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Notebook: Under Amaker, Harvard enjoys success

Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker has built a program that’s found success over the long term.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File

Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker has built a program that’s found success over the long term.

Of all the milestones Harvard has reached the past few years, the one after its win over Cornell last weekend had a certain significance for coach Tommy Amaker.

It was the Crimson’s 20th win, giving them a fifth straight 20-win season and making them the first Ivy League team in 38 years to string so much success together for as long a stretch.

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It put them in the same class as the early-1970s Penn teams that put together six straight 20-win seasons.

The run started for Harvard in 2009-10, when a 21-8 record gave the Crimson their first 20-win season since 1945-46.

This year, Harvard is 20-4 with six games left, hunting down a fourth straight Ivy crown and third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Sustaining success has always been important to Amaker.

“We’re really proud of that,” he said. “We haven’t thought of ourselves as being a one- or two-year wonder. We’ve been able to string together a number of really good years and there’s been some really good players that have bought into our philosophy and our system, obviously including this team right now.

“We’re hopeful that we can continue to see ourselves as a strong program, a relevant and nationally-thought-of basketball program.”

In its 58-year history, the Ivy League has never sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament. But with a high-profile, high-quality schedule and a recent track record for winning, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the Crimson could earn a berth without winning the league.

“It seems to be, at times, a little bit of a stretch,” Amaker said. “But I do think it’s something that as the league keeps continuing to grow and get better and what we can do hopefully in the future nonconference-wise to kind of snag a few major league wins outside of our league, I think we can add to that the fuel to speculate even more.”

The Crimson sit 57th in RPI, with nonconference wins over BU, Green Bay, and Vermont (all are conference leaders) on their résumé .

Going into their Penn-Princeton road trip this weekend, the Crimson are tied for first with Yale. And with five teams sporting winning records overall, the collective strength of the Ivy is in their favor, as well.

Challenge ahead

There are some years, Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart said, that he can look back on and say the scheduling gods did his team a favor. This isn’t one of them.

Coming into their game against UMass in Amherst on Friday, the Rams are pushing through a stretch that has them playing four of five games on the road.

They’re coming off a Saturday loss to Atlantic-10-leading Saint Louis and now face a Minuteman team that’s also trying to gain ground.

After undefeated Saint Louis, only one game separates second-place VCU and sixth-place Richmond. At 20-5 (7-4 in the A-10), UMass is in fifth place. If the Minutemen have one luxury, it’s that they will host both VCU and Saint Louis.

Reunion spoiled

BU’s 71-62 win over American Wednesday night featured a reunion. Former BU star Matt Wolff, who graduated in 2009, is an assistant with American . . . Wednesday night’s 76-64 loss to Lafayette was Holy Cross’s second setback in its last 11 games. With a 10-5 Patriot League record (16-11 overall), the Crusaders have double-digit league wins for the first time since 2009.

Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.
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