemen would face Duke or Atlantic Sun champion Mercer in the third round.

This will be the ninth NCAA Tournament appearance for Massachusetts and the first since 1998, the last season in a seven-year streak of consecutive appearances. The 1996 season, when UMass made the Final Four for the first and only time, would later be vacated after it was discovered that Marcus Camby had accepted $28,000 from two agents.

Harvard, meanwhile, will be making its fourth trip to the big dance and third in a row, after winning the Ivy League with a 13-1 conference record, four games better than second-place Yale, and 26-4 overall. The Crimson won a Tournament game for the first time last year, eliminating New Mexico in the second round before bowing out to Arizona in the third.

On this occasion, Harvard has been ranked 49th out of the 68 participating teams and has the 12th seed in the East Region. The Crimson will face a stiff test right off the bat, as it travels to Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in Washington to take on #13 Cincinnati (27-6) on Thursday. The East Region is stacked, as it also includes #6 Virginia, #3 Villanova, #16 Iowa State, #22 Michigan State, #15 North Carolina, #21 Connecticut and #19 Memphis. If it pulls off the upset, Harvard will play Michigan State or Colonial champion Delaware in the next round.

The last time two Massachusetts teams reached the Tournament was in 2007, when Boston College reached the second round while Holy Cross lost in the first.

BU to NIT, Holy Cross to CIT

Boston University received an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament by virtue of winning the Patriot League regular season title but failing to do the same in the conference tournament. The Terriers put up huge offensive numbers in each of their first two conference tourney games, defeating Lafayette 91-54 and Army 91-70, but came undone in a 55-36 loss to American University in the final.

BU has played in the NIT five times before, losing in the first round on each occasion. This time around, as the seventh seed in the St. John’s Bracket, the Terriers will meet Illinois (19-14) at home despite being the lower seed, as the Fighting Illini’s home arena is undergoing renovations. The game will take place on Wednesday.

BU’s conference rival Holy Cross, for its part, was invited to take part in the Postseason Tournament. The Crusaders finished third in the Patriot League, three games behind BU, and were eliminated by American 57-46 in the conference tournament semifinals after defeating Lehigh 54-48 in the quarterfinals. Holy Cross will be tipping off the CIT in the only Monday game, at Brown (15-13).

Northeastern, BC Seasons Come to a Close

Northeastern finished fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association with a 7-9 record (11-21 overall), seven games behind Delaware. The Huskies managed to beat fourth-place Drexel in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals, 90-81, before losing to the eventual champion Fightin’ Blue Hens, 87-74, in the semifinals.

For Boston College, a disappointing season ended with a 73-70 overtime loss to Georgia Tech in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The Eagles had finished the regular season 14th out of 15 ACC teams, at 4-14 (8-24 overall), 12 games behind Virginia.

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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