Will There Be an Ivy Playoff This Year?

For the past two years, I have written columns, discussed in depth with friends, and even published a faux letter to the Ivy League pleading with them about an Ivy League tournament for basketball. This weekend, my wish may be granted.

Many, including myself, expected Cornell to run away with the League this year. Sure, all-Ivy League performer Adam Gore re-injured his knee. And sure, Louis Dale missed the first half of the season. But with the core still intact from last year’s 14-0 squad, anything short of another perfect campaign would be a disappointment.

Cornell returned 76.8 percent of its scoring from a year ago. Furthermore, the talent among the Ivy League was expected to be down. The teams were younger. Graduation deprived Brown of two all-Ivy players (Damon Huffman and Mark McAndrew), Columbia of two-time all-Ivy Leaguer John Baumann, and Yale of Eric Flato.

With so many unknowns and a recruiting class that was supposedly near a top-50 mark at Harvard, nobody could tell who was going to follow the Big Red. Cornell was the unanimous choice in the preseason poll, followed by Penn, Yale, Harvard, and Brown lumped together. Surprisingly, the bottom three (Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton) are currently ahead of the pre-season top four (except for Yale).

So what gives? How come Cornell has lost three Ivy games this season?

Despite playing challenging road non-conference games, such as at Siena, Indiana, Syracuse, and Minnesota, the Big Red has struggled away from home (they currently have a 19-game home winning streak). In the Ivy League, they possess only a 4-3 road record.

Further, Cornell’s scoring and field goal percentages have been down from last season. While Ryan Wittman and Geoff Reeves have improved statistically in nearly every area, they have taken the biggest hit up front.

Jeff Foote has developed into one of the best big men in the League. But aside from him, Cornell has gotten inconsistent play from Alex Tyler and Brian Kreefer. During their undefeated season, Cornell rotated three bigs (Tyler, Foote, and Jason Hartford), allowing one to rest. This year, they have not gotten enough from Kreefer to do that. This has produced poor performances offensively and defensively against fellow bigs, resulting in losses at Harvard and Princeton.

This could all be for naught if Cornell takes care of business or Princeton losses at Columbia—something that could occur given the Lions’ strong performance at home and that a number of Columbia’s key players have taken time off. If it falls Princeton’s way, it’ll essentially set up a one-game playoff at Cornell to see if there is another one-game playoff.

While this may sound confusing, here are the facts: since the Ivy League has no tournament, if two teams finish tied in the standings, they play a one-game playoff to see who goes to the NCAA Tournament. The league picks a neutral location (as was the case last year when there was three-team play-in at Columbia for the women’s crown).

The possibility of this is quite exciting. A one-game play-in could garner some television rights for the League. Since it is such a rarity— this last happened in 2002 with Yale, Princeton, and Penn all tying—it could produce some excitement in a league that currently needs it. Up until last season, any journalist could have projected either Penn or Princeton winning the league.

Now, with Cornell supplanting the Killer P’s at the top, any sort of upset would be beneficial to the Ivy League. If this play-in game were to happen, and Princeton were to win (I know, I am clearly jumping ahead, considering that I think Columbia has a great chance of dashing the Tigers’ hopes), it would send two Ivy League teams to playoff basketball for only the third time since 2000. Cornell, with a current RPI rating of 100, is on the cusp of making the National Invitation Tournament if it were to lose the League.

On the flip side, Cornell losing the League would most likely put Princeton in the 65-game in the NCAA tournament. So what should you root for this weekend? Columbia squashing Princeton’s hopes, so that the Lions assure a .500 finish and Cornell plays a probable 3-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Max Puro is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. sports@columbiaspectator.com

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