Penn fans just might luck out this year. If the Quakers men's basketball team wins its final three games of the season, definitely possible considering the way they played against Harvard on Saturday, they will clinch an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. And for those who wish to follow the Red and Blue to their first-round destination, planning a trip will not be as difficult as it has been in past years. If Penn does indeed advance to the Dance, it's pretty easy to see where they're headed -- Dayton, Ohio. And that should be a relief to anybody worried about travel plans. I know from experience that it can be a true hassle scrambling to make accommodations once the pairings are announced on Selection Sunday. Two years ago, I spent all Monday of spring break on the phone and on the Internet, trying to find the most affordable way to get to Seattle on Wednesday. Last year, the procedure repeated itself. I was editing this section at the time, and the DP's general manager and I had to find a reasonable route to Winston-Salem, N.C., for three reporters and a photographer in a window of two days. It's an exercise known to anyone who has ever followed his or her favorite team to the NCAAs. And it's something fans of the Penn Quakers will not have to worry about this season. If Penn wins out, you can book your flight and make your hotel reservations as soon as the final buzzer goes off in Jadwin Gym on March 6. Penn's first game in the NCAA Tournament will be held on Tuesday, March 13 in Dayton. For those of you who have not heard, March Madness has expanded this year. There will now be 65, not 64, teams listed on the brackets. The number of conferences with automatic bids has expanded, so the NCAA has decided to invite an extra guest to the biggest party of the year. The two lowest seeds in the field will meet in Dayton for the right to face the top seed in the Midwest Region, which could be the very same Illinois team that knocked the Quakers out in the first round last year. When the play-in concept was announced last summer, it seemed highly unlikely that the Ivy champion would be forced to play an extra game just to have the opportunity to get walloped by one of the best teams in the land. There were just too many bad conferences out there. Now, it looks as though there is no way to avoid it. The only possible exception is if Princeton wins out. The Tigers currently have an RPI rating of 145, which might be enough to salvage them. (The RPI formula is used to rank all 319 Division I teams and plays an important role in determining NCAA seeds.) No other Ivy team has a prayer of avoiding the new special playoff game. There are four teams alive in the Ivy title hunt right now. Penn (RPI 219) and Princeton are tied for the league lead with 8-3 Ivy marks, while Brown (267) and Yale (275) sit a game back at 7-4. Each of these four teams will play the others in the remaining regular season games, and the way this season has gone, it's impossible to know what will happen. Yale, which was swept by the Ps on its trip through Philly and Jersey a few weeks ago, now gets another crack at the traditional powers -- this time with a healthy Neil Yanke and on their home floor. Brown has been improving every week of the season, and the Bears will also be looking to avenge earlier losses. And of course, Princeton and Penn have been anything but consistent this season. Fran Dunphy has said numerous times that any team can beat any other team in the league this season, and he is certainly right. That's why I'm staying away from predictions right now. After seeing the way the Quakers dismantled a Harvard team that had wiped the floor with them in Boston, I could say that Penn now has the confidence to carry it through the Yale-Brown weekend and the Princeton rematch. But I've been there before. After the second-half surge in the loss to Maryland, I said the then-winless Quakers had turned a corner. After they got by Lehigh, I wrote they could only get better. Then they went out and lost to teams like Harvard (305) and Columbia (286). So the only prediction I'll make now is that if Penn makes the Tourney -- and that's a big if -- it will be in the play-in game. There is no way for the Quakers to finish with a winning record this season, and their current RPI will be one of the worst in the Tournament. So if Penn can make it through the next three games, make your plans for Dayton as soon as you can. It could save you some hassle.Comments powered by Disqus
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