We’re left with just one more hurdle before discussions of tight races and title chases turns to scoreboard watching and seed projections.
While Cornell needs a lot of help to clinch the NCAA bid mathematically this weekend, it can essentially remove all doubt with a sweep, which would include defeating Princeton and opening up at least a two-game lead over its two chasers, the Tigers and the Crimson.
For the Big Red to cut down the nets in earnest, it needs to sweep (it hasn’t lost at home since 2007) and have Columbia defeat Princeton on Saturday and either Brown or Yale knock off Harvard in Boston on Friday or Saturday, respectively. While that scenario isn’t overly complex, let’s simplify it even further:
If Cornell beats Princeton on Friday night, the Big Red will represent the league in the Big Dance. If the Tigers spring the upset, a whole world of interesting scenarios would come back into play, including a race for a potential playoff to decide the league’s bid.
Princeton has the blueprint to beat Cornell. After the Big Red scored on five of its first six possessions, the Tigers held Cornell to just 14-for-36 shooting the rest of the way and held the perimeter-happy Big Red to just eight three-point attempts, of which it made just two. That first meeting had just 52 possessions per side, which means even if Cornell can score at a gaudy 1.25 points per possession, it still would only hit 65 points. That, alone, should keep the Big Red from running away with it, and if the Tigers can get Cornell down to the final five minutes relatively even, it would be interesting to see how a team with the weight of enormous expectations on its shoulders would respond.
The weight of those expectations isn’t borne by one or two stars, as it is for normal Ivy frontrunners. It’s shared, not equally but in turns, by star seniors Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote as well as over-qualified role players Chris Wroblewski, Alex Tyler, Jon Jaques, Geoff Reeves, Mark Coury and Adam Wire. That’s so many weapons that it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they all misfire over a 40 minute span – the 79-64 loss at The Palestra earlier in league play notwithstanding. If Princeton can make it a five-minute game, however, the Tigers at least would have a chance.
While No. 1 and No. 2 duke it out in Ithaca to kickoff the weekend, the rest of the league’s teams will be jostling for a shot at the final upper division slot. Harvard could wrap up no worse than a third-place finish with a win over Brown on Friday and a Penn loss to Columbia. A weekend sweep for the Crimson combined with a Penn loss would guarantee Harvard at least a solo third finish.
With both 4-6 teams, Brown and Yale, meeting Dartmouth this weekend, the 4-5 Quakers will likely need to forge at least a split of the Columbia/Cornell road trip to avoid falling from fourth to sixth or potentially seventh. That makes the rematch with the Lions incredibly important to Penn’s fourth-place hopes.
If either of the Bears or Bulldogs hopes to reach 7-7 in league play, they would probably need to sweep the road weekend at Dartmouth and Harvard. Both Brown and Yale host league-leading Cornell during the final weekend of the season, which means that both would likely need to win their other three contests to finish with a .500 Ivy mark. The Bears have been playing incredibly well recently, knocking off Penn and Princeton on the road last weekend, while the Bulldogs have been going the opposite direction, recording three of their nine worst defensive performances during the past two weekends.
Columbia has lost four of five, and the road doesn’t get any easier, as a home date with the Quakers is followed by a visit from the second-place Tigers and a road trip to Brown and Yale. The Lions look to be headed for solo seventh, unless they can hold serve against Penn and steal at least one of those final three contests, as 5-9 might be enough for a share of sixth when everything shakes out.
Finally, congrats to Dartmouth, which avoided a winless league campaign by outlasting Columbia in a brutally played affair 48-44. The Big Green is almost guaranteed the cellar, however, as it trails the Lions by two games with four to play. The more dubious distinction that seems all but a foregone conclusion is that Dartmouth will likely finish the season as the worst Ivy offensive team in Pomeroy’s seven-year history, eclipsing the 2004 edition of the Big Green by nearly four points per 100 possessions. The defensive effort has been good – Dartmouth will finish fourth in the Ivies in that category – but the offensive output has been too anemic for it to take advantage.
On the Ivy Individual Honors front, this is a big weekend for the POY race. If one of Cornell’s big three (Louis Dale not as much, but definitely Ryan Wittman or Jeff Foote) has a big game against Princeton, that should about seal up the honor for a Big Red player. Otherwise, expect Harvard’s Jeremy Lin and Penn’s Zack Rosen to remain in the conversation into the final weekend. Don’t count out Princeton guards Dan Mavraides or Douglas Davis, either, as a big game against Cornell could be enough to vault one of those two into the discussion as well.
Aside from those seven definite All-Ivy candidates, this should be a make-or-break weekend for Brown’s Matt Mullery, Yale’s Alex Zampier and Columbia’s Noruwa Agho. All three were one-time First Team possibilities who have had tough sledding in conference play (all that counts in the voting), and all three likely need a strong finish to crack at least the Second Team.