Basketball coaches, players see promise in Ivy tournament
The Dartmouth men’s basketball team, currently 0-2 in the Ivy League, is vying for a spot in the postseason tournament.
On March 10, 2016, the Ivy League announced its decision to implement a four-team postseason tournament for men’s and women’s basketball. The Ancient Eight is the last of the 32 Division I leagues to switch to a postseason tournament to determine its guaranteed NCAA championship bid.
At the tournament, the No. 1 team will play the No. 4 team, and the No. 2 team will take on the No. 3 team. The winners of that round will face off to decide who gets the NCAA bid.
“[It’s] historic,” men’s basketball head coach David McLaughlin said. “It’s a nationally renowned conference, the Ivy League, and now you have a league tournament which is going to be a historic weekend. There are a lot of basketball fans out there, and all eyes across the country are going to be on this tournament this year.”
Previously, the NCAA bid winner had to be the best team outright, which meant that teams with a slow start and several early losses could be out of the running very quickly. According to women’s head coach Belle Koclanes, the new tournament style gives teams room to grow.
“Your fate [had] been determined in the past earlier in the year,” she said. “So, let’s say you don’t start off the Ivy League season very well, but then you’re playing better towards the end of the season. It’s a little too late for that at times. Now you have a little bit more room to progress and show that progression throughout the Ivy League season.”
The tournament format also makes regular-season games more important.
“You always have the chance — every game really matters now and especially later on into the season,” McLaughlin said. “So all league games, not that they weren’t all vitally important, but now they just play a major role in terms of vying for a spot to be one of those four teams.”
Teams could now have as many as four to six losses and still qualify for the post-season tournament, according to men’s player Miles Wright ’18.
The new format also shortens the season. Each team will now play 27 games instead of the 28 they had played in previous seasons. The 27-game limit allows for more prep time between games and a game-free weekend during the season, Wright said.
The league reached the decision to implement the playoff over the course of several years, according to athletic director Harry Sheehy.
“The men’s and the women’s basketball coaching groups vetted this within their own groups and then came forward to the athletic directors with a formal proposal,” Sheehy said. “After some tweaking [which] took place over a couple of years, they came back and then we took the proposal to the presidents who passed it.”
Coaches and players alike have expressed satisfaction with the new tournament system.
“I think the biggest benefit with be the competitiveness towards the end of league play,” Wright said. “I know a lot of teams, after you get those first two losses you kind of are disqualified from that number one spot. A lot of teams just kind of trail off, and you’re playing for pride, but if you’re playing for postseason chances, there’s a lot more to play for.”
The possibility of a postseason chance has also improved morale among Big Green players.
“Once you get those first couple losses, usually you would just know like you’re not making it to the NCAA tournament,” Wright said. “Which doesn’t mean you don’t play hard, and you still come to work every day and bring everything you have, but [the tournament is] something to look forward to at the end of the season.”
Koclanes stressed the tournament as a unique student experience.
“Our student-athletes have never had the opportunity to compete in a conference tournament,” she said. “That experience is incredible. It’s high energy, it happens in March during March Madness, so that’s certainly going to be a benefit that I’m looking forward to for our players to experience. Now we’ve got to earn the right to be there, top four.”
The 2017 women’s and men’s tournaments will be held at the University of Pennsylvania on March 11 to 12. UPenn’s home court, the Palestra — which has played host to more college basketball games than any other arena — was chosen for its historic significance, according to Koclanes.
The Big Green men’s and women’s teams currently sit at sixth in the Ivy League standing, respectively. Despite the slow start, Wright said Big Green players have their sights set on Philadelphia. A berth in the men’s NCAA tournament would end a 57-year drought for Dartmouth, the longest of any Division I team which has been to the Big Dance.
“It’s like a goal at the end of the road, and you’re just pushing to get there,” Wright said.