Ivy League title race leaves no favorite for NCAA tourney berth

National notebook

Princeton, Yale, Penn could end in 3-way tie in race for automatic bid

March 01, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

There might be conferences more competitive than the Ivy League has been this season. There also might be games just as compelling as the ones that will take place this weekend - and one next week - on some of the league's storied campuses.

But is there any race more compelling than the one going on among Princeton, Yale and Penn?

Going into tonight, Princeton leads the league with a 9-2 record, but must finish out with road games at Cornell, Columbia and Penn. Yale is 9-3, and plays at home this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth. Penn, at 8-3, has the same New York road swing as Princeton, but plays host to the Tigers on Tuesday at the Palestra.

There is a strong possibility of a three-way tie, the first in league history, and a mini-postseason tournament starting Thursday at neutral sites. All that is at stake is a bid to the NCAA tournament, the only one the league will get unless Penn's respectable RPI (41) gets it the league's first at-large bid.

"Week in and week out, it's been pretty stressful," said Yale captain Ime Archibong. "This weekend will just be more stressful."

The Bulldogs could have relieved some of their stress last weekend, but lost on back-to-back nights to Princeton and Penn. Still, the possibility of the school's first NCAA tournament bid since 1962 has certainly been one of the more pleasant distractions on the New Haven, Conn., campus.

"I hear it from everyone - students, administrators, even custodial workers," said Archibong, a junior guard who grew up rooting for North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C.

Archibong could have been a walk-on at Duke, where his sister attends school, but chose to go somewhere he could play. The team went 7-20 in his freshman year, 10-20 last season and is currently 17-7. But with an RPI of 120, Yale will have to win the Ivy League to get a bid.

The same holds true for Princeton, which took over first place last weekend with wins over Yale and Brown, but now has to finish with three straight on the road, including the Tuesday night game at one of the toughest, and more underrated, venues in the country.

"I would like it [to] come down to the Penn game," said Princeton captain Ahmed El-Nokali.

If Yale slips up at home, that familiar scenario is likely to occur. Either the Tigers or Quakers have represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament every year since 1988. If the three teams finish in a dead heat, then Penn would play the winner of a Princeton-Yale playoff game.

"Every game is a tough game. Every game is like a playoff game for us," said John Thompson III, who played at Princeton and is in his second year as the school's head coach. "We had hoped to do a little bit better in our non-conference schedule to help our chances [for an NCAA bid]."

The Tigers are 14-9 overall with an RPI of 55, numbers that have National Invitation Tournament written over them. The Quakers (21-6) can make a more compelling case, given that their RPI is right up there with bubble teams such as Syracuse, Boston College and Pepperdine. A three-way playoff would, at the least, give the Ivy League a little extra publicity.

"It would be a benefit to the league as a whole," said Penn coach Fran Dunphy. "That would be great."

Because of the Ivy League's overall strength of schedule, it's unlikely the Quakers would get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Penn went 5-1 against the other Big Five teams in Philadelphia this season, but Temple and LaSalle will have to win the Atlantic 10 tournament to get a bid, and Villanova will have to win the Big East.

"We'll just sit there and hope," said Dunphy. "But we still have some unfinished business this weekend."

In some of the other more interesting conference races that will determine NCAA bids:

Atlantic Coast Conference: Virginia (RPI of 52) needed to beat either No. 3 Duke last night (the Cavs upset the Blue Devils, 87-84) or No. 2 Maryland in Sunday's Cole Field House finale to have any chance to get a bid.

Big East: Boston College might have blown its chance with Monday's loss to Connecticut, but needs to win at Syracuse on Sunday to stay alive. Tomorrow's Georgetown-Rutgers game will knock one of them out.

Big Ten: Minnesota (RPI 58) has to beat No. 15 Illinois at home tomorrow and go deep in next week's Big Ten tournament to have a chance.

Big 12: Missouri, still a bubble team (RPI 49), might have locked up the league's sixth berth with a win over No. 12 Oklahoma State on Monday. The Tigers get a chance to solidify things - or go back on the bubble - Sunday at home against top-ranked Kansas.

Planting seeds

The NCAA tournament selections will be made a week from Sunday. As it has done for the past two months, The Sun will make its prediction of the top four seeds in each region. The seedings will be made before Thursday night's games.

East ............................. South

1. Maryland ................. 1. Duke

2. Florida .................... 2. Alabama

3. Miami ...................... 3. Okla. State

4. Gonzaga ................. 4. Texas Tech

Midwest ....................... West

1. Kansas .................... 1. Oklahoma

2. Georgia ................... 2. Cincinnati

3. Pittsburgh ............... 3. Arizona

4. Marquette ................ 4. Kentucky

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