After a thrilling Senior Night victory over Penn to keep their Ivy Tournament hopes alive, we sat down with Columbia head coach Jim Engles during his weekly media availability to ask him what he knows about the Ivy’s tiebreakers, Columbia’s road difficulties and more.
On Friday night, Penn clinched a berth in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament with a 47-34 victory over Cornell at the Palestra. The Red battled back from Penn’s initial 7-0 start, but could not counter the Quakers’ 11-0 run at the start of the second quarter. Both teams shot poorly (Cornell 24 percent overall and 18 percent from three; Penn 37 percent overall and 29 percent from three), but Penn’s more dominant inside game proved to be the difference.
The sudden resurgence of the Penn Quakers men’s basketball team has been one of the biggest stories of the Ivy League season. After an 0-6 start to conference play, including a four-game stretch where they lost by 12 at the Palestra to (preseason eighth-place) Brown, gave up an early 15-point lead in a defeat at Harvard, were upset by previously winless Dartmouth and got beat by 15 points at home to Princeton, many people (including this writer) were ready to write off the 2016-17 campaign. After the last two weekends, the team has regrouped and is now tied with Columbia for the final spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
Over the last four games, not only has the team played its best basketball of the season, the performances may have been the program’s most dominant in the last decade. The numbers that Penn has put up have been staggering.
It’s back. That deliciously dizzy feeling that madness is coming. As a rabid Princeton basketball fan of a certain age, I got used to this feeling years ago when the Tigers charged into the NCAA Tournament with regularity. Twice in the late ‘70s, four times in the ‘80s, six times in the ‘90s, and twice in the early 2000s, the orange and black danced “bigly,” as a certain Penn graduate might say.
Penn came into the weekend with a 7-0 record and was fortunate to escape with a split. On Friday, Brown used a 12-0 run to take a 15-point lead after the first quarter. Penn chipped away and took a two-point advantage into the fourth quarter. The Bears then went on a 15-6 run to take a seven-point lead with 4:16 to go. Penn tied it at 66 with 1:05 on the clock. Following a Brown bucket, the Quakers got an old fashioned three-point play to take the lead and two free throws to ice the 71-68 victory.
This was a momentous weekend for Ivy League basketball. First-place Princeton ran its winning streak to 13 games (10 in Ivy competition) in dominant fashion. Penn, meanwhile, snagged the No. 4 slot in the Ivy standings, erasing a Columbia four-game lead over the Red and Blue in the standings in just nine days courtesy of an equally dominant road sweep of Brown and Yale, a watermark back-to-back sequence for a long dormant program.
The Tigers became the first team to qualify for the Ivy League Tournament by defeating Yale, 71-52, on Friday in New Haven. Princeton’s ninth straight Ivy win (and 12th straight overall) was the first for Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson in John J. Lee Amphitheater.
Ray Curren, writing for NYC Buckets, described the game as a “complete performance” by the visitors and, indeed, it was. Devin Cannady demonstrated why he is one of the deadliest “catch and shoot” guys in the country. He caught fire early and often. His 20 first-half points propelled the Tigers to a most unexpected nine-point cushion at the break, 38-29. For the evening, the Indiana sophomore tied his career high with 29, including a ridiculous 7-for-8 from long range.
After a crazy first full weekend of conference play, a definite separation has developed between Princeton, Harvard and Yale and the remainder of the league .
1) Princeton 8-0 (wins versus Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn x 2)
T-2) Yale 6-2 (wins versus Columbia, Penn, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown x 2)
T-2) Harvard 6-2 (wins versus Yale, Brown, Penn, Cornell, Dartmouth x 2)
4) Columbia 4-4 (wins versus Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth)
T-5) Brown 2-6 (wins versus Penn, Cornell)
T-5) Penn 2-6 (wins versus Columbia, Cornell)
T-5) Cornell 2-6 (wins versus Columbia, Dartmouth)
T-5) Dartmouth 2-6 (wins versus Brown, Penn)
Looking at the standings, nine wins will give a team an automatic spot in the four-team postseason tournament. At this time, Princeton is one win away, while Yale and Harvard are three away. Barring a complete collapse from any of these teams, three quarters of the tournament are close to being set.
Despite being swept by Penn and Princeton this past weekend, Columbia still has the upper hand for the last spot in the tournament since the Lions have a two-game lead and is the only remaining team that can get to nine victories. If Columbia cannot win at least five of its last six, then things get more complicated.
As IHO writer Rob Browne pointed out to me Sunday night, this was a topsy-turvy weekend for Ivy hoops. Comebacks came and went, winning and losing streaks were snapped and the race for the league tournament No. 4 seed got muddled:
Well, that ends that.
Penn’s season is officially over less than halfway through the Ivy schedule. Ironically, if not for the Ivy Tournament, the team probably would have been out after the first weekend. It has been quite a rugged six games through the Ancient Eight for the Quakers. The Ivy League is known for smart people, and it seems the Ivy coaches have effortlessly figured out how to neutralize the one-dimensional nature of the young Penn players. Thus what had begun in Philadelphia as a campaign of hope and promise has now ended in abject disappointment.