With anything new, there will likely be kinks, and the inaugural Ivy League Tournament is not exempt from that phenomenon. But despite the quirks and potential adjustments, both Tommy Amaker, coach of the Harvard men’s basketball team, and Kathy Delaney-Smith, coach of the Harvard women’s basketball team, are glad the tournament finally became a reality this year.
Given their respective records in conference play, 10-4 for the men and 8-6 for the women, the Crimson basketball season would have been over as the last whistle blew for each team last Saturday against Penn. But instead, they’re still alive.
“We’re so excited to be here,” Delaney-Smith said. “Especially we’re happy because we didn’t come in first and we wanted another shot to go against Penn and Princeton and Brown.”
The tournament also represents a clean slate for both squads. Both Amaker and Delaney-Smith’s teams were swept in their final weekend playing Princeton and Penn, the other two schools who are represented on both the men’s and women’s sides of the tournament (Yale rounds the group out for the men, Brown for the women).
On both the men’s and women’s side of the tournament, the number one seed ran away with the regular season title, with both Princeton for the men and Penn for the women holding a four point buffer over the number two seed on each side. But don’t tell Delaney-Smith her team is an underdog..
“I’ve been part of an upset a million years ago and there’s nothing like it,” Delaney-Smith said. “I’m a believer in the underdog so I—and this team knows—I didn’t care what seed I was or who I play in the first round. This is a new season for every team that’s here and you know the cards are going to fall where they fall and that’s fun.”
The upset Delaney-Smith was referencing came in 1998 when the Crimson became the only 16-seed to defeat a one-seed in NCAA Tournament history, men’s or women’s, when the team defeated Stanford.
The women’s team will get a chance to bounce back right away from last weekend, as it faces a rematch against Princeton. In two contests this season against the Tigers, the Crimson fell by five points on the road and just four points at home, with the first contest at Jadwin Gym going into overtime.
The men’s team finished the regular season in heartbreaking fashion, losing both games on last second shots by the Tigers and Quakers on back-to-back nights. Penn’s Jackson Donahue hit a three with 1.1 seconds to go on Saturday, sending Harvard home with an “L” and clinching a spot in the tournament for Penn.
“It doesn’t matter how you’re coming into a tournament, whether you’ve played well or for us in particular we’re coming off two losses our two previous games,” Amaker said. “What matters is what you do within the tournament. That’s the theory, that’s the philosophy that we’ve had and it’s worked well for in the past in any tournaments I’ve played in and have coached in.”
Both coaches brought up commentary in response to questions about whether the tournament is correctly formatted or being held in the right place, but both had overall positive reviews of the Ancient Eight’s first venture into tournament basketball. While both coaches noted they would have preferred if the tournament included all eight teams, Amaker reinforced the decision to hold the event at the Palestra despite concerns about Penn having a home-court advantage, while Delaney-Smith applauded the league for creating an exciting event creating buzz around Ivy League basketball.
“I think this weekend with all four teams on the women’s side and on the men’s side actually, anybody can beat anybody,” Delaney-Smith said. “That’s what makes this March Madness really fun. Who doesn’t love that?”
—Staff Writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org