Top-seeded Harvard a fan of new Ivy tourney ... for now
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Harvard coach Tommy Amaker still likes the Ivy League’s postseason tournament, which is in its second year.
Ask him again on Sunday night, and you might get a different answer.
“If we had won the conference outright, I would be sitting here saying I hate the darn thing,” he said this week as the top-seeded Crimson prepared for Saturday’s conference semifinal against Cornell. “I think we’ll see.”
For years, the Ivy League was the only Division I conference without a postseason tournament, choosing instead to award its automatic NCAA bid to the regular-season champion. Last year, the Ivies began giving the NCAA berth to the winner of a two-day, four-team postseason tournament.
Princeton won the inaugural event after going 14-0 in the conference in the regular season. In the NCAA Tournament against Notre Dame, the Tigers had a 1-point deficit and the ball with 10 seconds left but missed a potential go-ahead shot and lost 60-58.
“Last year, Princeton was the best team all year and won the conference tournament,” Amaker said. “Obviously, it didn’t affect them.”
But this year could be different.
Top-seeded Harvard and No. 2 seed Penn finished atop the conference with matching 12-2 records; Yale (9-5) and Cornell (6-8) round out the field, hoping for an upset that would make the regular-season title largely meaningless. Whoever wins also won’t have more than a week of rest before the NCAAs that the Ivy champion used to have.
Like Amaker, Harvard forward and Ivy League player of the year Seth Towns said he is all for the conference tournament, if only because it’s at least one more game the Crimson (17-12) get to play.
Forward Chris Lewis is also a fan.
“It gives you a second chance,” he said. “Being able to play for something is very important.”
Here is a look at the other teams vying for the conference’s NCAA berth:
The Ivy League has placed its first two conference tournaments at the Palestra, the historic Philadelphia arena that happens to be Penn’s home court. As the No. 4 seed in the tournament last year, the Quakers never trailed in regulation but lost to Princeton in overtime.
The Quakers (22-8) went 7-0 in the conference at the Palestra this year — the first time that’s happened since 2007. Their only losses in the past month were at Yale, its semifinal opponent, and at Harvard, splitting the head-to-head matchups with them but sweeping Cornell.
If the top seeds advance, Harvard and Penn would play for the championship on Sunday.
“The Palestra is a beautiful place. You walk in and feel the history,” Towns said. “They are obviously playing for something a lot bigger than themselves, and so are we.”
The Bulldogs (16-14) are the No. 3 seed for the second year in a row, and they’re hoping for a second straight minor upset in the conference tournament, having beaten second-seeded Harvard last year.
This year, it’s hometown Penn in their way. But Yale had won five straight games at the Palestra before losing on Feb. 3.
The Bulldogs dropped four of their first six Ivy games this season but have won four straight and seven of their last eight.
Penn leads 148-79 in a series that dates to 1897 in what is believed to be the first basketball game with five players per side.
The Big Red (12-15) are the only newcomers to the tournament, but they’re bringing their scorers.
Unanimous all-Ivy selection Matt Morgan led the conference in scoring and was ninth in the nation with 22.6 points per game. Stone Gettings averaged 16.9 points and led the Ivies in player efficiency.
Cornell won two of its last three games but still needed both Columbia and Princeton to lose their finales to qualify for the tournament. After winning at Dartmouth on Saturday, the Big Red players watched from the locker room as Yale came back in overtime to beat Princeton in the final Ivy game of the season and clinch Cornell’s trip to Philadelphia.
Harvard swept the Big Red in the regular season and has won five straight matchups.
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