Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ranked Ivy League Teams

This past week, Harvard entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history.  The Associated Press reported the story with the following article on the team and several quotes from head coach Tommy Amaker.  The article is attached

The article quickly indicates that this was "only the third time since 1970 that an Ivy League team had been ranked." 

The purpose of this blog is not to take anything away from the accomplishments of the Crimson or to somehow show up the Associated Press, however, upon reading the article, my mind quickly returned to several Princeton and Penn teams (Ivy League Teams) that were ranked.  Quite honestly, throughout most of the 1970's and even into 1990 it was not that rare for an Ivy League school to be ranked. 

First, let's not underestimate the accomplishments of Harvard and hopefully by writing this in some way I'm celebrating their recent accomplishment.  As an Ivy League school Harvard, like all Ivy League schools does not give out financial awards after acceptance for anything other than family need.  Ivy League coaches can, however, help student-athletes gain acceptance with academic qualifications that are much lower than the average applicant.   Accordingly, the Ivy League schools are playing on a different field than the rest of college basketball.   While high school student athletes across the country compete for athletic scholarships they will not get one from and Ivy League school. 

Given these restrictions, remarkably, several Ivy League schools have found their way into the Associated Press, former United Press International and current ESPN/USA Today poll.   Polls do offer a subjective element in that they are voted on, but they are an excellent barometer of the schools that are receiving exposure from the national media and television.     

First and foremost, even the most novice follower of college basketball can remember Penn's run to the Final Four in  1979.  The same year that most experts agree college basketball began its modern era.  This was the season Bird played Magic in the final in Salt Lake City.  Clearly, this was at team worthy of ranking and the Quakers entered the poll in the final rankings at 14th. 

Prior to that magical season and throughout most of the early 1970's Penn was in fact ranked.  In 1975 the Quakers entered the poll at number 20 in the preseason, moved up to 14, 13, 9, and dropped to 12 on December 31st.  They reentered the poll at 20 on February 4th and moved up to 14, 12, 10, 10, 11, 15, and 17 before finally falling out.   That same season (1975) Princeton was also ranked entering the poll at number 13 on March 25th and finishing at number 12 in the final poll. 

In 1974, Penn was ranked 16th in the preseason, held that ranking for one week, moved to 11th in the December 11th poll before dropping out for the rest of the season a week later.  In 1972-73, Penn again started the season with a number 9 ranking, remained ranked for seven weeks before dropping out until the final poll of the season where they reentered again at number 18.  In 1971-72, Penn again was ranked for the entire season, finishing at number 3 in the final poll and reaching the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament.  Their ranking that season never dropped below 14 and they spent most of the season in the top 10.  That same season Princeton actually spent a week ranked at number 18 in the December 14 poll.

In 1970-71 Penn spent the last 13 weeks of the season in top 5, going undefeated 27-0 during the regular season before losing to Villanova in the Regional Final.   In 1969-70 the Quakers again had a remarkable season going 25-1 before losing to Niagara in the first round and settling for a final ranking of 13th.

Notably, Columbia appeared in the rankings for eight weeks during the 1968-69 season, finishing 20-4.  The prior season, Columbia went 22-4 and reached as high as number 6 in the AP poll.

Ivy League schools have also been ranked during the "modern era" of the game.  Princeton, going 24-2, in 1990-91 entered the poll on February 12th at 25th and then moved up to 23, 21, 19, lost to Villanova in the first round and finished 18th in the final poll.   Penn also was ranked in the 1993-94 poll at 24th on March 7th and then finishing at 25th in the final poll.   

During the modern era of the game which would have been after Larry and Magic played in Salt Lake City in 1979, the best run by an Ivy League school was Princeton in 1997-98.  During that remarkable season, the Tigers finished 27-2, losing to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.   The Tigers first entered the poll at 25th on December 2nd rising as high as 8th on March 3rd and March 10th before falling to 16th after their loss to the Spartans in the tournament.   The most impressive aspect of Princeton's 1998 season may have been that there were 314 schools playing division I college basketball that season.   306 of those schools offered scholarships to their athletes, the Tigers accomplished their lofty ranking without the benefit of scholarhsips.

Subsequent to my writing of this column and I am adding this paragraph after that article appeared for the sake of being more thorough, the New York Times published an intersting article by Bill Pennington.  Pennington's piece is giving us a window into the future, it likely indicates that we will be seeing more ranked Ivy League teams and that this is likely only the beginning due to new financial aid standards and academic standards for athletes at those institutions.   A link is :

Pennington is basically saying what we are seeing with Harvard.  If a kid can get to go to an Ivy League school for basically the same cost as a public institution they are going to take the Ivy education.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out during the course of the future of college basketball. 

Most fans will also remeber the recent run of Cornell only two years ago.   The Big Red were ranked 22nd in the USA Today/ESPN poll at one point.   This is probably a result of what Pennington writes about. 

Finally, much was also made out of the fact that this was Harvard's first ranking ever.  While it was the Crimson's first appearance in the Associated Press poll, the Crimson did enter the UPI poll, albeit briefly in 1971-72 where they appeared in the preseason rankings at number 19, they probably didn't receive near the publicity for that ranking as they have for their most recent ranking.

Unfortunately, our Harvard story does not have the happiest of endings, the Crimson lost to UConn 67-53 on Thursday, likely ending their one week run in the rankings.   They do have fifteen more weeks left to regain a ranking.       

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