Last week, Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue dismissed the importance of looking ahead to tiebreaker scenarios. “All those things that [the media] thinks about, and fans, and alumni ... it’s all fun, but it doesn’t do us any good, so we don’t think like that,” Donahue said.
Here at the Daily Pennsylvanian, we do. Especially after Penn’s loss to Columbia over the weekend, which made its playoff prospects far murkier. So with that in mind, here’s a rundown of all the scenarios where Penn makes the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.
Amazingly, entering the final weekend in the Ivy League regular season, six teams still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Two teams, Princeton and Harvard, have already clinched spots in the Ivy tournament, and Yale is overwhelmingly likely to take third, leaving Penn, Columbia and Dartmouth to fight for the final spot. None of these three control their own destiny – each needs a result outside of their own games to clinch a spot. For Dartmouth to affect a potential Penn-Columbia tiebreaker, the Big Green would have to sweep both Penn and Princeton. For all practical purposes, that possibility is unlikely enough to ignore.
The Quakers do have a tougher schedule than Columbia, as they play two teams they lost to earlier in the season, Dartmouth and second place Harvard. Meanwhile, Columbia gets Brown and Yale.
The most obvious scenarios are those where Penn and Columbia win a different amount of games. The team with the most wins this weekend is in, without any tiebreakers necessary. The simplest path for the Quakers, and the one Donahue is likely focused on, is to win out and hope Columbia drops a game. Splitting the final two games would also be enough for Penn if Columbia lost both.
Three-way tie for third at 7-7:
If the Lions and Quakers both win out to reach 7-7, and Yale loses both upcoming games, all three would be tied for third. The tiebreakers dictate that Penn and Columbia would both make the tournament over Yale, seeing as Yale would be the only team of the three to lack a win against Harvard. Whether Penn becomes the third or fourth seed would then depend on the teams below the Quakers – Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth. Either way, Penn is in.
Two-way tie for fourth at 7-7:
If Yale beats Cornell on Friday, it would clinch the third spot, leaving only Penn and Columbia in a tie. The fourth seed would then be awarded to the team with the best record against the winner of the Cornell-Brown game in Providence on Saturday. If the winner is Cornell, that team is Penn. If Brown wins, the Quakers are eliminated.
Two-way tie for fourth at 6-8:
If the Quakers and Lions tie at 6-8, fourth place would depend on which game each team won. A Penn loss to Harvard eliminates the Quakers provided Columbia wins at least one of two this weekend. However, if Penn’s loss comes against Dartmouth, and Columbia’s lone win is at Brown, Penn is in the tournament, since it would own a win over Yale and the Lions would not. A Penn loss to Dartmouth and Columbia win at Yale would result in further tiebreakers decided by the aforementioned Brown-Cornell game.
Assuming Dartmouth is incapable of beating undefeated Princeton away, Penn would likely qualify as the fourth-place team. A Dartmouth sweep makes things complicated and would likely result in Penn missing the tournament.
Two-way tie for fourth at 5-9:
The two-way tie scenario involves Penn and Columbia going winless, Princeton beating Dartmouth and Cornell beating Brown, but losing to Yale. The tie would be broken by Columbia’s win over Harvard and thus eliminate Penn.
Three-way tie for fourth at 5-9.
A three-way tie would result if Penn and Columbia lost both games and either Brown or Cornell swept. If the third team is Cornell, Penn wins the tiebreaker via its 3-1 combined record against the New York schools — otherwise, it is eliminated.
Thankfully for basketball fans, the simpler scenarios are far more likely that the outrageous ones. Yale’s Sports Analytics Group has calculated the chances of each team making the playoffs. Their analysis puts Dartmouth’s chances of making the tournament at .01%. It also gives Penn a 59% chance of making the tournament, including a 1% chance of getting the third seed.
For Quakers’ fans, this means cheering against Columbia and for the Big Red alongside Penn.
Let’s just hope the math doesn’t get too complicated.