What a finish the Ivy League has in store for the 2011-2012 season. For the second straight year, Harvard will have to fight it out to the very end in hopes of solely winning their first Ivy League Championship in 101 years.
Where at one point it looked like the Crimson were the runaway favorites to book their tickets to 2012s edition of March Madness, the Ivy League race could not be more wide open after last Saturday night.
This year's race is setting up too similarly, as Harvard fans know, to last year's heart-breaker to Princeton. In what could have been the game of the year, Douglas Davis hit a buzzer beater in the Ivy League tie breaker playoff to lift Princeton into the Big Dance and leave Harvard wondering what went wrong for the 100th straight year.
This year, however, Harvard will not have to worry about Princeton killing their dreams and stealing their tournament bid.
The Crimson have a new team to worry about: Princeton's traditional rival.
The Penn Quakers have heated up at the right time of the year, just in time to give Harvard second thoughts about running away with their first Ivy League Championship.
Even though the Quakers have rolled off five straight wins and sit half a game behind Harvard for first place, they haven't given themselves much margin for error during this streak. They have won these past five games by a total of 16 points, which is an average of 3.2 more points per game than their opponents.
Out of these five games, the one that truly stands out for its remarkableness was the win last Saturday at the Lavietes Pavilion. In front of a sold out crowd of 2,195 and seen nationally on ESPN3.com, the Quakers fought from behind the whole game and shocked the Crimson by coming away with a one point victory.
Who Will Win the Ivy League?
Heavy 11 point favorites, Harvard had the chance to all but lock up the Ivy League's automatic bid to the tournament.
As hard as the Crimson tried, Zack Rosen and the Quakers stayed within pouncing distance all night and would not let Harvard break the game open. When the game got to crunch time, Rosen had plans of his own: to give his school an opportunity to win the conference for the first time since 2007.
In what once looked like a walk in the park for the once-ranked 22nd Crimson turned out to be an all-out battle that may result in a decisive third game played between these two rivals. Just as last year's Ivy League Championship was decided in a one game playoff, the case may be the same this season between Harvard and Penn, who both have two losses in the conference.
The regular season still needs to play out in order for this exciting playoff to take place, and Penn still has more work to do if they want to encounter Harvard in a date with destiny. This weekend Penn takes on Brown and Yale at the Palestra, but neither of these teams should be overlooked.
Although Brown only has two wins in the Ivy's this year, they are coming off of a 16 point win last Saturday over Columbia.
Yale themselves only have three losses in the Ivy League, and still have an outsider's shot at winning the Conference. Penn fans should already be familiar with how tough this Bulldogs team is after they handed the Quakers their first Conference loss on February 3.
After this weekend's slate is a tough Tuesday night game at Princeton, which should also not be overlooked since Princeton was the team that shocked Harvard by giving them their first Ivy League loss on February 11.
On the other hand, the Crimson have a relatively easy end of the schedule, playing at 3-9 Columbia on Friday and 6-6 Cornell on Saturday.
If both teams take care of business, the Ivy League would be in for a special treat. No other Division I conference has this unique playoff game to decide their champion, since they all have conference tournaments at the end of the year.
Even though Harvard could still win an at-large bid to the tournament because of their lack of losses throughout the season and quality wins against Florida St., UCF, and St. Joes, it would still not be the same as winning the Ivy League for their first time.
Penn is now motivated as ever to win the conference, since this is the only way that they will get the opportunity to dance in the Big Dance.
On a team full of seniors who have never made the tournament, the Quakers have plenty of players whose last chance to make Ivy League history is now.
Behind Zack Rosen's clutch shot after clutch shot against Harvard to fifth year senior Tyler Bernardini's game saving charge in the final seconds, this is not Princeton's but Penn's year to be the Ivy League underdog that took down big bad Harvard.
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