No. 31 Men's Tennis Opens NCAA Tournament With No. 42 Auburn Saturday

No. 31 Men's Tennis Opens NCAA Tournament With No. 42 Auburn Saturday

Harvard will play the first match at the Oklahoma regional Saturday (Harvard Athletic Communications).

NCAA Tournament Notes (.pdf)

NCAA Tournament Preview Video

The Storyline

For the third straight season, the Harvard men's tennis team will compete in the NCAA Tournament, taking on Auburn in the first round of the Oklahoma regional. Play begins Saturday when Harvard meets Auburn at 11:00 a.m., followed by a matchup between the host Sooners and Big Sky Conference champion Montana.    

Series History
Harvard and Auburn will meet for the fifth time Saturday in the first round matchup. The Crimson holds a 3-1 series lead over the Tigers, and owns a three-match winning streak against Auburn. The two teams first met in 1984 and the Tigers handed the Crimson a 6-3 loss, but Harvard collected wins in 1990, 1992 and 2004 to grab the series lead.  

Harvard and Oklahoma have played each other four times, most recently last year (a 4-0 Oklahoma victory), with the series tied at 2-2, and Harvard has never faced Montana.         

How Harvard Got Here
While Ivy League rival Columbia clinched the 2014 Ivy title, the Crimson finished second in the league standings and did more than enough in its non-conference schedule to warrant an at-large selection to the postseason. Harvard finished with a 17-6 overall record and a 6-1 league mark, good for its third straight season with a 6-1 Ivy record. After a league-opening loss to Columbia April 5, Harvard powered through the rest of its conference schedule, including shutout wins over Princeton, Penn and Yale. Harvard recorded nine wins over teams that held a national ranking, and posted a runner-up finish at the 2014 Mission Valley Spring Classic in La Jolla, Calif.     

How The Other Teams Got Here
It is a talented quartet of teams at the Oklahoma regional, featuring three squads that received at-large bids into the bracket.

Harvard's first-round opponent, the Auburn Tigers, earned an at-large bid after a strong season in the difficult Southeastern Conference. With an overall record of 14-13, Auburn collected league wins over LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss, finishing with a 4-8 mark in conference play. A first-round loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament ended the Tigers' hopes of a league title, but consistent ranking within the top 40 nationally warranted the at-large selection.

Oklahoma, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, posted an impressive 23-3 record in 2014 and captured a share of its third straight Big 12 regular-season title with a 4-1 conference mark. After starting the season ranked ninth in the ITA men's team poll, the Sooners worked their way up the national rankings, reaching the top spot towards the end of March thanks to a 4-1 victory over then-No. 1 Ohio State. Oklahoma fell just short of claiming its third straight conference tournament title, dropping a 4-3 decision to then-No. 6 Baylor in the tournament final.

Montana battled to a 13-11 record during the regular season, but was nearly untouchable in conference action, posting a 9-1 league mark. Montana's lone league loss came April 17 in a surprising, 4-2, loss to Idaho at home, but the Grizz were able to bounce back with back-to-back wins to close out the regular season. Wins over Northern Arizona and then Weber State by scores of 4-1 and 4-0, respectively, saw the Griz capture their first ever Big Sky Tournament crown, securing the automatic bid into the NCAA field.

Harvard In The NCAA Tournament
Harvard's 2014 tournament invitation marks the 23rd time Harvard will play in the NCAA tournament with its first appearance coming in 1981. The furthest the Crimson has advanced in the tournament was 1997 when Harvard earned a berth in the quarterfinal round against No. 3 Stanford. The Cardinal downed Harvard, 4-0, during the match. The Crimson has accrued a 15-22 record all-time in NCAA tournament action.

In its past two trips to the tournament, Harvard has knocked off a ranked opponent in the first round and has had a chance to face the regional host. 2012 saw the Crimson down No. 45 Virginia Tech, 4-2, in the first round before bowing out to host No. 12 Florida, 4-0. Last year in Starkville, Mississippi, the Crimson breezed past No. 63 Samford, 4-0, and took the doubles point from a talented Mississippi squad before surrendering four singles matches in a 4-1 defeat.

NCAA Representatives
While Harvard will be making its third straight appearance in the team tournament in 2014, the Crimson also boasts representatives in the NCAA singles and doubles championships as well. Harvard's top singles player Denis Nguyen, currently ranked 39th in the nation, earned an at-large bid into the field of 64 players as one of two Ivy League singles players in the draw. Nguyen will also be competing in the doubles competition with partner Casey MacMaster, and the duo enters the tournament ranked 19th in the country.
2014 All-Ivy Honors
Following a strong 2014 campaign, the Harvard men's tennis team yielded six All-Ivy League honors, the league announced last Wednesday.

Junior Denis Nguyen collected the third All-Ivy singles nod of his career, garnering unanimous first-team honors for the second straight season, and joined with partner Casey MacMaster on the first team doubles squad for the second year in a row.  

Rookie Sebastian Beltrame had a solid first season with the Crimson and was named to the All-Ivy second team for singles. Harvard's No. 2 doubles tandem of sophomore Nicky Hu and freshman Brian Yeung also earned second-team honors for doubles.  

In The Rankings
While the Crimson currently sits at No. 31 in the ITA rankings, Harvard reached as high as 24th in 2014, reaching that ranking February 18. Harvard's lowest ranking of the season came April 15 when the Crimson came in at No. 34 in the nation.