Let’s Play Two: Ivies hope to put 2nd team in NCAA

In the world of college basketball, the Ivy League has long been

considered a quaint little non-scholarship conference that isn’t

even big-time enough to hold a postseason tournament. Where the

games are played almost exclusively on weekends, so as not to

interfere with schoolwork.

A two-bit conference.

Not a two-bid conference.

Better-known for producing U.S. presidents than professional

basketball players, the Ivy League has never sent two teams to the

NCAA tournament in one year. But bracket-watchers agree that

Harvard might have a chance this year if it loses to Princeton in a

conference tiebreaker on Saturday.

”There’s a certain perception, and you just hope that the

committee studies and analyzes and looks at those teams,” ESPN

analyst Dick Vitale said this week in a telephone interview. ”That

always helps. People say, ‘Wow! There’s some pretty good basketball

played there.’ These are basketball people, so they know quality

basketball when they see it.”

Harvard and Princeton finished the regular season as the Ivy

co-champions, but because the conference doesn’t have a postseason

tournament they will have to play a tiebreaker at a neutral site –

Yale’s campus in New Haven, Conn. – to claim the automatic NCAA


A victory against Princeton on Saturday would give the Crimson

their first NCAA berth since 1946. But a loss could accomplish

something even more historic: the conference’s first-ever at-large

NCAA bid.

”I think if people look at our body of work, it’s not out of

the realm of possibility,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. ”I’m

very hopeful about that. I think that would be an important step in

the growth of the league.”

The last Ancient Eight school to win a conference title, Harvard

(23-5, 12-2) is making its NCAA case with wins over potential

tournament teams Boston College, Colorado, Princeton and Boston

University. According to the ”NCAA tournament resume” compiled by

the Harvard sports information office, the Crimson are No. 35 in

RPI, ahead of bubble teams such as BC, Colorado and Virginia


Of its five defeats so far, four were to schools in the NCAA

picture – all on the road. Two of them were largely without All-Ivy

forward Kyle Casey. Three came by a total of eight points.

And this despite having no seniors on a team that sent its best

player from last season – Jeremy Lin – to the NBA.

”If they lose that game, they’ve certainly got to be on the

table for consideration,” Vitale said. ”I think Harvard’s got a

fighting chance.”

Harvard has a stronger case than Princeton (24-6, 12-2) for an

at-large bid, Vitale said, and Tigers coach Sydney Johnson isn’t

counting on a second chance if the Tigers lose on Saturday.

”It’s certainly challenging,” he said after beating Penn 70-58

on Tuesday night to force the one-game tiebreaker. ”It’s a grind.

It’s everything on the line. But I think it’s the way to do it in a

single-bid league.”

But the Ivies might not be a single-bid league for long.

With a tournament field that has expanded to 68 teams, there is

room for three more than last year. And the conference’s recent

success in the event could also work in Harvard’s favor.

Last year, Cornell made it to the round of 16 before losing to

No. 1-seed Kentucky in the East Region semifinals. Harvard guard

Brandyn Curry remembers watching the Big Red knock off Temple and

Wisconsin – schools with long basketball pedigrees – and thinking

the Ivies’ time had come.

”It gave the Ivy League some respectability,” he said. ”I

don’t think anybody will take an Ivy League team lightly


Former Cornell coach Steve Donahue, who left for Boston College

after the season, agreed.

”I think Harvard and Princeton are two of the best teams in the

country,” he said, even though an at-large Ivy bid could come at

BC’s expense. ”They deserve it.”

Vitale noted that strange things can happen in other conference

tournaments that eat up the available at-large bids. So, he has

some advice for the Crimson as they head into the Saturday’s


”Go for the knockout punch,” he said, ”and win.”