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NCAAB: Ivy League Tournament Odds, Preview and Picks

Yale(5 POTUS) @ Harvard(8 POTUS)

  • Where: The Palestra. Philadelphia, PA
  • When: March 10, 2018 12:00 pm EST
  • Moneyline: Penn (+110), Harvard (+150), Yale (+700), Cornell (+1000)

In September of 2014, the Yale Bulldogs beat the Army Black Knights in an FBS vs Ivy League gridiron match-up. To some, the upset was a fluke. To others, it reflected the weakness of Army’s program. 42 months and a pair of Army bowl-appearances later, it looks like less of an anomaly.

The triumph at Yale Bowl was part of a larger revival of the Ivy League in major sports. It’s a remarkable story considering the circumstances. Ivy programs not only deal with huge academic restrictions but must suffer the stuffed shirts running the conference, few of whom see the merits of competition outside of the ancient rivalries.

In basketball, the conference has made even greater strides. Harvard made the NCAA tournament in 2015 and scared the heck out of North Carolina. Yale beat Baylor and then fought Duke for 2 halves in a 2016 March Madness bid. Princeton got its turn last season and nearly knocked-off Bonzie Colson and Notre Dame.

Energized by success, boosters and fans have persuaded the Ivory Tower brigade to allow an actual conference tournament in March. The winners receive an auto-bid to the Big Dance. But the tourney is much shorter than those of other leagues. Only the top 4 teams in the standings are invited.

Who is favored in 2018? The Pennsylvania Quakers are taking turns speaking on Sundays and turns scoring with the basketball the rest of the time, roaring to a 12-2 conference record in the regular season. But the playoff tourney is short and involves only the cream of the league. Futures odds are tight between the Quakers and the Harvard Crimson, at (+110) and (+150) respectively.

Yale is a (+700) underdog and a potential spoiler.

Fight On, Pennsylvania

Penn is blessed with the characteristics that make many Ivy League hoops programs a load to handle: work ethic, poise, teamwork. But pure talent is also a key factor. Truly special athletic specimens are hard to recruit at such academics-oriented schools, but if you can land, say, a 6’8″ power forward who can score 15 points against a big-time opponent, you’re going to win a lot of conference games in the Ivy.

Quaker sophomore A.J. Brodeur has all of the measureables, plus an outstanding shot. The forward is hitting field goals at 53.3% and is a physical shot-blocker around the glass. Another sophomore, Ryan Betley, is averaging almost 15 points from the guard position.

There isn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Penn Quaker basketball. That doesn’t mean the team won’t win the Ivy League tournament in ’18. But the squad has lost 8 times, there is no dominant upperclassman on the roster, and the Red and Blue are 1-2 in their previous 3 games against Harvard and Yale combined.

Yale beats Harvard, 6’7″ to 6’7″

The Crimson are having another banner season, but OOC match-ups have led only to frustration. If Penn should feel cheated by a 10-6 record outside of the Ivy League, Harvard should feel as though they simply haven’t done enough. There are a dozen losses on the resume, yet here they are at (+150) to win the postseason tourney and take part in March Madness.

Thankfully coach Tommy Amaker has a power forward of his own to utilize, a player who is in some respects more dangerous than Brodeur. 6’7″ sophomore Seth Towns went to town against Penn in a 74-71 loss last month, hitting 2-of-2 treys, 6-of-6 free throws and scoring 22 points. Towns is a talented defender who passed up offers from Ohio State and Michigan, and his supporting cast includes hosses like Chris Lewis, a 6’9″ center-forward type who steadily produces points in the paint.

Harvard’s ancient rival Yale comes into the 4-team clash having won 7 out of their last 8 games, including a dramatic 1-point win over Penn. Powerful 6’7″ guard Miye Oni loomed large driving to the paint, and fellow backcourt wizard Trey Phills went 4-of-5 on 3-point attempts. The Bulldogs give up a lot of points, but they’re fun to watch score.

Cornell is a worthy but .500-ish squad that has suffered frustrating finishes against Harvard, Penn and most recently Yale.

Over in a flash

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Now that we’ve gotten to know all 4 teams, let’s look at the bracket. Harvard shares a regular-season Ivy League title with Pennsylvania, but is seeded 1st and will play 4th-seed Cornell. Harvard hasn’t had the easiest time of it against the Big Red, but they’ve managed to out-defend and out-score Cornell in that order.

Meanwhile, Yale plays Penn in a bout that could go either way.

All things considered, Yale is the best bet at (+700) odds to survive the bracket and punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Perhaps you think Towns is one of the best stories in college basketball. But the Bulldogs can call and raise the power-forward teams of the Ivy with a pair of long, dynamic stars. And for Harvard to be the right underdog pick, Towns’ chances to triumph would have to be astronomically better than Oni’s.

In the NCAA tournament, coaches can pick apart the flaws of the Yale defense. But in the quick-draw Ivy League tournament, a 7/1 long-shot bet on the Bulldogs might pay off with a great big bone.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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