Our basketball predictions use the Elo model, which we also applied to hockey and explained in last week’s column. Each team is given a ranking that goes up when it wins and goes down when it loses, with the rating change larger when the underdog wins than when the favorite wins. In addition, our model takes into account both score differential and home-court advantage, two factors that are relevant to predicting a team’s performance.
Public opinion was divided when the Ivy League first announced that the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament would be decided using a postseason tournament rather than awarding the bid to the regular-season champion. Some argued that by adding a tournament, regular season games between top-tier teams would lose excitement. Others thought that a postseason playoff would make the regular season more thrilling, as it offered hope to teams stuck in the middle of Ancient Eight standings. This past weekend — the first in which all eight Ivy League men’s basketball teams played two conference games — showed that the conference tournament enhances the value of games between mid-tier teams without compromising the quality of games between the league’s top teams.
Yale had a great showing this weekend, knocking off both Columbia and Cornell on the road. With five wins in their first six conference games, the Bulldogs have all but secured a spot in the inaugural Ancient Eight playoffs, with our model predicting a 99.8 percent chance the Bulldogs reach the Palestra next month. We favor the Bulldogs against both Dartmouth and Harvard this Friday and Saturday night and give them a 53 percent chance to up their home win streak to 23 games.
The most important game of last weekend’s Ivy League action was Brown’s visit to the Upper West Side to take on Columbia. Coming into the weekend, both the Bears and Lions battled Penn and Cornell for the upper hand in the race for the conference tournament’s No. 4 seed. Since head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker for Ivy League standings, the Bears-Lions tilt was particularly important — precisely the type of game for which supporters of the conference tournament likely dreamt. Columbia’s thrilling 83–78 win over Brown made the Lions the most likely to secure the final playoff spot, with a 59.6 percent chance to make the Ivy League Tournament. Despite the loss, the Bears still have a 31.6 percent likelihood of reaching the Palestra this March, as Brown has arguably the easiest remaining schedule of all Ancient Eight teams.
Without question, the game of the weekend, and probably the game of the season thus far, was Princeton’s 57–56 win at Harvard. The Tigers blew a big first-half lead only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, taking the lead for good with under five seconds to play. Fans were treated to a great game despite relatively insignificant implications: With the win, Princeton’s playoff odds remain above 99 percent, while the Crimson’s playoff chance’s only dropped to 92.7 percent.
Therein lies the beauty of the Ivy League tournament. If last weekend’s games were any indication, the next month of Ancient Eight hoops will be something special.
Whereas last week our model put the Yale women’s basketball team right on the playoff bubble, a rough weekend was good for neither Yale’s place on the standings nor our model’s view of the team’s strength. While not completely out of the hunt thanks to the prospects of an Ivy League Tournament berth, our model gives Yale just a 4.2 percent chance of going to the Palaestra and a 0.6 percent chance of coming away with the championship. The good news for the Elis is that, according to our simulations, managing to win out would all but guarantee a place in the Ancient Eigh postseason; over 99 percent of our model’s simulations in which Yale wins the remainder of its games result in a trip to the Palestra. That said, our model gives the Bulldogs only a 0.16 percent chance of accomplishing that feat.
With its perfect record in Ivy League play, Penn has overtaken Harvard as our favorite to bring home the Ivy League championship, though our model currently ranks the two squads nearly identically. Brown’s two wins over the weekend made the Bears a clear favorite to make the tournament with over 80 percent odds, leaving Princeton, Cornell and Columbia in the heat of battle for the No. 4 seed. Our model believes that the preseason favorite Tigers are better than their 0.500 overall record would suggest, in part due to having outscored opponents by over 100 points this season. As a result, Princeton is currently the favorite to take the last spot in the Ancient Eight postseason tournament.
As our model sees it, Yale will go from favorites to underdogs this weekend as the Bulldogs have a 57.7 percent chance of defeating seventh-place compatriot Dartmouth in Hanover and a 30.5 percent chance of defeating Harvard in Cambridge.