The men’s basketball team took a big step forward in the hunt for the Ivy League title last weekend. The squad beat Penn (5–17, 2–3 Ivy) on Friday before emerging victorious against Princeton (11–8, 4–1 Ivy) on Saturday.
Yet the weekend before was as discouraging as last weekend was optimistic. The Elis dropped a close contest to Harvard (13–7, 5–1 Ivy) on Friday and then were blown out by Dartmouth (6–14, 2–4) the next day.
Are the Bulldogs (9–14, 3–3 Ivy) simply an inconsistent squad? Possibly — the team shot 54.8 percent from the field against Princeton, but only 35.3 percent against Dartmouth a week earlier. The Bulldogs lost to Dartmouth, then 0–3 in the Ivy League, and beat Princeton, then 4–0 in the conference. But the up–and-down nature of the Elis’ season has not proven exclusive to Yale this year. Men’s Ivy League basketball thus far has been marked by wild parity.
“The talent is much closer top-to-bottom than it’s been since I’ve been here,” team captain Sam Martin ’13 said. “Any sport is unpredictable, and that’s why they play the games. … Some games, you just play better than other games.”
Last weekend served as a microcosm for the Ivy League’s unpredictable season. Entering the weekend, the league still had two unbeaten teams — Harvard and Princeton — while Yale, Columbia (10–10, 2–4 Ivy) and Dartmouth sat at the bottom of the standings at 1–3. Yet on Saturday, Yale beat Princeton 69–65 and on Sunday, Columbia topped Harvard, 78–63. Yale went unbeaten on the weekend, while Brown (8–12, 2–4 Ivy) lost both of its games and all other squads went 1–1.
Nearing the midpoint of the Ivy League schedule, the three teams sharing last place — Columbia, Brown and Dartmouth — all sit only three games behind league-leading Harvard.
“If you look at Harvard’s team from last year that won the championship, they had better players at most every position,” Bulldog head coach James Jones said. “This year, it’s just not the case where their kids are that much more talented than anybody else.”
Jones added that “some of the things that happened at some of the schools” left certain squads without much depth, creating problems for the common back-to-back weekend matchups.
The parity of the Ivy League this season may have interesting implications for how the league determines its bid to the NCAA tournament. Currently, the bid goes to the winner of the conference’s regular season; the Ivy League is the only Division I conference without a tournament that determines its automatic bid. The Ivy League’s athletic directors denied a proposal to establish a four-team conference tournament last year.
ESPN.com writer Eamonn Brennan wrote in an April 17, 2012, Men’s College Basketball Nation blog post, “By the end of the season, the Ivy League ensures that its most deserving team enters the NCAA tournament.”
Brennan’s argument — and one of the arguments of detractors against the conference tournament — is that each team plays every other team once at home and once on the road, and the best team will therefore rise to the top.
Yet men’s basketball players and coaches are reconsidering whether this argument holds in a conference defined by parity.
“I’m not certain about the connection, but what I will tell you is that the [athletic directors] believe that our 14-game tournament [the Ivy League regular season] is the best way to find the champion,” Jones said before adding that inequities exist in the current system. “Having a tournament could be a way of not only finding the best champion, but also doing the best thing for our conference.”
The Bulldogs will face Cornell (10–12, 3–3 Ivy) at the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday night before continuing their home stand against Columbia on Saturday.