Is it really a debate? Many scribes and Ivy observers say no. The greatest Ivy team of all time? Easy.
It’s either the 1964-65 Princeton Tigers with the greatest Ivy player ever, Bill Bradley, or the 1970-71 Penn Quakers with their gaudy 28-1 record, which included a perfect 26-0 in the regular season.
Those Tigers never rose higher than No. 20 in the polls, and that Penn team had the bewildering 90-47 loss to a Villanova team which it had beaten during the regular season.
But wait a minute. How about the long forgotten 1966-67 Princeton team, coached by Butch van Breda Kolff? They did a few things which no other Ivy has done.
The Tigers that season went 25-3 and 13-1 in Ivy play, beating No. 2 UNC at fabled Carmichael Arena. They blew out the second-best Rutgers team ever, led by All-American Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano, on the road and came within a hair of beating Carolina again, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-70 in overtime, after beating West Virginia in the first round. They came back to blast a very strong St. John’s team in the Regional consolation game, rising as high as No. 3 in the polls and finished No. 5.
Who better to ask than Gary Walters, the star sophomore point guard on the ’64-’65 team and the all-everything on the ’66-’67 team? There is no question in his mind that the latter Tiger team was superior. It didn’t boast the best player in the land in Bradley but nevertheless enjoyed incredibly balanced scoring and rebounding and probably was the only team in the country capable of giving the Lew Alcindor-led UCLA national championship team a run for its money.
Two Princeton players adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 27, 1967, whose title read, “Princeton Builds a Basketball Dynasty.” That was probably prophetic, as from 1964 to 1979, Princeton was easily one of the top 20 programs in the country. The ’66-67 Tigers’ two top players were Walters and sophomore center Chris Thomforde from Long Island. Thomforde had a tremendous high school career and chose Princeton over the likes of Northwestern, Duke and Dean Smith’s UNC. Frosh were not eligible to play varsity when Thomforde entered, and his frosh team was undistinguished.
Thomforde had to beat out talented Robinson Brown for the coveted center spot on the varsity and did so quickly. Brown was classy about losing his spot and at times, both players played simultaneously. Thomforde and Walters developed a quick chemistry and played like veterans together. Thomforde cites the road Rutgers blowout win and the win at UNC as season highlights and firmly believes that the ’67 team could have competed with UCLA for the national championship if it had not entered the NCAA tourney so injured. Thomforde had played competitively against Alcindor in high school. But Walters had injured his hamstring against Rutgers, John Haarlow had a high ankle sprain and Ed Hummer had a bad hip.
Thomforde got to know Bradley in his junior season, when Bradley returned from his two-year Rhodes Scholarship stint. They have maintained a lifelong friendship. Bradley credits Thomforde for playing on the second-best Princeton team of all-time. Thomforde felt that he knew better but never engaged the former New Jersey senator and presidential candidate in a debate on the topic. He respected Bradley far too much.
After years of debating and voting on the efficacy of an Ivy League Tournament, the first one is in the books.
And it certainly has engendered much discussion amongst the Ivy faithful, given its prominence on the ESPN family of networks this past weekend (ESPNU for the semifinals and ESPN2 for the final).
From a national perspective, not so much, despite the fact that the venerable college basketball writer John Feinstein was one of the media members in attendance for the Saturday session. With that said, here is an attempt to grade the event in different categories:
Yale entered last Saturday night’s home game against Penn under second -year head coach Allison Guth with an Ivy record of 2-7, while Penn stood at 8-0. But Yale stunned Penn, 61-48. IHO caught up with coach Guth after the game.
Ivy Hoops Online: After the Princeton loss on Friday night, did you have an indication that your team would step up to the extent that it did against the team which you characterize as the top of the Ivy?
Allison Guth: I believe in this team and our ability to compete at the highest level. The challenge we have faced this season is our ability to perform consistently to our potential. I thought that we had a very inspired focus at shootaround and that our team was prepared to play a poised game vs a very good Penn team.
Trey Phills and Nick Victor are different people. Really.
Phills is a sophomore at Yale and stands 6-foot-2. Victor graduated from Yale last year and stands 6-foot-5. He currently plays in Norway and last week was named Player Of The Week in his league, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Yes, he is just one piece of a complicated puzzle, a puzzle created by the graduation of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod and confounded even more by a season-ending injury to preseason Ivy Player of the Year favorite Makai Mason.
On October 1, eight members of the Yale men’s basketball teams of 1962, 1963 and 1964 met at Payne Whitney Gymnasium for a reunion dinner.
The author was lucky enough to be in attendance, having watched those teams play as a youth growing up in New Haven. Some of the team members present were All-American Rick Kaminsky, highly successful Ivy Funds originator Dennis Lynch and Connecticut resident and star guard Bob Trupin.
The evening was composed of a very well-done slide show and talks to the crowd by Kaminsky, 93-year-old former head coach Joe Vancisin and myself.