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Bob Ryan

Hub teams aiming high

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / March 8, 2011

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The announcement of the 68 NCAA Tournament participants from the male of the species takes place Sunday. No city has more at stake than Boston, Massachusetts.

Or maybe not.

That’s because Boston and its satellite People’s Republic of Cambridge could have three teams, two teams, one team, or possibly no teams involved.

Boston College is what they call a “bubble team.’’ The 19-11 Eagles can very likely play their way in by defeating Wake Forest in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Thursday and Clemson in the quarterfinals Friday. But nothing is inscribed in granite.

Harvard (23-5) has two shots. If Penn defeats Princeton in the famed Palestra tonight, Harvard is in. It will be champions of the Ivy League. If Princeton wins, it will share the regular-season championship with Harvard. The Ivy is the only one of the NCAA Division 1’s 32 leagues not to have a postseason tournament. The recipient of the NCAA bid would be the victor of a one-game playoff that would take place at Yale Saturday at 4 p.m.

Boston University (20-13) needs no help. All the Terriers need to do is defeat Stony Brook in the America East championship game at Agganis Arena Saturday at noon.

Let’s take a look at the teams.

BOSTON COLLEGE Number of NCAA appearances: 18

Last appearance: 2009

Deepest advance: Elite 8 in 1967, 1982, and 1994

Esteemed ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has had BC bouncing between his “Last Four In’’ and “Last Four Out’’ for several weeks, which is what happens when you follow up a 2-4 run with a total thrashing in Miami and then defeat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. BC is charmingly endearing, but totally unreliable.

If BC gets in, the Eagles would become the first at-large team that ever lost to both Harvard and Yale at home. But they did defeat Texas A&M and they did finish 9-7 in the ACC. They have defeated teams from eight conferences, not counting their own. They have a marquee player in guard Reggie Jackson, a potential NBA first-round pick who alone makes them a danger to any foe.

Coach Steve Donahue likes where his team is right now. He made a conscious decision to go small a while back by moving 6-foot-6-inch forward Corey Raji to power forward and by inserting walk-on senior guard John Cahill (pronounced “Cowel’’) into the starting lineup, and he is reaping the dividends. “We’ve become more difficult to guard,’’ Donahue says, “and, oddly enough, we’re rebounding better. We’ve been way more consistent. We’re practicing better.’’

Jackson, Raji, and senior Joe Trapani all have more than 1,000 career points. Senior center Josh Southern is having his best year. Senior guard Biko Paris is always capable of something big; witness Sunday’s 6-of-7 3-point shooting against Wake Forest. Cahill is a classic “glue guy,’’ although it sometimes seems his individual performance is that of some kid from 1957 who has been mysteriously superimposed into the game in question. Whatever the case, it’s working.

Playing Wake Forest again should be a good thing, but Donahue has already cautioned his team not to think the game will play out as easily as the one at home Sunday (84-68). And beating Clemson will not be easy. BC has work to do.

HARVARD Number of NCAA appearances: 1

Last appearance: 1946

Deepest advance: Have not won a game

Know this about the 19-1 Harvard team that was invited to the NCAA Tournament at a time when the NIT was the place to be: three of those 19 Ws were against Chelsea Naval Hospital, one was over the Quonset Naval Air Station, and two apiece were over MIT and WPI (each a Harvard foe this very season).

It’s rather common knowledge that since the Ivy League officially came into being in 1955, seven of its eight members have won at least one championship in basketball. The one who hasn’t? Yup, the Crimson.

This is the moment Harvard has been working toward since Tommy Amaker was hired to succeed all-time good guy Frank Sullivan in 2007. Harvard is making a top-down commitment to win it has never before made to a Harvard coach (even Satch Sanders), and Amaker is making it happen, recruiting serious players such as center Keith Wright, forward Kyle Casey, and point guard Brandyn Curry, whose spectacular play against Penn and Princeton this past weekend (23 points, 24 assists) set the tone in a pair of must-win triumphs.

“He is the difference,’’ Amaker concedes. “He sets the pace for us. I told him the guy he should study is [Rajon] Rondo. He’s got to be a playmaker for us, not necessarily a shotmaker. And that’s what he’s doing.’’

Amaker had to battle Stanford and William & Mary for the southpaw from Huntersville, N.C. Wright and Casey had bigger reps, but Mr. Curry has become Harvard’s true MIP (Most Important Player).

Only the Ivies would create such a bizarre scenario. If Princeton wins tonight, it will have excitement and enthusiasm to carry forward, while Harvard will have been idle for a week by the time the playoff is held Saturday. If you care for Harvard, you might trot out the Princeton voodoo dolls this evening.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY Number of NCAA appearances: 6

Last appearance: 2002

Deepest advance: Elite 8 in 1959

The Terriers were kind of rattling around the middle regions of the league, not bothering anybody. That was 10 straight wins ago.

“We’re playing harder and we’re defending better,’’ says coach Pat Chambers. “Our offense is still not the best, but we have gotten to the foul line.’’

I’ll say. In BU’s last three games the Terriers have gone 63 of 87 from the line. Their opponents? 16 of 29.

It’s not your typical America East team, with three transfer starters in point guard Matt Griffin (Rider), forward Darryl Partin (La Salle), and center Patrick Hazel (Marquette). Those three bonded last year, according to Chambers, and playing together has never been a problem.

The Terriers could have gone south when 6-8 junior Jake O’Brien, a preseason all-league pick, was lost for the season with a foot fracture. Obviously, they didn’t.

But the key man remains senior swingman John Holland, a 6-5 talent who won his almost fated Player of the Year award in the conference. “The 20 points, the eight rebounds we expect,’’ Chambers says. “But John was always a reluctant leader. We have talked to him about taking the Kevin Garnett approach. He’s learned to be the leader in the locker room, in the film room, a leader on and off the floor.’’

BU has defeated Stony Brook twice, but Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves are well-coached, physically tough, and good enough to have made the NIT last year. Many of us recall an epic four-overtime BU triumph two years ago, that clearly being something neither team wishes to reprise. The BU people know very well that Stony Brook will make them earn it when they throw it up on Saturday.

If all goes well, Boston will be the only city in America with three March Madness participants located within a 2-mile radius. That would be pretty good for a hockey town.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.