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Daniel Wilco | | February 15, 2019

The best Ivy League performances in March Madness

Princeton's student newspaper recounts the 1996 win over UCLA Princeton's student newspaper recounts the 1996 NCAA tournament win over UCLA

Ivy League teams have played 42 NCAA tournament games since the tournament expanded in 1985.

They are 8-34 in those matchups.

Of the eight teams currently in the Ivy League, six have made the modern NCAA tournament: Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. 

Dartmouth went to four straight NCAA tournaments from 1941 to 1944 — reaching the championship game twice, but losing both times — and made its last appearance in 1959.

Columbia has appeared three times. In 1948, 1951, and 1968. They are 2-4 in tournament play.

Here’s how the other six have performed since the tournament expanded:

Team Appearances Tournament Record
Brown 1 0-1
Cornell 4 2-4
Harvard 4 2-4
Penn 12 1-14
Princeton 10 2-13
Yale 1 1-1

Now, we're taking a look at some of the best Ivy League performances in March Madness:

2010 Cornell

In 2010, Cornell went 13-1 in conference play to win the Ivy League for the third straight year, earning the conference’s automatic bid and receiving a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. Heading into the first round, the Big Red was 0-5 in four NCAA tournament appearances (they lost the regional third place game in 1954). They had never been seeded higher than a 14.

Their first-round matchup was against AP No. 12 Temple. In the past 18 years, the Big Red was 1-20 against ranked teams, having lost 18 straight after beating No. 19 California 74-54 on December 30, 1992. Even with the talk of this being the best Ivy League team to make the tournament in a long time, the odds of a win were miniscule.

At halftime, Cornell led 37-29. They would win the game 78-65. 

"Everyone was saying we were Cinderella or it's an upset. Not us," sophomore Chris Wroblewski said after the game.

But the Big Red wasn’t satisfied with getting Cornell its first NCAA tournament win ever.

Next up was 4-seed Wisconsin, which had squeaked past 13-seed Wofford 53-49 in the first round.

The Badgers boasted one of the best defenses in the country, allowing just 56.9 points per game — the fourth-lowest mark in the nation.

But they hadn’t faced a team that could shoot like Cornell. In 2010, Cornell led the country, shooting 43 percent from 3-point range, miles ahead of 2nd place BYU (41.7 percent). 

Against Wisconsin, they shot 53.3 percent from deep (8-for-15). They shot 61.1 percent from the floor in total, running the Badgers out of the gym with an 87-69 win.

The Big Red’s run would come to an end against Big Blue, as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Patrick Patterson led Kentucky to a 62-45 win in John Calipari’s first season as coach. 

That 2010 Cornell run remains the last time an Ivy League team has advanced to the Sweet 16.

Princeton in 1996

Unlike other Ivy League teams, Princeton had a relatively deep history in the NCAA tournament. 

In the 36 years before 1996, the Tigers had been to the tournament 16 times. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, Princeton is the only Ivy League school to earn a single-digit seed, as they got an 8-seed in 1991 (then lost to 9-seed Villanova in the first round, 50-48).

Still, in 1996, Princeton hadn’t advanced past the first round in the modern tournament, going 0-4 since 1985.

In 1996, Princeton finished the regular season with a 12-2 conference record, tied for first with Pennsylvania. Penn had won the last three league titles and had swept the Tigers in regular-season play, but because the Ivy League hadn’t instituted a conference tournament yet (that would come in 2017), the two teams had a neutral-site playoff to determine the conference’s automatic bid. That game took place just four days after Penn beat Princeton 63-49 to end the regular season.

But in this game, Princeton would come out on top, surviving a monumental comeback by Penn in regulation and winning 63-56 in overtime.

On to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. The matchup: Just the reigning national champions, 4-seed UCLA.

With six minutes left, Princeton trailed 41-34, but went on a 7-0 run to tie the game with 30 seconds left.

Enter: The backdoor cut:

Princeton lost to 5-seed Mississippi State, 63-41, in the next round.

Harvard in 2013

In the 74 years since the NCAA tournament started in 1939, Harvard had had just 20 winning seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances heading into the 2013 season.

But after coach Tommy Amaker’s first season, Harvard went 14-14 in 2009, 21-8 in 2010, 23-7 in 2011, and 26-5 in 2012. That 2012 season saw the Crimson make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946, appearing as a 12 seed in before losing in the first round.

They were back in 2013, winning the Ivy League with an 11-3 conference record and earning a 14-seed against 3-seed New Mexico.

The Lobos were a perfect 4-0 against ranked teams on the year, and won the MWC regular season and tournament championships, heading into the tournament with a 29-5 record. 

New Mexico had the 26th-lowest opponent field goal percentage in the country, holding opposing teams to just 39.1 percent from the field. 

And then Harvard came out and shot 52.4 percent in total and 58.3 percent from 3-point range. The Crimson had four players score double figures, led by Wesley Saunders’ 18 points and Laurent Rivard’s 17 points (on 5-for-9 shooting from deep).

Harvard would take a 31-27 lead into halftime and withstand multiple Lobos runs to win 68-62.

The Crimson would fall to 6-seed Arizona 74-51 in the next round.

Princeton in 1998

No Ivy League team has seen as much regular-season success as the Princeton in 1998.

The Tigers finished the regular season 26-1, beating No. 22 Texas and No. 23 Wake Forest on neutral courts, and only losing to No. 2 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 50-42. 

Building on the success of Pete Carrill, who had retired after that 1996 season, new coach Bill Carmody took the Tigers to the NCAA tournament with a 24-3 record in 1997, but lost in the first round. 

In 1998, they were back, this time as a 5-seed — the highest ever seeding for an Ivy League team. They faced off against 12-seed UNLV, which was back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since Jerry Tarkanian took the Rebels to nine-straight tournaments, including a 1990 national championship.

That season, Princeton led the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 51.6 points per game. They would stifle UNLV, holding an offense that scored 70 points per game to just 57, and winning 69-57.

In the next round, Princeton would face 4-seed Michigan State. The Tigers trailed by two at halftime and slowly slipped away, losing 63-56. No Ivy League team has received a single-digit seed since. 

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