Predicted Order of Finish:
- Penn (20-10) (11-3)
- Yale (17-11) (10-4)
- Cornell (17-10) (9-5)
- Columbia (14-14) (7-7)
- Brown (15-13) (7-7)
- Harvard (10-19) (5-9)
- Princeton (9-18) (4-10)
- Dartmouth (6-19) (3-11)
WYN2K. For possibly the first time in two decades, the Ivy League basketball championship is wide open. The twin towers of power – Penn and Princeton – have held the Ivy title on one of their campuses each of the last twenty seasons. This year, however, Princeton will be recovering from the Joe Scott disaster (18-24 in three seasons culminating in an atrocious 2-12 debacle last year), while Penn will have to deal with the loss of the core group that won three straight Ivy championships. Penn has enough returning to make another run at the title, but don’t expect another 13-1 blitzkrieg through the league, as several other contenders will make their own push toward an NCAA bid.
Predicted Champion. Penn (#14 seed NCAA). Ok, ok, so we’re too chicken to pick anybody else here. We know that on paper there are other Ivy schools with more returning talent (ahem, Yale), but consider the weight of history that Penn has behind it – 5 of the last 6 titles… 7 of the last 9… 10 of the last 15. Every other champion during that time was Princeton. With the Tigers almost completely out of the picture, how can we not make our pick for Penn? Despite losing two-time Ivy POY Ibrahim Jabber and Mark Zoller, the Quakers still have the most depth of any team in the league to go along with the best home court advantage at the Palestra. This year’s squad will be led by Brian Grandieri and Justin Reilly, the latter of whom showed some decent post skills during the NCAA Tourney loss to Texas A&M last year. Sorry, Ivy faithful, but we just can’t pick against Penn until someone outside of Princeton knocks them off their perch.
Others Considered. Should Penn crash and burn this year, Princeton assuredly will not be the beneficiary, which means that a team not used to winning this title will be doing so for the first time in a generation. We like Yale as next in line. The Bulldogs return four starters plus their top two reserves, including prohibitive POY favorite Eric Flato, a do-it-all guard who nailed 71 treys last season. The only reason to lend a skeptic’s glance toward Yale is their maddening tendency to lose “shoulda” games, such as when they dropped a home game vs. Columbia immediately prior to a big showdown at Penn last year, effectively ending their conference title hopes. Cornell is another team that appears ready to make the leap on paper, but simply hasn’t been able to get past the monolith in Philly. Coach Steve Donahue is a tidy 0-14 in his career vs. the Quakers, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in winning a conference race that depends solely on regular season performance. Still, the Big Red, who was the last non-P&P team to make the NCAA Tourney back in 1988, has a nice set of guards returning (Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale) along with the 2006 ROY Adam Gore (redshirted last year) and USC transfer Collin Robinson.
Games to Watch. Since the Ivy League decides its champion via round-robin and not a conference tournament, there are a few key home-and-homes to watch this season.
- Cornell @ Yale (02.02.08) & Yale @ Cornell (02.22.08)
- Yale @ Penn (02.16.08) & Penn @ Yale (02.29.08)
- Penn @ Cornell (02.09.08) & Cornell @ Penn (03.07.08)
RPI Booster Games. Last year the Ivy League went 2-17 against BCS schools, but surprisingly, middle-of-the-packers Cornell (defeated Northwestern 64-61) and Brown (defeated Providence 51-41) were the two winners. Penn, on the other hand, was 0-5 – go figure. There are 23 games on the slate this year, and here are a few highlights.
- Yale @ Stanford (11.20.07)
- Virginia @ Penn (11.23.07)
- Brown @ Northwestern (11.24.07)
- Michigan @ Harvard (12.01.07)
- Cornell @ Syracuse (12.20.07)
- Penn @ Miami (FL) (01.02.08)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Zippo.
Neat-o Stat. With the hiring of Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Sydney Johnson at Princeton, six of the eight head coaches in the Ivy League are now black. Unthinkable a generation ago, this means that the Ivy has a higher percentage of black head honchos (75%) than all but the two historically black D1 conferences, the SWAC and MEAC. We’re not sure if that will necessarily translate to more wins at those two schools, but it can’t be a bad thing in terms of inspring qualified minority hiring practices at other schools (ed. note – we guess that assumes Amaker is qualified. Apologies).
64/65-Team Era. The Ivy League has gone 3-23 (.115) over the era, with all three wins concentrated in the mid- to late-90s. The Ivy tends to receive a favorable seed from the NCAA committee, averaging a #12.8 over this period, which equates to an expected value of around seven wins. This shows that the league has really underperformed compared with its seed over the years. Of the three wins, two belong to Princeton (1996 – #13 Princeton 43, #4 UCLA 41; 1998 – #5 Princeton 69, #12 UNLV 57) and one to Penn (1994 – #11 Penn 90, #6 Nebraska 80). With that said, the league’s NCAA representative (well, Penn, really) has in recent years consistently played its first round opponent tough before ultimately succumbing to superior talent.
- 2003 – #11 Penn down four to #6 Oklahoma St. with 2:25 remaining
- 2006 – #15 Penn down one to #2 Texas with 6 mins left
- 2007 – #14 Penn tied with #3 Texas A&M with 11 minutes to go
Nothing says thrilling like Gus Johnson, so we’ll leave you his call of 1996 Princeton-UCLA.
Final Thought. We actually look at this year’s Ivy a little bit like we look at the Big South. You have one program (Penn and Winthrop, respectively) that has clearly been the class of the league for the better part of a decade going through some serious changes, and you have a smattering of challengers ready to stake their claims on the league crown. The problem in both cases is more psychological than physical – can the likes of Yale and Cornell overcome the mental hurdles that Penn has constructed for them over the years by winning a key game in late February on the road when it really counts? It should make for an interesting winter in our nation’s smartest league, that’s for sure.