This past Friday and Saturday marked the first of five straight weekends in which Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball teams would play back-to-back contests. With every school playing two games in a 24-hour span, each weekend of Ancient Eight play produces major swings in which four men’s and women’s teams will make the Ivy League tournament in March.
This past weekend was no exception, and both Yale teams were among the biggest movers in the league, although they are trending in very much opposite directions.
The men’s team suffered two close losses on the road at the hands of defending champion Princeton and current title favorite Penn. The Princeton-Penn road trip is undoubtedly the toughest Ivy League back-to-back the Elis will face all season, and my model gave Yale just a 28 percent chance to win at least one game on the road trip.
With losses by a mere three points to the Tigers and nine points to the Quakers, Yale kept both games closer than anticipated. But a loss is a loss, and the Bulldogs’ odds of making the title dropped 19 percent — from 45 percent to 26 percent — by far the steepest week-to-week decline of any Ancient Eight team.
Yale’s plummet in playoffs odds is less of a reflection of its own performance and more about the strong weekends by other teams on the playoff bubble. Columbia had a huge 2–0 weekend sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth, moving their record to 3–3 in the conference and giving them a 31 percent chance of reaching the Palestra.
Brown had its marquee win on Saturday night, with a gutsy two-point overtime victory over Princeton the night after a game with Penn that went down to the wire. The Bears are currently slight favorites for the fourth playoff spot, with playoff odds of 52 percent.
The wins by Columbia and Brown put Yale in a tight position. Despite trailing both teams by just a game in the standings, Yale lacks the upper hand on wins against the conferences’ top opponent, one of the playoff tiebreakers should that be necessary. Eli fans will likely have to pay attention to the tiebreaker in the final month of the season. In fact, in 31 percent of simulated seasons, a tiebreaker is used to determine the final playoff spot.
The good news for Yale is that the expected number of wins for fourth place is 7.6, just over a game above the Bulldogs’ expected win total of 6.3. With eight games to go in the regular season, Yale will need to perform just a little better than expected to reach Ivy Madness. With Yale hosting Cornell and Columbia this coming weekend, a sweep at John J. Lee Amphitheater would go a long way towards getting Yale back in thick of the race to the Palestra.
The hottest team in the Ivy League — men’s or women’s — is Yale’s women’s squad. On Friday night, the Bulldogs upset Princeton 73–59 in New Haven even though the Tigers were huge title favorites coming into the weekend.
Prior to this weekend’s games, Princeton had roughly a one-in-four chance of finishing conference play unbeaten. Even with the loss, Princeton still has a 66 percent chance of winning the Ivy League regular season championship — which just goes to show how impressive a win it was for Yale.
The Bulldogs’ chances of reaching its first ever Ivy League tournament jumped from 55 percent last week to 85 percent, the largest increase of any men’s or women’s squad. Despite the fact that Yale currently sits at fifth place in the standings, it’s playoff odds are so high in large part due to its front-loaded schedule. Yale has already played the three best teams in the league — Harvard, Penn and Princeton — and still has two games against Cornell and Columbia, who each sit at 1–5 in the conference standings.
With games against the Big Red and Lions this weekend, Yale has an excellent chance to firmly cement its place in the top tier of the league. Overall, there is roughly an 88 percent chance that at least one of the two Bulldog teams qualifies for this year’s Ivy League tournament.
The men’s team entered last year’s tournament in the third seed and knocked off Harvard in the semifinal before falling to Princeton in the championship game. The women’s team, which has much better odds of making it to the Palestra this year, would be making its first appearance at Ivy Madness, as the Bulldogs finished sixth in the standings last year.
Luke Benz is the President of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .