Anything can happen.
We’ve seen it countless times in sports: the underdog triumphs, a team comes back from a three-goal deficit to win, or a shot is made with .4 seconds left on the clock. The Harvard women’s basketball team better hope for the unexpected as the Ivy League schedule comes to a close. The Crimson is clinging to the edge of the Ivy title race, and a single misstep could push it out of contention.
After starting out its season with a roller coaster of wins and losses, Harvard slowly gained the consistency that a championship team needs to win it all. It built a seven-game winning streak that included a win at home against defending Ivy League champion Princeton. But a loss to Brown and a sweep by Yale ruined the team’s unblemished Ivy record and pushed the Bulldogs above the Crimson in the Ivy standings.
The prospects do not look bright for Harvard (16-9, 8-3 Ivy), which sits in third in the conference standings behind Princeton (21-4, 10-1) and Yale (13-13, 9-3). But with three games left for Harvard and the Tigers, and two games left for the Bulldogs, there is still a chance for the Crimson. Let’s analyze the ways the Ivy league could unfold in the coming days.
All the Tigers need to do to make their second consecutive NCAA tournament is win two of its next three games against Dartmouth, Harvard, and Penn. With three wins, Princeton’s record would stand at 13-1, at least a full game ahead of the Crimson and Bulldogs.
Needless to say, the Crimson must win its next three games—all on the road—against Penn, the Tigers, and Dartmouth if it wants a chance at sharing Princeton’s spot atop the standings. But Harvard will also need some help from either Penn or Dartmouth. If either the Quakers or Big Green in addition to Harvard can upset the Tigers, then Princeton will have to hold off on booking its ticket to the tourney. The Tigers would finish with an 11-3 record, allowing the Crimson and the Elis to still be in contention.
The only way that Harvard or Yale could win the title outright is if Princeton lost its next three games; but with Dartmouth ranked seventh in the league, it’s unlikely that will happen. But here are two ways in which the Crimson could at least force a playoff for the title.
If the Tigers lose two of their next three games, Yale loses one or two of its games, and Harvard wins out, then the Crimson and Princeton would be tied at the top of the Ivy League with 11-3 records.
The probability of Yale losing at least one game is remarkably high, as the Bulldogs face fourth-ranked Columbia next Friday. When the squads first met, the Lions came out on top, 67-57. The first time Harvard faced Columbia, the Crimson pulled out a win with a buzzer-beater by freshman Christine Clark, proving that even with a 5-7 conference record, Columbia has the chops to pull out a victory against Yale.
With a loss to Columbia, the Bulldogs would be out of contention and Harvard and Princeton would square off in a one-game playoff with the winner claiming the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The most interesting situation by far is if Princeton loses two games and both Yale and Harvard win out. If this were to happen, all three teams would be tied in the Ivy League with an 11-3 record.
As Ivy League rules state, if more than two teams are tied, a pair of one-game playoffs will be held with a coin toss to decide which squad gets a bye in the opening round. The last time a three-team tie took place was during the 2007-08 season when Harvard, Cornell, and Dartmouth all finished the season 11-3. The Big Green beat the Crimson in the first playoff, while Cornell crushed Dartmouth in the final playoff to secure the NCAA berth.
So yes, anything can happen.
—Staff writer Brian A. Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Alex Sopko can be reached at email@example.com.