Up until the 2016-17 season, the Ivy League was the only conference to not hold their own tournament prior to Selection Sunday. At season’s end, the team with the best record would be the one with a ticket to the Big Dance.
Since we complain all the time that conference tournaments can end up sending an average team instead of their strongest into the field of 68, you would think the Ivy would have preferred to keep its long-standing selection method.
After all, it has worked rather well for 63 years.
In opening round games, the League is 3-3 over the last 6 years. Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen run in 2010 tallied two more wins on the League’s NCAA Tournament resume. Two of the three losses were both decided by two points at the hands of traditional powers Kentucky and North Carolina.
This year, the Ivy has produced yet another strong team capable of making noise in the Tournament. The Princeton Tigers entered the season as League favorites, and despite losing their assistant coach and two likely starters (injuries), the Tigers slowly muscled their way to an undefeated record in Ivy play.
The revenue and exposure attached to a conference tournament created a pull officials could not resist. Despite Princeton’s dominance, the new Ivy Tournament this year meant the Tigers had to win two more games in order to represent the Ivy League.
Princeton’s semi-final matchup was against the red-hot Penn Quakers at the Palestra. An eventual overtime win for Princeton was preceded by some scary moments where doubt crept in that the League would wind up advancing its best team.
But, the nail-biting gave way to reaffirmation, proving the worth of the Conference tournament.
After another exciting down-to-the-wire semi-final matchup, the Tigers faced Yale on Sunday. By halftime, a two-point margin kept fans glued to their seats or screens wondering if Princeton could indeed be knocked off. A ten point lead midway through the second half held, and the Tigers clinched their 27th League title, an Ivy best.
The inaugural Ivy League Tournament turned out to be a huge success. Three close games, all televised nationally on ESPN, gave the League the exposure it wanted.
Of course, tickets sold and additional revenue was added to the League’s small coffers. Best of all, the Ivy is still sending its best team to the Tournament, and they are a darn good one.
When asked about the Ivy Tournament, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson replied, “This experience, this weekend, has made us a lot better…” It sounds like the Tigers gained a valuable NCAA Tournament-like experience to help prepare them for the big stage.
Princeton’s undefeated record in League play shows that they are a good team, but good enough to beat ACC power Notre Dame?
Well, the Tigers’ best wins this season came against Bucknell and Harvard (not super impressive) while they lost to high caliber VCU and California, two teams still ranked significantly below the Fighting Irish.
Princeton has a 19-game winning streak which should give them momentum coming into Thursday’s match-up. The Tigers’ game revolves around their famously slow tempo.
This style of play, “The Princeton Offense,” keeps the Tigers virtually turnover-free and helps them maximize efficiency at both ends. Forty-one percent of their points come from three-point land, which could be a blessing or a curse.
Either way, our Ivy fans will undoubtedly enjoy this very first game of the 2017 Tournament. Princeton’s opponent may be the best 5-seed of the lot, but expect the Tigers to bare enough tooth and claw to proudly represent their League.
– M. Roitman