When the Quakers defeat Yale tonight at the Palestra, it will mark the 37th time in the past 39 years that either Princeton or Penn has earned the Ivy League’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. This year’s Penn team just might be in position to make something of its invitation, too. Seniors Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller, the mighty Quakers who have terrorized the rest of the league over their four-year tenure in Philadelphia, bring the oft-hailed tournament experience to the Big Dance.
But does that actually mean anything? It certainly puts more pressure on the duo, for if Penn hopes to not get immediately ushered to the sidelines, it will need huge games from its two leaders, as the Quakers have little quality depth. If Penn were to pull off an initial-round upset, it would be the first tourney win by an Ivy since 1998, when fifth-seeded Princeton beat UNLV. And if they don’t, well, the schadenfreude derived from watching the Ivy League bully get pounded by a member of college basketball’s elite ranks has grown to become a particularly enjoyable March pastime.
But before we look forward to that perverse pleasure, let’s take a spin Around the Ivies, one last time…
YALE (13-12, 9-3 Ivy)at PENN (19-8, 10-1)
Penn has its own answer to the rabid fan base of New Haven’s John J. Lee Amphitheater, and its students will be out in force at the Palestra Friday night to help the Quakers avenge their only loss of the Ivy slate and again hoist the league banner. Yale can play with Penn-at home, with the support of the Dawg Pound. The Bulldogs haven’t won in the Philly hoops chapel since 1997, and Penn will take this one handily.
HARVARD (11-15, 4-8)at CORNELL (15-11, 8-4)
The Crimson returns to the scene of the crime. Clinging to a four-point lead with under two minutes left against the Big Red in Ithaca last season, and with both Matt Stehle ‘06 and Brian Cusworth ‘06-07 having fouled out, Harvard watched as Cornell extracted the life from its season. Captain Lenny Collins nailed two huge threes to tie the game, then shot up an air ball on the final possession, which somehow found the hands of forward Jason Hartford, who put in the open layup for the win. That loss was the first of eight straight for Harvard.
The Crimson already got its revenge earlier this season, however, handing the Big Red a shocking last-second one-point loss at Lavietes Pavilion, critically damaging their title hopes. This time, bad memories and three-point shooting lead to a Cornell victory in the snow upstate.
DARTMOUTH(9-16, 4-8)at COLUMBIA (14-12, 5-7)
The Big Green has played well as of late: they dispatched Princeton last Friday to sweep the season series from the Tigers, then played an inspired game against Penn Saturday night, leading late in the game before eventually falling by two.
Dartmouth, however, is just 3-9 on the road, and Columbia handled the Big Green by six up in Hanover, so things don’t look good for Leon Pattman and Co.
BROWN (10-17, 5-7)at PRINCETON (11-14, 2-9)
Speaking of schadenfreude, who hasn’t enjoyed Princeton’s long, bumpy fall to the bottom of the standings? It’s been a three year devolution for the former heavyweights: 2004-05 saw the Tigers post their first sub-.500 Ivy record, last year brought a miserable non-league performance preceding a recovery in league play (10-4, a record now looking like the classic “dead cat bounce”), and this year will likely end up with Princeton in last place for the first time ever.
The cellar won’t be guaranteed tonight, though: Princeton, utilizing the scrap of pride it still retains, will beat the Bears.
DARTMOUTH at CORNELL
The Big Red conquers the Green in Ithaca, as Cornell finishes the year on an upswing and begins looking forward to a stacked title contender in 2007-08.
BROWN at PENN
The Quakers won’t need this one for the title, but they can’t afford to lose another game for NCAA tournament purposes. The difference between a 15 and a 14 seed lies in trap games like this. Savvy veterans Jaaber and Zoller will ensure the champs won’t fall to coach Miller’s former employer.
YALE at PRINCETON
The Bulldogs get a split on the southern trip with a win over the limping Tigers, who now need a victory against nemesis Penn on Tuesday to finish in an even a tie for last place. They won’t get that one, either, and will have the spacious basement to themselves for the whole offseason.
HARVARD at COLUMBIA
The Lions have zero seniors on their roster. The Crimson, of course, has two: forward Brian Darcy and captain Jim Goffredo. While everyone on Columbia’s bench has at least one more year to look forward to, for Darcy and Goffredo this is the final salvo. Sporting the psychological edge, Harvard will step up to finish this year, like last, with a win over the Lions.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.