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
”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
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
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.”