Since coming to the Ivy League, Harvard basketball coach Tommy Amaker has learned one thing about the conference’s final weekend: the dominoes always fall in the wildest ways.
“I’ve said that to our kids,” Amaker said. “I’ve been in this league now a decade-plus, and it seems like there’s always something that can go unexpectedly — or maybe not as planned for certain people. And we shouldn’t be thinking any differently going into this final weekend.”
He could point to 2012, when the Crimson had to beat Columbia and Cornell in the final weekend and then bite their nails for three days waiting on Princeton to pull an upset over Penn that delivered Harvard its first outright Ivy League title in six decades.
He still has vivid memories of 2013, when the Crimson had only an outside chance of winning the crown after losing to Princeton and Penn in the penultimate Ivy weekend, then finished with wins over Columbia and Cornell. After the second game, Harvard rushed to its locker room to watch Brown upset Princeton and deliver the Crimson another title.
In 2015, Harvard went into its final game knowing its chances at a fourth straight Ivy title were slim after losing to Yale in the next-to-last game of the season. The Crimson not only needed to beat Brown, they needed Yale to lose to Dartmouth to split the crown and force a one-game playoff for an NCAA berth.
After they walked off the floor with the win they needed, the Crimson crowded into the locker room and lounge at Lavietes Pavilion with laptops, tablets, and smartphones streaming the Yale game, fingers crossed until Dartmouth pulled off the upset.
Even with Harvard knowing its spot in this year’s four-team Ivy League tournament is solidified, the high-stakes game of musical chairs is far from over.
Going into the final weekend, the Crimson (15-12, 10-2) are in second place behind Penn (21-7, 11-1). If Harvard wins out and Penn loses one game, the two teams will share the conference title. The Crimson would win the tiebreaker for the top seed in the Ivy tournament if they beat both Cornell and Columbia and Penn loses to third-place Yale on Friday.
“The Ivy League regular-season championship is still on the line,” said sophomore guard Justin Bassey. “It’s still something that we’re still competing for. That’s one of our goals, to win the championship, and that’s something that still matters.”
With Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, and Brown still in the mix for the last playoff spot, the Ivy’s final weekend holds plenty of intrigue.
Last season, the Crimson went into the final weekend riding a six-game winning streak but were two games back of first-place Princeton. Their spot in the inaugural Ivy tournament was secure, but they dropped their last two regular-season games and lost to Yale in the conference semifinals.
“Getting caught up in the lights, everyone’s families in town, first Ivy League tournament, the gym’s packed,” Bassey said. “I think a lot of guys kind of get distracted by a lot of the things going on outside of the game. Getting ahead of it, thinking forward to maybe playing Princeton again in the finals. Or getting ahead of the game that was at hand last year, Yale, the first game of the tournament. I think we learned from that and we carried those lessons forward with us into this upcoming tournament and really just trying to focus on one game at a time.”