No team should feel confident going up against the Crimson considering the success coach Tommy Amaker has had in March. Boasting recent NCAA tournament upsets of Cincinnati and New Mexico, Amaker has a proven record of success in sudden death tournaments.
Harvard opens against Yale, where the playoff atmosphere will only magnify the intensity of the rivalry game. The Crimson has defeated the Bulldogs in each of the teams’ previous two matchups this season, winning 75–67 in New Haven and then 77–64 in Cambridge. Harvard guard Bryce Aiken was key to both of those victories; the newly honored Ivy League Rookie of the Year scored 27 points in his first career tilt with Yale and followed that up with 22 points against the Elis just two weeks later at home. If the Cantabs manage to get by Yale, they will face the winner of Princeton and Penn. Both of Harvard’s games with the Tigers have been nail-biters, with the Crimson losing by just one point at home and four on the road. Harvard has the second stingiest defense in the conference, only giving up 65.5 points per game, and boasts the best blocks per game average in the Ancient Eight with 4.7 per contest. The Crimson hopes its return to the Palestra will end in a much different fashion than its regular season.
In any previous year, Princeton would already have locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Spotting a sterling 14–0 record in Ivy League play and boasting three first team All-Ivy players, the Tigers and Ancient Eight Coach of the Year Mitch Henderson have lived up to their billing as preseason favorites. Even so, Princeton will have to continue with its unbeaten ways this weekend at the Palestra if the Tigers are to punch their tickets to March Madness — and as any fan of college basketball can tell you, conference tournaments have a way of creating chaos, and Goliaths are never safe. Princeton is well equipped to navigate the turbulence of March basketball, as its depth and balance on offense make them difficult to beat. Four players — forwards Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz and guards Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens — have averaged double-digit scoring on the season. But it is on defense where Princeton truly shines. The Tigers have stifled their opponents throughout the season, allowing just 61.5 points per game, the ninth best mark in all of Division I basketball. The Tigers open tournament play as the clear favorite against rival Penn, whom they beat in each of their two regular-season matchups.
The 2016–17 season has been a roller-coaster ride for the Quakers. On Feb. 7, Penn dropped a 64–49 home contest against Princeton, falling to last place in the Ivy League at 0–6. But then Penn rattled off five straight victories in Ivy League play, including a 71–55 victory over Yale in New Haven. After dropping contests to Columbia and Dartmouth, the Quakers finished their season with a dramatic win over Harvard to secure their spot in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. The Quakers enter this weekend’s tournament as underdogs on their home court. With losing records both overall and in conference play, beating tournament favorite Princeton would represent a huge upset. Still, plenty of crazy things have happened at the Palestra over its 90-year existence, and perhaps the Quakers will capture some magic at home to amplify the Ivy madness. The outstanding play of second team All-Ivy forward AJ Brodeur will be crucial if the Quakers are to shock the Ivy League with a first-round upset. The talented freshman paces Penn with 13.4 points per game, while providing a strong defensive presence on the other end. Though unlikely, any win this weekend would erase all memories of the Quaker’s 0–6 start to Ivy play.