#2BIDIVY! Princeton and Columbia women’s basketball both earn bids to the NCAA Tournament

Princeton’s Carla Berube and Columbia’s Megan Griffith talk prior to Saturday’s Ivy League championship (Photo: Rob Browne)

Following Princeton’s victory over Columbia in Saturday night’s Ivy League championship, the thought of two conference teams making into the field of 68 seemed improbable.  However, Sunday night’s selection show provided a pleasant surprise for everyone connected to the Ancient Eight, with the announcement of an automatic qualifier spot for the Tigers and an at-large bid for the Lions.

This year’s decision marks the second time the Ivies have sent two teams to the Big Dance, with Princeton claiming the second bid and Penn taking the automatic spot in 2016.

Princeton (25-4, 13-1 Ivy), which has won the last six regular season titles and five Ivy League Tournament championships, was chosen as the No. 9 seed in the Albany 1 Region and will face No. 8 West Virginia (24-7, 12-6 Big XII) of the Big 12 conference in Iowa City Sat., Mar. 23 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The winner of the matchup, a rematch from a 2016 first-round game won by West Virginia, is expected to face Caitlin Clark and No. 1 seed Iowa, if the Hawkeyes can get past the winner of Holy Cross and University of Texas-Martin.

The game will be a toss-up, with the Tigers being ranked No. 30 by Her Hoops Stats, and the Mountaineers at No. 28. The great news for the Orange and Black is the fact that Carla Berube’s team has won first round matchups in the previous two NCAA Tournaments, defeating North Carolina State in 2023 and Kentucky in 2022.

To prepare for the postseason, Princeton had an incredibly challenging schedule, which saw the team ultimately face five teams in the field of 68: UCLA (No. 2), Indiana (No. 4), Oklahoma (No. 5), Middle Tennessee State (No. 11) and Columbia (No. 12). The Tigers went 4-3 in games against that group, including a 2-1 record against the Lions.

If Princeton, led by three-time Ivy League Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kaitlyn Chen, three-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Ellie Mitchell and 2023 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Madison St. Rose, can get through West Virginia, the Tigers could face a top seed in its home building for the third straight season. In 2023, the Orange and Black put a strong fight at Indiana before falling by one, 56-55, and last season, they lost a tight 63-56 game to Utah in Salt Lake City.

Should the Tigers and Hawkeyes meet, it would be strength versus strength, as Princeton possesses the No. 19 three-point defense in the land and Iowa is No. 6 in long distance shooting.

It would certainly be a tall task, but Carolyn Peck, ESPN expert and a one-time NCAA championship winning head coach at Purdue, said on the network’s selection show that Iowa is the most vulnerable of the four No. 1 seeds.

When leaving Levien Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon, following the thrilling last second win by Yale over Brown, the general consensus had Columbia (23-6, 13-1), the back-to-back regular season co-champions, with a minimal chance at making the NCAA field and a strong chance at being a No. 1 seed in the new WBIT Tournament.

With The Athletic listing the Lions a88s the second team out and ESPN having the team as the fourth team out of the Big Dance, many around the program had grudgingly resigned themselves to another close miss, one year after being the first team to miss the field.

To everyone’s surprise, Columbia’s name came up during the ESPN Selection Show and the sad tears of Saturday night turned into the happy tears of Sunday evening.

According to Charlie Creme, talking during ESPN’s Bracketology show, Columbia was given the last spot in this year’s field over Miami, due to finishing the season in a stronger manner.

Maybe it was the 11-game winning streak heading into the Ivy League Tournament final, but it certainly didn’t hurt that coach Megan Griffith gave an impassioned speech after Saturday’s defeat challenging the Committee to grow the game by adding strong mid-majors.

“There’s no secret that I feel we should be playing in the NCAA Tournament. We’re in the same exact spot we were in last year, almost identical. We were the first team out last year. We go to the final of the WNIT against Kansas, at Kansas, and lose by seven,” Griffith told the media. “There are no mid-major teams on the bubble or even in the conversation on the bubble or even in conversation for the bubble – what are we doing to grow the game?

“I can’t say enough about Abbey Hsu. She’s one of the best players in the country and she needs to be seen,” Griffith added. “I really hope the [NCAA Selection] Committee gives her and this team a chance, because if we just keep being in this spot, we’re not growing the game.” 

By earning the Portland 3 Region’s No. 12 spot, the first bid in school history, Columbia will face fellow No. 12 Vanderbilt (22-9) in a play-in game with the winner taking on No. 5 Baylor.

The game will take place on Wed., March 20 at Cassell Coliseum on the campus of No. 4 Virginia Tech at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.

As of Sunday night, Her Hoops Stats appears to favor the Lions, which has a No. 43 national ranking, over the No. 61 Commodores.

For a team that has focused on revenge over the last two seasons, Columbia gets one more chance in facing Vanderbilt. In November 2022, the Commodores came to Levien Gymnasium for the team’s home opener and upset the Lions 74-63.

As if getting into the main field isn’t enough motivation for the sixth-place team in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the team definitely has blackboard material from Griffith Saturday night speech for added inspiration.

“The NCAA talks about wanting to grow the game and we consistently put SEC teams in that are 15-14 or who have gotten beat by everyone in the SEC because that conference isn’t very good, you know they just beat each other except for USC (University of South Carolina) and LSU,” Griffith said to the media and national audience.

If the Lions can slay the Commodores, a date with the Bears (24-7), the No. 22 ranked team in the nation according to Her Hoops Stats, awaits.