Over the last few weeks, teams across the Ivy League have been served hearty portions of humble pie. Not enough, mind you, for regurgitation of the preseason accolades rained down upon the League and its players, but sufficient to make you feel queasy about their postseason prospects. With roughly a month left until the postseason and the Ivy campaign half finished, now is a good time to assess the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Ancient Eight.
REACHING FOR THE TUMS
Princeton’s young guns played with tremendous swagger earlier in the year, quickly jumping out to a 4-0 record. Starting with their first nationally ranked opponent (No. 19 Monmouth), the team proceeded to lose five of its next six games—including defeats to Dartmouth and Brown. Although the Tigers are on a two-game winning streak, their midseason slump has all but eliminated them from the Ivy-title race. Rookie forward Matt Sanner is one to watch, though. With three goals and three assists thus far, the newcomer has emerged as one of the top contenders for Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
Penn, the co-defending Ivy champs, expected to face a difficult season after losing a strong senior class. I’m guessing, though, that it didn’t expect to be winless in its first three games. Nor could it have foreseen only getting a draw, at home, against a team that finished 1-15 last year (Here’s to you, Cornell). Midfielders Alex Takakuwa and Christian Barreiro have done well to score six goals apiece, but the defense has leaked in more goals (22) than any other team in the conference.
MILK WAS A BAD CHOICE
Dartmouth and Harvard, preseason favorites to contend for the Ivy title, loaded up their non-conference slate with games against ranked opponents. With both teams ranked in the top ten earlier this season (The Big Green were ranked as high as #5; the Crimson #6) and boasting prolific strikers like Daniel Keat, Lucky Mkosana (Dartmoth) and senior Andre Akpan (Harvard), their decisions seemed justified.
Or not. Three times Dartmouth has faced off against ranked opponents; three times they’ve walked away without a win. Suffice it to say, the Big Green is no longer ranked in the top ten.
Riding high on its own top ten status, the Crimson was brought down to Earth with a 1-0 loss at Wake Forest. Harvard followed up that loss with a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of then-No.17 Connecticut.
To be fair, the Huskies have feasted on all their opponents as of late; the team hasn’t allowed a goal in eight games, outscoring its opposition 16-0 during that span. Still, when you’re ranked sixth nationally, have a player contending for the Hermann trophy, and boast a goalkeeper with a sub-1.00 GAA, you shouldn’t be losing by four goals to any team.
Both Ivy teams have played well in-conference (Dartmouth is 3-0-0, Harvard 2-0-1), and the Ivy League has shown its ability to advance teams past the first round of the NCAA tournament. But the conference will need to demonstrate its capacity to consistently beat nationally ranked teams if it hopes to continue garnering national respect.
So, who wants dessert?
Princeton and Penn’s woes have effectively turned the Ivy championship into a three-horse race. Dartmouth, Harvard, and Brown (2-0-0) have all shown they are capable of winning the league, so the title will largely come down to how the teams fare against each other. Dartmouth still has to contend with away fixtures in Providence and Cambridge. Brown has already lost to Harvard and faces a difficult game this weekend against a resurgent Cornell squad.
The Crimson may be in the best position of the triumvirate. It has already topped Brown and hosts three of its last four Ivy games. Given the tight competition, however, Harvard has left itself with little room for error with its draw against the Big Red. The next two weeks against Princeton and Dartmouth may well wrap up the title for the Crimson if they obtain the maximum six points.
Regardless of who wins the Ivy crown it appears likely that all three teams, barring monumental collapse, will make the NCAA tournament. No. 11 Harvard, No. 15 Dartmouth, and No. 18 Brown have all played difficult non-conference schedules and the tournament committee will look favorably upon the teams’ overall records (All three have a winning percentage above .700).
Let’s pop some bottles