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After a weekend sweep of Penn and Princeton, Joe Case's Lions are now 5-5 in the Ivies. (Theodore Schweitz/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

NEW YORK -- If not for a mere three points over two games last weekend, Columbia -- a team with just one winning season since 1985 -- would be in first place right now. It's been that kind of year for the Ivy League. It's a year in which the Lions have swept Penn and Princeton in a single weekend, the first time a team has done that since 1989. It's a year in which mighty Princeton (6-3 Ivy League) has lost to the likes of Cornell and Dartmouth. It's a year in which Yale (6-3) sees itself sitting on top of the standings with five games to go in the season. And it's a year when Penn (6-3 Ivy, 9-15 overall) could still find itself with an NCAA berth -- despite the fact that it is now assured of a losing record in the regular season. With traditional powerhouses Penn and Princeton fielding arguably their worst teams in more than a decade, the field is wide open to perennial also-rans like Brown (5-4), Columbia (5-5) and Yale. Princeton, rocked by the losses of several key players, as well as the departure of coach Bill Carmody, was expected to struggle this season. Penn, meanwhile, was the preseason favorite to run away with the league. But both teams have been nothing but enigmas, equally mediocre. "Pretty much any team can beat any other team," Columbia forward Craig Austin said. "Overall the Ivy championship is still wide open. I wouldn't be surprised if anybody won it." No team knows that more than the Lions (5-5), who beat Penn Saturday night for the first time since 1992. "They might be the best basketball team in the league right now," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said of Columbia. Last weekend, the Lions dropped two heartbreakers to Brown and Yale -- to the Elis by two points in double overtime, and to the Bears by one point. In the Brown game, Columbia held a two-point lead with one second left, but a shooting foul behind the three-point line gave the Bears three free throws and the game. If the young Lions team --ÿwhich didn't just beat Penn and Princeton, it dominated them by a combined 29 points -- had not blown last week's games, it'd be sitting alone at the top right now. "There's definitely a part of you that thinks back and goes 'Damn,'" Austin said. "It's still hard to take. We'd be 7-3 right now, on top of the league. But we're not, we're 5-5." For the first time ever, though, five losses are not enough to count a team out of the Ivy race. The Elis, who haven't won an Ivy championship since 1962, are obviously even more in the hunt than the Lions. The team has five games remaining, including home rematches against Penn and Princeton. "We are one of the three teams that control their own destiny," second-year Yale coach James Jones told the Yale Daily News. "If we win out, we will win the championship." Brown, which won its sole Ivy title in 1986, is a game behind the Penn-Princeton-Yale triumvirate. The Bears have a game remaining against each of those teams, as well as one at Columbia. And Harvard (5-5), which upset Penn last weekend and came a buzzer-beater away from toppling Princeton, isn't out of it yet. But despite their struggles over the past several weeks, the Quakers and the Tigers are still on top of the Ivy League standings. "It's just a wonder that we still have a chance in the Ivy League, as poorly as we've played," Penn senior Geoff Owens said.

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