For Love Of Ivy
The Ivy League race is a purist's dream, without a tournament to
The last conference season that matters is headed for the most
gripping finish in its 48-year history and not a second of the
drama will be seen on national TV. Such is the beauty--and the
curse--of the Ivy League, the lone holdout of the 31 conferences
to award its automatic NCAA tournament bid to its regular-season
champion. If Penn and Yale both win their remaining league
games, and Princeton wins all but its rematch with Penn at the
Palestra in Philadelphia, there will be a three-way tie for
first place, and an unprecedented playoff will be used to
determine who will get the league's berth in the NCAAs.
In an age when many conference tournaments are lamer than ever
(does 16-13 Iowa really deserve a chance to salvage another
underachieving season by winning the Big Ten tournament?), the
Ivy race is a hoops purist's dream. So why do all but one of the
Ivy League's eight coaches want to abandon the current system
and adopt a postseason tourney like everyone else?
The answer requires lessons in history and philosophy. History,
for starters, because Penn and Princeton have monopolized the
league by winning 31 of the last 33 Ivy titles. "I want to do
what's best for the league," says Penn coach Fran Dunphy, a
surprising tournament supporter, "and this would give kids who
play on the other teams a reason to keep plugging away." As for
philosophy, ponder this question: Does a league exist if it
never appears on ESPN's Championship Week? "We recruit against
coaches who tell kids, 'The Ivy League doesn't have a conference
tournament. They're not even on ESPN,'" says Yale coach James
Jones. "Let's give our guys an opportunity. Talk to the people
at Princeton. They're the big snag."
In truth the league's school presidents would decide the matter,
and they shown no interest in increasing missed class time.
Tigers coach John Thompson III, the lone dissenter among Ivy
coaches, makes perfect sense when he says, "If you're going to
send one team to the NCAA tournament, you should send your best
team over the length of your conference season." After all,
fairness is paramount in the Ivy League, which is so blessedly
equitable that league rules include provisions for breaking an
eight-way tie. (Only then would there be a league tournament.)
While even John Nash might have a hard time computing the odds
of that scenario occurring, the prospect of a scintillating
postseason menage a trois should be enough to captivate the Ivy
League's beautiful minds. In games played on a neutral court,
Princeton would face Yale, with the winner playing Penn two days
later for the NCAA berth. (The Quakers would get the bye thanks
to their 3-1 record against the other two first-place teams.)
In other words it would be a playoff for the ages. "Hey, Fran,"
Jones told Dunphy minutes after Penn's 72-63 win over the Elis
last Saturday had evened their season series. "Let's play
again." More power to them if they meet in a playoff, but
otherwise why diminish the last regular season that matters for
another meaningless conference tournament? --Grant Wahl
Fight for Final NCAA Bids
Surprises on The Bubble
Michigan State has spent the last few weeks struggling to stay
in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but it
wasn't until early last week, as the Spartans were preparing to
face Minnesota, another Big Ten club hoping for a bid, that
coach Tom Izzo mentioned the b word to his players. "I told our
guys, at some point you have to beat these other bubble teams,"
Izzo says. "Before then I didn't want to mention it, because
we're so young, but right now you have to put everything on the
Michigan State helped its tournament chances by defeating the
Gophers 74-55 last Thursday and three days later further
bolstered them by knocking off Indiana 57-54 to improve to 17-10
(8-6 in the league). Jockeying for a bid late in the season is
an unfamiliar position for the Spartans, who have gone to the
last three Final Fours, but Michigan State is one of several
teams dealing with such surprising circumstances.
For schools that began the season with low expectations, life on
the bubble is an exciting time. For those who were supposed to
have already locked up a bid, it's a nerve-wracking headache.
Virginia's situation certainly fits the latter description. A
month ago the Cavaliers were ranked eighth in the nation, but
after losing six of their next eight games, they were 6-8 in the
ACC through Sunday (16-9 overall), had dropped out of the Top 25
and still had to face Duke and Maryland in their final two
conference games. Should they lose both, they would be 1-7 for
the season against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and would be
2-8 in their last 10 games, two key criteria used by the NCAA
tournament selection committee. Another factor is strength of
schedule, and Virginia's weak nonconference slate will
undoubtedly hurt its case.
On Dec. 10 Missouri was ranked No. 2, but after a horrible
stretch during which the team lost six of 12 games, the Tigers
(19-9, 8-6 in the Big 12) are now on the bubble. Says coach Quin
Snyder, "I didn't think that ranking was accurate then, so our
fall from grace hasn't been as extreme as it might appear."
Boston College (18-9, 7-7 in the Big East), which was ranked
11th in late December, and Georgetown (16-10, 7-7 in league
play), which spent eight weeks in the Top 25, are also on the
outside looking in. (The Hoyas got a lift by winning 75-69 at
Syracuse on Sunday, but they'll be docked one win by the
selection committee for playing Division III Marymount
University of Arlington, Va., in November.) St. Joseph's (17-9,
11-3 in the Atlantic 10) was ranked 10th in the preseason but
has some bad losses, including Eastern Washington and Richmond,
and will probably have to win the A-10 tournament to get in.
On the flip side, at the beginning of the season few if any
observers predicted that Rutgers would be in contention for an
at-large bid. The Scarlet Knights were still alive as of Sunday,
however, with an 18-9 record and an 8-6 mark in the Big East.
Among their victims are UConn, Syracuse and Miami. While Rutgers
coach Gary Waters prefers not to talk to his players about their
bubble status--"I don't want to put undue pressure on them," he
says--Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal has no such qualms. His
Waves (20-7), who have not been ranked this season, have wins
over UCLA, USC and Gonzaga and are 47th in the RPI, which means
they could get an at-large bid even if they lose in the West
Coast Conference tournament, provided it's to Gonzaga, now
ranked No. 7. "When I was a player, I liked to know where I
stood, so I extend my players the same courtesy," Westphal says.
"I tell them, If the season ended today, I think we'd get a bid,
but it doesn't end today. So the bottom line is we've got more
work to do."
No Place like Home
Jeffries Clicks At Indiana
Two or three times a week Indiana sophomore forward Jared
Jeffries makes the 10-minute drive from Assembly Hall to his
parents' house in Bloomington. It's not only his father's
scrumptious lemon meringue pie or the chance to beat his younger
brother, Justin, at video games that lures Jeffries home. The
Jeffries' household is one place where Jared's status as a
basketball star hardly matters. "I don't like to surround myself
with a lot of people who tell me how good I am," Jeffries says.
"The biggest reason I went to Indiana is that it gave me the
opportunity to enjoy my family before I have to move away from
Moving day might arrive sooner than expected. In leading the No.
25 Hoosiers to a first-place tie with Ohio State in the Big Ten
with a 10-4 record (18-9 overall) through Sunday, the 6'9"
Jeffries has established himself as the runaway choice for
conference player of the year and, should he choose to enter the
NBA draft, a possible lottery pick. His all-around skills should
also earn him consideration for first-team All-America. He was
ranked second in the Big Ten in rebounding (9.8 a game), fifth
in scoring (15.9), fourth in steals (1.7) and sixth in blocks
(1.4), all while remaining a team player.
Jeffries's ball handling and passing skills, combined with his
ability to recognize double and triple teams, have helped many
of his teammates improve, most notably 6'4" senior guard Dane
Fife and 6'8" senior forward Jarrad Odle. "I always know that
when my guy is guarding me, he's worried about Jared," says
Fife, who has connected on 48.0% of his three-point attempts
after shooting 30.6% last season.
Fife, a Michigan native, compares Jeffries's thoughtful approach
with that of former Duke forward Shane Battier, with whom Fife
often played summer ball during his high school years. Jeffries
is as likely to glean insights from autobiographies written by
Malcolm X and Colin Powell as from those of Phil Jackson and
Michael Jordan. He also leads in a variety of ways, from keeping
his teammates focused by raising his voice in the locker room to
lightening the mood by surreptitiously pouring salt in someone's
drink during a pregame meal.
"I feel it's my job to keep everybody loose," he says."I try to
look at my teammates and see which ones benefit from me yelling
at them and which ones need to be talked to quietly."
Jeffries has been more assertive on the court as well, having
added 15 pounds of muscle since last season (he now weighs 220
pounds), thanks in large part to three weeks of intense workouts
in Florida last summer with Indiana Pacers forward Al
Harrington. Jeffries says he's not sure if he will enter the
draft this summer, though Fife says, "I think he's going." No
doubt Jeffries will have plenty of "advisers" encouraging him to
take the money and run, but Hoosiers coach Mike Davis knows the
best advice Jeffries will get is only a 10-minute drive away.
"The decision will be made by Jared and his family," Davis says.
"Whatever decision they make, I'm sure it will be the right one."
For complete scores and stats, plus more from Seth Davis
and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
Weekly Seed Report
With two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, the four No. 1
seeds seem to be all but locked in, though Cincinnati, the
shakiest of the group, survived a scare with a one-point win at
home over Marquette. Three of our No. 2s remained the same as
well. (Marquette moved into Florida's spot after the Gators lost
to Alabama last Saturday.) There was plenty of movement
elsewhere. Stanford and Miami both lost twice and dropped out,
making room for Pac-10 leader Oregon, back after a two-week
hiatus, and surging Oklahoma State, winner of four straight.
Also, the little-respected Big Ten still had only one
representative. Surprisingly it was still conference coleader
Ohio State, though the other, Indiana, beat the Buckeyes last
1. Duke (25-2)
2. Pittsburgh (23-4)
3. Georgia (20-7)
4. Ohio State (19-6)
1. Kansas (25-2)
2. Marquette (23-4)
3. Florida (20-6)
4. Arizona (18-8)
1. Maryland (23-3)
2. Alabama (23-5)
3. Gonzaga (26-3)
4. Oklahoma State (22-6)
1. Cincinnati (26-2)
2. Oklahoma (22-4)
3. Kentucky (19-7)
4. Oregon (20-7)
Player of the Week
SENIOR, CENTER, WESTERN KENTUCKY
The 7'1" Marcus, who missed 17 games with an ankle injury,
proved last week that he's fully recovered by scoring 32 points
in a 100-63 victory over Kentucky State and 27 in the
Hilltoppers' 65-61 win over Middle Tennessee. Here's his dossier.
Most surprising thing about you: I played only one year of high
Book currently reading: The Black Panthers Speak
Favorite author: Philosopher Sun (The Art of War) Tzu
In the CD changer: Common, Dead Prez
Favorite movie: Malcolm X
Pregame ritual: Take a 30-minute shower
Favorite websites: hiphopsite.com and hiphophavoc.com, where I
listen to and download music
Best Player Ever Guarded: Florida's Udonis Haslem
Favorite NBA player: The Spurs' Tim Duncan, because of his
demeanor and consistency.