A take on the top 10 teams in Ivy men’s hoops history

Editor’s note: Ivy Hoops Online writer Richard Kent has followed Ancient Eight men’s basketball for decades and after consultation with players, coaches and fans has compiled his personal list of the top 10 men’s hoops teams since the formation of the Ivy League as we know it in 1955. No top 10 list in this category is going to look the same, so if you have a top 10 of your own that you’d like to share, please share it in a comment below. 

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Ivy news roundup – May 21, 2017

Another Ivy graduate transfer

According to a March 28 tweet from Coach Shop, Cole Harrison, a 6’11” center, will graduate Dartmouth this May and seek a graduate transfer for his final season of athletic eligibility.  Harrison missed the entire 2016-17 season due to injury.  The Brentwood, Tenn. native notched 1.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 5.5 minutes a game over his three seasons in Hanover.

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Columbia legend Jim McMillian dies at 68

Jim McMillian, one of the greatest men’s basketball players in Ivy League history, died Monday at 68. (Big Gaff Sports)

Jim McMillian, one of the most celebrated players in Columbia and Ivy League basketball history, died Monday at 68.

The Los Angeles Times reported McMillian died from heart failure complications at a hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. after being in failing health in recent months.

McMillian led Columbia to a No. 6 national ranking and the program’s last Ivy championship to date in 1968 and a No. 14 national ranking in 1969. In 1970, McMillian made his third consecutive All-America team, his third consecutive All-Ivy team, and won his third consecutive Haggerty Award for the best New York City college basketball player.

Columbia went 63-14 during McMillian’s three years as a varsity Lion, and the program’s ’68 league title was due to his 37 points on 22 shots in the team’s 92-74 Ivy playoff win over Princeton.

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Ivy 60 for 60: Jim McMillian

Columbia hasn't won an Ivy title since Jim McMillian graduated in 1970. (The Lions last won the crown in '68.)
Columbia hasn’t won an Ivy title since Jim McMillian graduated in 1970. (The Lions last won the crown in ’68.)

Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history throughout the season (in no particular order):

Jim McMillian was a McDonald’s-level All-American who played for Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School. In college, much as Bill Bradley had done for Princeton, McMillian catapulted the Columbia basketball program from obscurity to national prominence by his sophomore year (with the able assistance of Dave Newmark, Heyward Dotson, Roger Walaszak and Washington Redskins Super Bowl lineman George Starke).

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Cornell all-time moment No. 9: Cornell defeats Bill Bradley – The Blaine Aston shot

Cornell Box Score

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Cornell is next because once upon a time, Barton Hall was a buzzer-beater biosphere. 

Cornell has a few impressive wins in its history. Defeating defending national runner-up Ohio State in 1940, taking down Kentucky 92-77 in 1966 and beating a Cal team featuring two future NBA players, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, in 1992. (Spoiler alert: Some big wins have intentionally been left out. They will be covered later in Cornell’s top 10 all-time moments.)

Arguably, the most impressive of them all is what occurred on Jan. 16, 1965.

There’s plenty of healthy debate over who is the best team in Ivy League history. The 1979 Penn team? One of Jim McMillian’s Columbia teams? The 1998 Princeton team? 2010 Cornell?

Sam MacNeil’s 1965 Cornell team did finish 19-5, but will never be in this conversation. On the other hand, the ‘65 Princeton team, led by future Hall of Famer Bill Bradley might start and end the debate.

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Columbia all-time moment No. 1: Lions defeat La Salle in NCAA Tournament

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We did Columbia next because in 1968, a little light blue went a long way.

Today we celebrate the best moment in Columbia’s basketball history by celebrating the farthest the team has gone in NCAA Tournament play, as well as one more big win for the school’s best squad of the modern era.

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Columbia all-time moment No. 2: Jim McMillian’s third straight All-American selection

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because you don’t mess around with Jim.

The man behind the best prolonged stretch of basketball in Columbia history receives his own honor in our countdown.

There are individual moments in Jim McMillian’s career one could point to, such as his 37-point effort against Princeton in 1968’s playoff, but nothing single-handedly sums up his career better than his postseason accolades. Since freshmen could not play varsity NCAA basketball, McMillian’s three-year run from 1967-68 through 1969-70 is unequaled in Columbia history and is unlikely to be repeated by anyone going forward. McMillian led Columbia to an incredible 63-14 record in his tenure, including the 1968 Ivy title and 20-4 and 20-5 records the next two years, finishing second in the league. Had the landscape of NCAA basketball looked in the late 1960s as it does today, McMillian likely would have had more than just one postseason opportunity as the Lions were ranked in the top 20 at points in each of his last two season with nothing to show for it. Nonetheless, his career on the court is unparalleled in Lions history.

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Columbia all-time moment No. 3: Columbia clinches 1968 NCAA Tourney berth

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because the Dave Newmark did Willis Reed in NYC before Willis Reed did Willis Reed in NYC.

The best season in Columbia basketball history was in jeopardy. Despite a 16-game win streak and a dominating stretch in Ivy play, the Lions had to face a Princeton Tigers team which just defeated them by 11 points. The winner would be the Ivy representative in the 23-team NCAA Tournament, the loser would be unlikely to make the NIT. For a Columbia team sitting at 20-4, anything less than a title would have been an extraordinary disappointment, even to be taken down by a Princeton squad who was 20-5 and started the preseason ranked No. 8 in the nation.

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Columbia all-time moment No. 4: 1968’s 16-game win streak

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because 1968 was a good year to wear Light Blue.

The rest of Columbia’s top moments all revolve around the incredible 1968 team in some way. Today’s entry is the 16-game win streak that propelled the Lions to national relevance and ultimately put them in position to play and win a one-game playoff to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The team did not get off to a very good start, which is odd considering the talent on the squad and where it would end up by March. The team won its first four games but then immediately dropped three in a row, including getting blown out in the Ivy opener against Cornell in Ithaca. It would not get easier for the Lions, as their next matchups would be in the prestigious Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. The Lions would face three top opponents in quick succession at a tournament in which Bill Bradley and Cazzie Russell among others had made their mark on the national stage with strong performances.

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