Princeton 1975. Columbia 2016. Through the history of college basketball, only two Ivy League teams have ever cut down the nets as the winner of a postseason tournament. In 1975, it was Princeton that defeated Providence in the championship game to win the NIT. Last season, Columbia defeated UC-Irvine to win the CIT. Given that the Ivy League has not held a conference tournament before, last season was truly the second ever postseason championship by a school from this conference. And Columbia’s CIT championship was not even the biggest March highlight for the Ivy. That came in the NCAA Round of 64 when Yale, making their first appearance since 1962, picked up their first ever NCAA Tournament win, upsetting 5 seed Baylor by 4 points before falling to Duke in the next round. Princeton rounded out the cast of postseason teams, earning a berth into the NIT.
This year, we are guaranteed to have an Ivy League team celebrating a postseason tournament championship. That is because the Ivy has become the last conference in the country to institute a postseason conference tournament to determine its automatic bid recipient. Only the top four teams will qualify to the event, which will occur on the last weekend of the season at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Princeton and Harvard appear to be heavy favorites to capture two of those four spots, but there should be some fun battles lower in the standings for the other two. Cornell has a rising program, Yale will be looking to repeat despite some key offseason losses, and Dartmouth may be the league’s surprise team. Obviously, don’t count out Penn, as they will have the home court advantage if they can just make it into the top four.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Princeton – The Tigers return all five of their starters, four of whom are seniors, led by Henry Caruso, Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz. To make things even better, Hans Brase, who averaged 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game two years ago, is back after missing last season due to injury.
2. Harvard – The Crimson will be dangerous with Siyani Chambers back and healthy, the return of double-double threat Zena Edosomwan, and a recruiting class by head coach Tommy Amaker that is ranked in the Top 20 nationally.
3. Cornell – New head coach Brian Earl has almost every player returning from last season, led by guards Matt Morgan (18.9 points per game) and Robert Hatter (17.1 points per game). The Big Red have a chance to be a surprise contender.
4. Yale – Makai Mason averaged 16 points per game last year, but is the only starter returning this season. With Justin Sears, Jack Montague and company all having graduated, the Bulldogs are likely to take a step or two back.
5. Dartmouth – The Big Green have a chance to be in the running for one of the four conference tournament spots with Ivy League Rookie of the Year Evan Boudreaux leading the way for new head coach David McLaughlin.
6. Pennsylvania – Four starters are back, but the one the Quakers lost was big, literally. 6-11 center Darien Nelson-Henry was a nightly double-double threat and a solid shot blocker. Steve Donahue may not have anyone able to step up and fill those shoes.
7. Columbia – Four starters and head coach Kyle Smith are all gone, so the expectations will not be too high this season. The Lions did grab a very strong replacement for Smith in NJIT’s Jim Engles, so don’t be surprised to see the Lions back among the league leaders in a year or two.
8. Brown – The Bears have three senior guards led by Tavon Blackmon, but they did lose double-double and shot blocking threat Cedric Kuakumensah from a team that only went 10-20. Improving on that record this season could be difficult.