Don’t Miss: All our Ivy League Tournament analysis — thrilling semifinal wins for Princeton and Yale, and the small margins that decided them; Princeton clinching an NCAA bid, which was a long time coming, and Penn’s women doing the same; and why the two tournaments should continue to be played together.
Looking Back: A few leftover thoughts from the first #IvyMadness:
1. The people who matter most enjoyed the tournament… To hear players and coaches tell it, the first Ivy League Tournament was a smashing success. They all raved about the event during Friday’s shootaround, and many kept raving in press conferences over the weekend. “As a college basketball player, you live for moments like this. Fortunately, as a senior, I was able to get it once, but I think it’s a phenomenal thing for the league,” Spencer Weisz said Saturday, moments after that very tournament had almost cost him his last shot at an NCAA bid.
The fact that both dominant 1-seeds won helped people leave with positive impressions, but everyone on the court seemed happy to be there regardless. The coaches, and reportedly players, pushed hard to make a conference tournament happen — and after experiencing this season, I’ve gained a better appreciation of how big a deal this is for them. I already thought the tournament was here to stay, but that seems even clearer now.
2. …but not necessarily the format. Leading up to Saturday, the biggest story was the fact that unbeaten 1-seed Princeton was playing 4-seed Penn on the road — and it would have become an even bigger firestorm afterward if not for Myles Stephens. Mitch Henderson insisted he didn’t mind playing at The Palestra, but not everyone felt the same way.
Princeton women’s coach Courtney Banghart — never shy about sharing her thoughts — criticized the non-neutral location from the beginning. After losing Sunday’s final to the Quakers, she said it was ultimately fair this year because Penn was the top seed, but she advocated for another solution going forward. “We obviously have to work things out. Will that be three teams, so you can protect your #1? Clearly, having it on a home site, I don’t think is the way you run a tournament. But having to showcase more than your best team is important,” she said.
A three-team ladder is fun to consider, but the league doesn’t seem likely to reduce the number of participants now. (Also, it wouldn’t be very fair if two teams tied for the regular-season championship.) I argued this weekend that the league should keep the men’s and women’s tournaments together — a priority for them so far — which precludes giving the #1-seed home-court advantage. Personally, I don’t have a problem with The Palestra despite its partisanship, but it would be wise to try a tournament or two at neutral sites to see what works best.
Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris has said that the location of next year’s tournament will be determined at the athletic directors’ meeting in May. If this weekend was any indication, those discussions will be passionate.
3. Attendance was uninspiring. The announced attendance for the semifinals was 6,209, about 70% of The Palestra’s capacity; the finals were less than half-full at 3.833. In context, those numbers are just okay. Saturday’s crowd peaked for the Princeton-Penn game — the best possible matchup from an attendance standpoint, given the location — and dwindled to about half-full for the Harvard-Yale follow-up. Sunday’s crowd was lighter, and probably played worse on TV, since most fans were concentrated in the upper bowl (at least at tip-off).
There was some grumbling about ticket prices ($40+ for the semifinals, $60+ for both days), but that price could rise if the tournament moves to a neutral site, giving the league more costs to cover. A more central location (Bridgeport?) might help the northern fans, but don’t expect it to move the needle much. The Ivy’s best hope is for a gradual rise in attendance over a few years, as teams keep improving and fans get more used to penciling the tournament into their calendars.
Looking Even Further Back: As John Ezekowitz noticed, the Ivy League set a D-I record this year by taking 40% of its shots from three-point range. (Technically, I only know for sure that it’s a record of the KenPom era, since 2002, but since three-point rates were much lower in the 1990s, I’m comfortable calling it an all-time record.) That’s perhaps not much of a surprise — the Ancient Eight is traditionally a shooters’ league, and it’s had progressive coaches since the three-point line was born — but the Ivy was only middle of the pack last year at 35.6%.
Ivy teams also won exactly half of their home games (in conference play), the worst winning percentage in D-I. That’s mostly a fluke — in a 56-game season, only a few games make the difference between a normal home-court advantage and none at all — but it’s an ironic one in the context of last week’s Palestra debate. In general, home-court advantage has been slowly declining across college hoops.
And in non-news, the NCAA tournament process continues to be stacked against mid-majors. (At least good things are on the horizon in a few decades, when Matt Fraschilla eventually joins the selection committee.)
Looking Forward: No. 12 Princeton plays No. 5 Notre Dame on Thursday, in the very first game of the first round of the NCAA tournament. This is a pretty good draw, all things considered: Notre Dame is among the weaker teams the Tigers could have plausibly drawn (#25 in KenPom). Perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t have a dominant big man, the type of player Princeton has struggled against most.
But I’m reminded of some analysis Mike James (@ivybball) did a few years back, which found that big Ivy upsets almost always came against teams that were great defensively but less great on offense — the opposite of the Fighting Irish (#16 offense, #58 defense). Princeton’s defense is tough to score on, but great offense usually beats great defense.
The Tigers will have to shoot like they did in the second half against Yale to pull off an upset, which they’re capable of doing. At the very least, this game should be competitive — Ivies are 4-3 in first-round games this decade, all as double-digit seeds. (And the last time Notre Dame played in the Thursday opener, it almost suffered an even bigger upset.)
On the women’s side, No. 12 Penn plays No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday night. Like Princeton’s men, the Quakers can’t be upset with their draw — by avoiding a 13-seed, they dodged a first-round road game, and the Aggies are 28th in the Sagarin ratings — but FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 15% chance of winning. There are fewer upsets in general on the women’s side, and no Ivy team has won as an underdog since the ultimate underdog, No. 16 Harvard over No. 1 Stanford in 1998.