National : Ivy League race jam-packed as season enters stretch run

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm A year ago, Yale’s chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament all came down to a single game. After a regular season in which the Bulldogs faced just one ranked opponent outside of the Ivy League, Yale head coach Andy Shay thought his team’s only chance to qualify came in a matchup with Princeton in the semifinals of the Ivy League tournament.‘We feel like if we won our first Ivy League tournament game,’ Shay said, ‘that would have augmented our RPI and our strength of schedule, but we didn’t win that game.’The same scenario could be the case for nearly all of the Ivy League teams this season. The league has been thrown into a frenzy with a variety of upsets and close games. Yale alone has played four games decided by two goals, and had two games that were decided in at least overtime.With six of the league’s seven teams sitting tied in second or fourth place behind Cornell, the Ivy League is jam-packed with teams looking to separate themselves and make the NCAA tournament.‘The competition is very stiff,’ Cornell head coach Ben DeLuca said. ‘I feel like every team brings a wealth of talent to the table.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFor Pennsylvania head coach Mike Murphy, there’s one simple motto his team follows as it enters its quest for its first NCAA tournament bid since 2006.Murphy keeps it simple. Murphy’s motto is to make sure to take care of the little things, and the little things will take care of the big things. He said little things have come from playing in close games — five of the Quakers’ games have been decided by a single goal.‘If we’re going to be considered for the NCAA tournament, we have two chances,’ Murphy said. ‘One is to win the Ivy League tournament, where coming out on top in those one-goal games will help us with that.‘In regards to the strength of the league overall relative to other teams, I think our success outside the league — Harvard beats Georgetown — those are the things that can help our league get a second or maybe a third team into the NCAA tournament.’No. 17 Penn’s strength of schedule may work wonders in enabling the team to secure a bid to the tournament. The Quakers have defeated strong opponents in then-No. 10 Duke and then-No. 17 Bucknell. Penn also played a strong game against Villanova, falling 9-8 in overtime.But Penn is relatively different from other Ivy League schools. For certain schools, the inability to schedule games against quality scholarship teams looms largely due to a difficult geographic location or prestige.Three Ivy League teams are currently ranked inside the top 20, with Harvard receiving votes.The challenge for teams in the Ivy League is often an inability to face quality scholarship school opponents. DeLuca said a lot of the challenge has to do with a lack of interest from major conference schools.‘I don’t think there’s a lot of interest by some of those top-tier programs,’ DeLuca said. ‘Especially working around our Ivy League schedule, which is set toward the end of the season. You’re really confined to your out-of-conference scheduling happening toward the early part of the season. And a lot of those teams, especially from down south, are not interested in coming up north in March or April.’Behind the Big Red, Yale and Penn hold a half-game lead over the rest of the field with a 2-2 mark in league play. The Bulldogs and Quakers are followed closely by Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton, each with 1-2 records in conference play.The Ivy League tournament began a year ago with the champion receiving the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. Since only four teams can qualify for the Ivy League tournament and a chance to vie for the league’s automatic bid, the home stretch is more crucial than ever for many teams to punch their tickets to the NCAA tournament for the first time in years.But the parity is advantageous for many of the schools within the league. Princeton, which hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 2008, is on the brink of not even qualifying for the Ivy League tournament. The Tigers are off to their worst start since 2005 after stumbling to a 2-6 record and winning just one conference game thus far.Even with Cornell, only one of the Big Red’s conference games was decided by more than two goals. DeLuca is well aware of the threat that teams pose this year more than every other season.‘Almost any game you can throw out the rankings and the numbers surrounding each program,’ DeLuca said, ‘there’s going to be battles between two pretty strong programs — for the most part — throughout the year.’For Penn head coach Murphy, it all comes back to the little things. At this juncture of the season, he said that’s what could define each team’s chance at a league title.‘At this point we’ve got a pretty good idea of who we are,’ Murphy said. ‘I think the challenge at this point is to stay healthy and keep things fresh and consistent. We’ve done an OK job at that stuff thus far, and we’re — knock on wood — pretty healthy right now. We’re still pretty excited about where we’re going with things.’[email protected]center_img Commentslast_img read more