The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, and the basketball games more meaningful. March is upon us, and that means one thing — the Ivy League basketball tournament.
On Saturday at 3 p.m., third-seeded men’s basketball (16–11, 8–6 Ivy) will tip off against Yale (20–7, 10–4) in the semifinals. Top-seeded women’s basketball (20–9, 12–2) will do the same against Cornell (12–13, 6–8) at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Here are previews to keep you occupied until then.
MEN’S: Can Princeton figure out how to beat Harvard and Yale?
Princeton went 0–4 against Harvard and Yale in the regular season. Inconveniently for the Tigers, those teams are the top two seeds in the Ivy tournament. Neither of Princeton’s losses against Yale, led by Ivy League Player of the Year Miye Oni, were particularly close. Last weekend, Yale stifled Princeton with its long, athletic defense and knocked down threes all night, with several bench players pitching in. The Bulldogs won 81–59 to win a share of the Ivy League regular season title.
Princeton did play that game without sophomore guard Ryan Schwieger, who emerged late in the season as the Tigers’ most dangerous scoring threat. After cycling in and out of the rotation throughout the season, he scored 20 points or more in three of his last four games and earned an Ivy League Player of the Week honor. He missed both games last weekend with a concussion, and his status for the tournament will likely be unclear until Saturday.
Without Schweiger’s outside shooting, Princeton may not have the offensive firepower needed to top the Bulldogs. Princeton had the second-lowest points per game total in the Ivy League, and the worst three-point shooting percentage. They’re shooting an abysmal 27.9 percent from three in conference play. Two of Princeton’s guards, senior Myles Stephens and first-year Jaelin Llewellyn have three-point percentages hovering around 25 percent. Llewellyn’s struggles behind the arc aren’t atypical for a rookie, but Stephens’s are more puzzling, given that he shot 41 percent from three last year. Princeton will need some of those shots to start falling to have a chance this weekend.
Making the Ivy tournament at all is an accomplishment, given the trials this year’s Princeton team faced. The Tigers played most of the Ivy season without star guard Devin Cannady, who eventually left the team to take a leave of absence from Princeton. Their three-point shots haven’t fallen all year. Several underclassmen have been thrust into major minutes. Nonetheless, the Tigers will have the opportunity to compete for an NCAA tournament bid this weekend.
If Princeton can get past Yale in the first round, it will play the winner of Harvard and Penn on Sunday.
WOMEN’S: Will Princeton repeat as Ivy tournament champs?
Princeton women’s basketball has appeared in both the Ivy tournament championship games. In the inaugural tournament, Princeton fell to Penn in the final. Last year, the Tigers avenged that loss with a blowout 63–34 win over the Quakers to earn an NCAA tournament bid. A third meeting between the two in the final wouldn’t surprise anyone — Princeton and Penn split the regular season Ivy title and hold the top two seeds.
The Tigers and Quakers split their regular season matchups. Penn won the first game 66–60 in early January, and Princeton won 68–53 at the Palestra in February. Led by Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Eleah Parker, Penn has the best defense in the Ivy League, allowing just 53.7 points per game.
To set up another Princeton-Penn clash, the Tigers will first need to get by Cornell in the semifinals. Princeton won both its games against Cornell but nearly blew a big lead in its 68–64 win over the Big Red in February.
Princeton will be led by junior forward Bella Alarie, who this week won her second consecutive Ivy League Player of the Year award. If the league had a Most Improved Player award, she might have won that as well. She averaged 23.0 points per game this year, up from 13.3 last season. Her 10.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game were also career highs. When Alarie is really on her game, like when she posted 45 points against Cornell and 41 against Dartmouth, Princeton is tough to beat. Sophomore guard Carlie Littlefield joined Alarie on the All-Ivy first team.
LOCATION: This year’s New Haven venue represents the first time the Ivy basketball tournament won’t take place at the Palestra. The tournament will rotate across Ivy League campuses until 2025, including a 2021 stop at Princeton.
HOW TO WATCH: Both men’s semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPNU, and the men’s final will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday at noon. The women’s semifinals will be broadcast on ESPN3, with the final on ESPNU 4 p.m. on Sunday.