Friday, February 25, 2011

14-Game Tournament: America Loves Drama

No one expected Princeton to survive the four-game road trip unscathed.

But there the Tigers were, having dispatched the three toughest challenges, according to Pomeroy, and needing just one more win at Brown to maintain a commanding lead in the Ivy race. With a return home to face Columbia and Cornell and a trip to Dartmouth upcoming, Princeton would have little trouble showing up in Boston on March 5th at 12-0 in league play.

Then the Bears proved why Saturday night road games have a special distinction in the minds of the Ivy League faithful. Brown built an 11-point first half lead, only to watch Princeton chip it away entirely to grab a one-point lead of its own. Undaunted, the Bears immediately responded with a 21-10 run to go up double-digits with under three minutes to go and never looked back.

Meanwhile, Harvard was beginning the same road trip - just on a week's delay. The Crimson had little problem dispensing with Cornell and Columbia, but now must deal with the pairing that gave the Tigers trouble, starting tonight at Brown.

Harvard has exactly the same stakes as Princeton as well. A sweep would have it return home to Boston at 11-1, needing just a win as a near-double-digit favorite against Penn to set up a winner-take-all showdown (for Harvard, at least) for the NCAA berth. A loss at either Brown or Princeton would swing the odds back to the Tigers' favor, though barely.


Harvard           23             5           12             2
Princeton           24             6           12             2
Penn           14           14             8             6
Yale           14           14             7             7
Columbia           15           13             6             8
Cornell             9           19             5             9
Brown           12           16             5             9
Dartmouth             6           22             2           12

Total     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8
Brown 0% 0% 0% 3% 15% 43% 39% 0%
Columbia 0% 0% 20% 30% 45% 5% 0% 0%
Cornell 0% 0% 1% 3% 14% 55% 27% 0%
Dartmouth 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 2% 97%
Harvard 74% 26% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Penn 0% 1% 74% 19% 5% 1% 0% 0%
Princeton 52% 48% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Yale 0% 0% 43% 41% 15% 1% 0% 0%

Despite the fact that Harvard and Princeton are expected to end up with the same record, that hardly means a playoff is predestined. The necessity for a tiebreak is still at around 26 percent, which is only a few ticks higher than it was to start the season.

With so few reasonable scenarios left, it's easy enough to explore a few of the most likely ones from this weekend to see their impact on the race as it heads into March. As a brief aside, the odds stated in these scenarios would be subject to slight changes depending on how different the performance this weekend is to expectations, but they should be very close in any case.

If Harvard splits this weekend and Princeton sweeps, then the title odds fall back to almost 50/50 (PRIN - 54 percent, HAR - 46 percent) and the playoff odds rocket up to 36 percent. If both teams sweep or if both teams split, then the Crimson vaults to 74 percent to win the NCAA bid and the playoff odds would fall to 17 percent.


Harvard at Brown

Only two teams have beaten Princeton every year since it last won the title in 2004. One is Cornell. The other? Brown.

The Bears have established themselves over the past couple years, if not as the Giant Killers, at least the Giant Annoyers (throwing in Brown's first 25 minutes at Cornell in 2010 and at Harvard this season). With a potent offense and a defense that is highly competent at clearing the boards, Brown is able to hang with teams well above its level.

Over the course of a game, however, opponents can take advantage of the Bears' terrible interior defense and its inability to force turnovers to put together strings of effective possessions. None of this is helped, of course, by the fact that Brown plays at the fastest pace of any Ivy team, making the games longer than they have to be.

Case in point: Heading into possession number 60 in Boston two weekends ago, Brown still led Harvard 66-65. Sadly, there were still over eight minutes left to go. Much like it had over the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Crimson dominated the final eight to win 85-78.

Predictive Model: Harvard 73, Brown 67

Cornell at Princeton

After going 0-4 in January, the Big Red has quietly become quite dangerous. The record may only show a 3-3 mark over the last six, but Cornell's opponents during that time know the real story.

Yale had to scramble to overcome a 65-55 deficit with two minutes to go to win 71-70. The Tigers trailed 55-53 with two minutes left only to score the final two buckets of the game for a 57-55 victory.

Despite hanging close at home, however, this matchup isn't good for the Big Red. Princeton is the league's best three-point shooting defense, and if you haven't noticed, that's about all Cornell does. Also, the Big Red loves to put opponents on the line on defense, and the Tigers are the league's second-best team at getting there.

Cornell didn't break 50 at Princeton either of the last two years, and this Tigers defense is almost as good as last year's and definitely better than 2009's. The game should be played a lot faster than last year's 53 possessions though, which should allow the Big Red to hit 50 and maybe even 60.

Predictive Model: Princeton 72, Cornell 61

Predictive Model For Other Friday Night Games:
Penn 71, Columbia 64
Yale 69, Dartmouth 55


Columbia at Princeton

After getting embarrassed at home by the Tigers, the Lions have a chance to respond on Saturday night. Despite trailing by as many as 20, early in the second half, Columbia got within 13 of Princeton with just under eight to play, but then proceeded to score a single free throw the rest of the way, as the Tigers finished the game on an 18-1 run to win by 30.

That game was the last in a three-game stretch where Columbia's defense just disappeared, allowing adjusted defensive ratings of 118, 107 and 121 to Brown, Yale and Princeton. The last three games have been much better, as the Lions held Penn, Dartmouth and Harvard to ratings of 97, 99 and 104, respectively.

The Lions offense has been a different story. After trending at 101 over the first six games of league play, Columbia has bottomed out, posting a pair of 75 adjusted offensive ratings against Harvard and Princeton and an 88 against Dartmouth.

If the Lions can't close the 9.2 percentage point eFG shooting gap in Ivy play, it's highly questionable whether this team will win another game all season.

Predictive Model: Princeton 73, Columbia 60

Harvard at Yale

The Crimson's final road game of the year comes, sure enough, in New Haven against the rival Bulldogs.

If the rivarly itself wasn't enough of an excuse, Yale will either have the opportunity to knock Harvard from the driver's seat in the Ivy race (if the Crimson beats Brown on Friday), or it will have a chance to almost dispatch Harvard from the race entirely (if the Crimson loses in Providence).

The Bulldogs have reason to bring lots of confidence into this one, as they played Harvard extremely tough in Boston two weekends ago and might have even been able to flip the result if a dominant Greg Mangano had been able to avoid foul trouble.

Meanwhile, this weekend is uncharted waters for Harvard, which has never led the Ivy League this late in the season. Also, a win over No. 182 Yale would be its third-best road victory of the season, just behind a five-point win at No. 158 George Washington (a game in which the Crimson trailed by nine in the second half) and a double-overtime conquest at No. 171 Pennsylvania. Not exactly the most encouraging set of road performances upon which to base expectations.

Predictive Model: Harvard 67, Yale 65

Predictive Model For Other Saturday Night Games:
Brown 71, Dartmouth 60
Penn 70, Cornell 64


Sweep - 21.3%; Split - 69.5%; Swept - 9.2%

Sweep - 2.2%; Split - 28.5%; Swept - 69.3%

Sweep - 2.4%; Split - 30.8%; Swept - 66.9%

Sweep - 0.8%; Split - 17.0%; Swept - 82.2%

Sweep - 44.7%; Split - 45.3%; Swept - 9.9%

Sweep - 56.1%; Split - 37.6%; Swept - 6.3%

Sweep - 82.7%; Split - 16.5%; Swept - 0.8%

Sweep - 38.3%; Split - 57.9%; Swept - 3.8% 


  1. Just to clarify, if there is a tie, even if Princeton sweeps Harvard to get there, the Ivy League would still have a playoff game. There is no two-game tiebreaker for the automatic bid.

  2. That is correct and an important clarification. More than a few folks have asked me that this week, and while it may be patently obvious to those that follow the league closely, it is worth stating for those that might have just started tuning in.

  3. Hmmm. Neither Princeton nor Harvard could survive their weekend at Brown-Yale without a loss. So typical of Ivy seasons. 23% of Ivy seasons have ended with an unbeaten champ, but it's harder than it looks.

    Harvard had a couple reasonable shots to win their game, while Princeton did not.

    Gonna be a great final weekend.

    At this point, it ought to be about a 50-50 proposition for a neutral site playoff????