Recapping the news from a historic week in Ivy League basketball:
Yale reaches the second round. It wasn’t shocking that 12-seed Yale beat 5-seed Baylor on Thursday afternoon; despite the difference in seeding, the Bulldogs were projected as just a three-point underdog, and they matched up well with the Bears. But how it happened was a surprise. Past Ivy upsets have tended to be defensive, low-scoring games, and Yale — with a top-20 defense nationally and a slow-paced offense — seemed to fit the same pattern. But instead, the Bulldogs thrived in a 79-75 shootout, winning despite allowing 1.12 points per possession.
Makai Mason made just 33% of his mid-range jumpers in Ivy play, but he banged in five straight in the game’s first 12 minutes, finishing with a game for the ages (31 points, six rebounds, four assists). The turning point came early in the second half, when consecutive fouls by Brandon Sherrod and Justin Sears sent the starting frontcourt — the centerpiece of Yale’s roster — to the bench. The resulting lineup of Mason, Anthony Dallier, Nick Victor, Blake Reynolds and Sam Downey had played exactly two minutes together all season (one at SMU, one at Harvard). Yet on the biggest stage, it reeled off a 10-1 run and finished in positive territory over nearly 10 minutes, allowing the starters to come back and finish off the game despite a late scare.
After the game, Ivy diehards like yours truly rushed to laud the league’s recent NCAA tournament success — 4-3 in the first round since 2010, with two losses on the last possession, all against top-five seeds — and declare the Ancient Eight underrated. It’s self-serving, but it’s also true. Three different Ivy teams have won in March this decade: Cornell twice in 2010, Harvard in ’13 and ’14, and now Yale. The only other leagues that can say that (by current affiliation, excluding 16-seeds in the First Four) are the top 10 conferences in college basketball: the Power Five plus the American, Atlantic-10, Big East, Mountain West and West Coast.
All of those leagues regularly get multiple bids to the NCAA tournament. The Ivy League isn’t there yet, but it looks on its way. Maybe by then, we won’t have any more questions like this:
Yale entered Saturday’s second-round game against Duke as a six-point underdog and lost by seven, but the story wasn’t nearly that simple. The Blue Devils rained three-pointers from the opening tip, leading by as many as 27 points in the first half. But Yale’s defense stepped up in the second half, flustering Duke with pressure and allowing 14 points in 16 minutes. Even after trailing by a dozen points with three-and-a-half minutes to play, Yale pulled within one possession, but it couldn’t get all the way back. Even during the big comeback — and while shooting 4-23 from three-point range — the Bulldogs had more chances: They blew two fast breaks in the final 10 minutes, and their hopes were dashed when the record-setting Sherrod missed a two-footer.
The Bulldogs were the preseason Ivy favorite by a nose, but I don’t think anybody foresaw them going 13-1, becoming a top-50 team nationally, or coming within a couple shots of the Sweet 16.
The women’s bracket gets #2BidIvy. Last week, I made the case for Princeton to get an at-large bid to the women’s NCAA tournament. Deep down, though, I didn’t believe it would happen, especially as major-conference bubble teams made the field. But late in the selection show, after conference champion Penn was revealed as a 10-seed, there the Tigers were as an 11 — the first time the Ivy League got two NCAA tournament bids on either the men’s or women’s side. (And with a conference tournament coming next season, it will go down as the only old-fashioned #2BidIvy ever.)
Princeton played first, facing 6-seed West Virginia in Friday’s first wave of games. The Tigers led for most of the first half, but a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter provided the Mountaineers’ margin of victory. Alex Wheatley, one of five seniors, scored 18 points on 9-10 shooting (plus six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks), but the Tigers were held to a 25% offensive rebound rate, well below their season average of 41%.
Likewise, Penn’s battle with 7-seed Washington was tight until the final period. The first half was suited to the Quakers’ style (25-24 at halftime), and both teams finished below a point per possession, but 17 turnovers were the underdogs’ undoing. Sydney Stipanovich led Penn with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but her teammates shot 32% from the floor. With all six core players returning next season, the Quakers will be heavy favorites to repeat.
Princeton falls in the NIT. The Tigers trailed by 10 points at the nine-minute mark, but a 13-2 run — capped by a behind-the-back pass from Steven Cook that set up an Amir Bell three — gave the visitors a lead at Virginia Tech. They were still up two with the ball in the final minute until Spencer Weisz’ costly turnover in the backcourt let the Hokies tie it from the foul line. Devin Cannady somehow missed a last-second shot, and the Tigers fell in overtime of the first round of the NIT.
Princeton was unfortunate not to get a home game — which could have made the difference on Wednesday — but this was the type of game it will have to play (and win) to build a credible at-large case next season. The Tigers will have the talent, with every rotation player (plus Hans Brase) returning from this year’s top-75 team. Virginia Tech is likewise loaded with returning talent, so let’s have a rematch in the NCAA tournament next March?
Columbia is the last team standing. The Lions blew out Norfolk State in the first round of the CIT behind a classic Maodo Lo performance, and they’re now the final Ivy League basketball team playing on either the men’s or women’s side. Thanks to the awkward 26-team CIT field, Columbia received a bye to the quarterfinals by virtue of its KenPom ranking. (Wouldn’t it be great if the CIT committee also seeded the NCAA tournament field?) The Lions will host Ball State on Wednesday.
Bill Courtney is done at Cornell. After six years, the Big Red will move on from Courtney, whose contract expired this season. Cornell was the only team not to finish in the top half of the league in that time, and a nine-game losing streak in Ivy play likely sealed Courtney’s fate. His shoot-first, ask-questions-later system produced the league’s worst offense in each of the last two seasons, but he leaves talent on next year’s roster, led by rising sophomore Matt Morgan.
Rob Browne at Ivy Hoops Online has a long list of possible replacements, including a few worth highlighting: Army coach Zach Spiker, a former Cornell assistant (though his sights are probably set higher after leading the Black Knights to their best seasons since a guy named Krzyzewski); Penn assistant Nat Graham, also a former Cornell assistant; and Williams coach Kevin App, a 2007 Cornell graduate.