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Perhaps the biggest news heading into this weekend's Ivy League tournament is, well, that there is an Ivy League tournament.
For years, the Ivy was the lone holdout among Division I conferences that didn't hold a postseason basketball tournament to determine its automatic NCAA qualifier, instead sending the regular-season men's and women's champs to the Big Dance. That changes this year, with the Ancient Eight joining in the fun of Championship Week, which often serves as the prelude to what has become universally known as March Madness.
This isn't good news for some observers who annually question the wisdom of one-bid leagues unable to send their top finisher to the big tournament because of an untimely postseason loss. The Ivy, they would argue, was the one conference that still did it right. But even such a purist would have to like the choice of venue, Philadelphia's historic Palestra. Games are Saturday and Sunday.
For their part, the coaches are on board with the change.
"The Ivy tournament is our reality now. It's exciting. There's just a different energy around it," Princeton men's coach Mitch Henderson says. "You see this all the time, knowing that anything can happen. We're part of that excitement now."
Embracing the excitement would seem to be the proper approach for Henderson and his Tigers, who in any other year would already be preparing for the NCAAs. Princeton made a clean sweep of the league during the regular season, one of two Division I men's squads to post a perfect conference record this season along with Vermont of the America East.
Yale was in a similar position last year and made the most of its opportunity by upending Baylor in the Round of 64. But Bulldogs coach James Jones also is a strong advocate of the league adopting this tournament format.
"It's been a long time coming from this perspective," he says. "This is something coaches have been trying to get done for years."
Jones, who is in his 18th season heading the Yale program, recalls the words of former Penn coach Fran Dunphy. "When Penn was winning the league every other year, he would say (not having a tournament) might be great for Penn but it isn't great for everybody else. So if this is the best for more of us, why not do it? We're looking at the greater good, and what's best for our league is this tournament."
The league didn't go full madness, however. The hoops field is limited to the league's top four finishers, similar to the lacrosse tournament model adopted by the league in 2010.
But even with that restriction, there was a lot more meaningful basketball around the league on the final weekend than in many past years. While the Princeton men were completing their first 14-0 sweep since 1998, which incidentally was Henderson's senior season, Penn got a late three-pointer to beat Harvard and lock up the No. 4 seed. Yale also finished strong to secure the third seed and a rematch with No. 2 Harvard.
On the women's side, Brown won a pair of road games to claim the fourth spot, earning a date with regular-season champ Penn. No. 2 Princeton and No. 3 Harvard will meet in the other semifinal.
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