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Ivy League Playoff Scenarios

Photo courtesy of Chase Sutton.

March Madness has arrived right on time in the Ivy League, with the second to last day of regular season games possibly hinting at what could come in the second Ivy League Conference tournament. Earlier tonight, Princeton and Brown faced each other, with the winner guaranteeing themselves a chance to make the playoffs and the loser not mathematically eliminated, but reliant on three other teams in order for a breathing chance. In the end, the Princeton Tigers bested the Brown Bears 78 to 63.

In New Haven, Connecticut, first place Penn visited Yale University. Yale needed a win in order to clinch a spot in the conference tournament. Penn’s only in-conference lost was away at Dartmouth earlier this season, and Penn is also the only school in the Ivy League with a winning visiting record. Penn led by as much as 24 points during the game, but in the final seconds, with Yale trailing 79-78, the Yale Bulldogs drew up a final play, banking in a layup as time expired. Yale clinched a spot with their 80 to 79 home win.

Columbia was tied for fourth place heading into their game against Dartmouth. While Dartmouth had only two conference wins this season, they led for all but two minutes in the first half. Final score: Dartmouth 80, Columbia 78.

In possibly the most exciting game of the night, Cornell visited the Harvard Crimson. Harvard already clinched a spot in the conference tournament, but still fight for a chance at the one seed if they win and if Penn lost. Six lead changes during regulation and two ties kept the game exciting throughout, but regulation wasn’t enough to decide a winner. Tied 77 all at the end of regulation, both teams looked tired going into overtime, but did enough to extend the game to a second overtime, tied at 87. Cornell’s five could not outlast Harvard, who outscored them 11 to 1 in the second overtime. Harvard’s 98 to 88 win prevented Cornell from the outright lead of fourth place given Columbia’s loss earlier in the night.

With one day of regular season games remaining, three teams are tied for the fourth place, yet only one will make the Ivy League Conference tournament.

Current Standings:

Saturday’s Games
Penn at Brown – 6pm
Columbia at Harvard – 7pm
Cornell at Dartmouth – 7pm
Princeton at Yale – 7pm

In addition to the games, it’s possible that the fourth and final playoff seed will be determined not by record, but by additional tiebreakers. Below are the Ivy League’s tiebreak rules:

In the case of a two‐way tie between teams in the final standings, the following process will be used until all ties are broken and the seeding process is completed (ties will be broken in rank order beginning with the highest seed):

  1. Head‐to‐head competition ‐ The higher seed will go to the team that has won the most League contests played against the other team involved in the tie.
  2. If a tie still exists, the tie will be broken by comparing each team’s record against the highest seed outside of the tie and continuing through the full league standings (if there is a group of tied teams, use each team’s record against the group rather than the individual teams) if necessary.
  3. If a tie still exists, an average of the most recent ratings indices identified in advance by the coaches (Men: Sagarin, Ken Pom, BPI and NCAA RPI; Women: Sagarin/RPIratings.com and NCAA RPI) will be utilized to determine the higher seed.
  4. If a tie still persists, a draw will be conducted by the Executive Director

In the case of a multiple‐team tie (more than two teams tied for the same spot), the following process will be used: Note: Once a highest seed (amongst the tied teams) is determined, the tie between the remaining seeds shall be determined on the basis of head-to-head competition.

  1. Records between the tied teams – The higher seed will go to the team that has won the most League contests against the other teams tied at that spot.
  2. If a tie still exists, the tie will be broken by comparing each team’s record against the highest seed outside of the tie and continuing through the full league standings (if there is a group of tied teams, use each team’s record against the group rather than the individual teams), if necessary.
  3. If a tie still exists, an average of the most recent ratings indices identified in advance by the coaches (Men: Sagarin, Ken Pom, BPI and NCAA RPI; Women: Sagarin/RPIratings.com and NCAA RPI) will be utilized to determine the higher seed.
  4. If a tie still persists, a draw will be conducted by the Executive Director

 

 

Penn’s Playoff Scenario
– If Penn wins at Brown and Harvard wins vs. Columbia, Penn and Harvard are tied 1 game to 1 head to head. The tie-breaker then goes to their respective records and the next highest seeded team, which is guaranteed to be Yale based on conference record. Harvard is 2-0 vs Yale, Penn is 1-1 vs Yale, so Harvard would be the number one seed.
– If Penn loses and Harvard wins, Penn is the number two seed.
– If Penn loses and Harvard loses, Harvard is the number one seed..

Harvard’s Playoff Scenario
– If Harvard wins vs Columbia and Penn wins at Brown, Harvard will be the number one seed.
– If Harvard loses and Penn wins, Harvard is the number two seed.
– If Harvard loses and Penn loses, Harvard is the number one seed.

Yale’s Playoff Scenario
– Regardless of a win or loss in their game against Princeton, Yale will be a three seed in the conference tournament.

Here’s where the playoff scenarios get interesting. Cornell, Columbia, and Princeton are all tied for fourth place with a current record of 5 wins and 8 losses in conference. Additionally, Brown stands alone in seventh place with one fewer win. None of the three tied teams are playing each other Saturday, and they all have a head-to-head record of 1-1 against each other. Therefore, the tiebreaker between these teams will be decided by their record against the highest seeded team not part of the tie. The highest seeded team, however, also depends on tomorrow’s results. 

Cornell’s Playoff Scenario
– If Cornell wins, Princeton loses, and Columbia loses, Cornell will be the fourth seed.
– If Cornell wins, but Princeton OR Columbia win, Cornell will not compete in the conference tournament.
– If Cornell loses, they will not compete in the conference tournament.

Princeton Playoff Scenario
– If Princeton wins and Columbia loses, regardless of Cornell’s outcome, Princeton will be the fourth seed.
– If Princeton wins and Columbia wins, Princeton will not compete in the conference tournament.
If Princeton loses, Princeton will not compete in the conference tournament.

Columbia’s Playoff Scenario
– If Columbia wins, Princeton loses, and Cornell loses, Columbia will be the fourth seed.
If Columbia wins, Princeton loses, but Cornell wins, Columbia will be the fourth seed as they have the better head-to-head record against Harvard (both teams are 0-2 vs. Penn).
If Columbia wins, Cornell wins, and Princeton wins, Columbia will not compete in the conference tournament.
If Columbia loses, they need Princeton and Cornell to also lose in order to be the fourth seed. If Brown wins, their head-to-head record is 1-1, both teams are 0-2 against Penn, but Columbia is 1-1 against Harvard, while Brown is 0-2.

Brown’s Playoff Scenario
– Brown needs to win and for Columbia, Cornell, AND Princeton to lose to force a tiebreaker. Head-to-head, only Cornell holds a 2-0 advantage. Resorting to the second tiebreaker, Columbia has a better record against Harvard, so Columbia would advance over Brown. Princeton has a better record against Yale, but Brown is eliminated regardless.

Dartmouth’s Playoff Scenario
– Dartmouth has been eliminated from the conference tournament since February 23rd.

While there are a lot of hypotheticals to consider, the fact that none of the three teams fighting for the final playoff spot are versing each other makes this final day of the Ivy League regular season even more exciting. Five of the eight teams are fighting the best seeding possible in a tournament where only the top four teams make it (Yale is guaranteed the three seed, Brown and Dartmouth are already eliminated). It’s also highly unlikely two Ivy League teams make the NCAA tournament, so winning this conference tournament means a chance for national glory. No Ivy League team has ever won the National Tournament, however in recent years, many Ivy League schools have been quintessential examples of Cinderella teams. Last season, Princeton nearly upset fifth seeded Notre Dame in the first round, losing 60-58. In 2016, Yale pulled the first upset of the tournament as a number twelve seed, beating fifth seed Baylor 79-75. Anything’s possible in March Madness, and the school representing the Ivy League conference may very well rely on tomorrow’s results.