January 09, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) For the past few years Princeton coach Courtney Banghart was nervous before the Penn game.

The Ivy League championship had come down to those two teams and losing the first one of their two meetings in early January would leave little margin of error for the rest of the 14-game conference season. Now with the league holding its first-ever postseason tournament, losing the opener to Penn on Saturday isn't as bad as it used to be. Well of course except for losing to your rival that is.

''You got two chances and they knock you out once, you're playing behind the whole rest of the year and someone knocks them off and all that crap,'' Banghart said after the 62-57 loss to their rival. ''I said before the game to Mike (McLaughlin) I haven't been so unnervous for an Ivy League basketball game in 20 years.''

Both coaches love the idea of the postseason tournament, which will be held at the historic Palestra in March with the top four teams playing in it. Even though Saturday's game may not have had the postseason implications of previous years, the rivalry is still flourishing.

''It's just different, but I don't think it makes it any less special than it is,'' Penn coach McLaughlin said. ''This was a really important game - it's been for both of us - I think it took away the onus of this is something you have to get, this is important, her and I did talk about that, but every conference is like that, they have playoffs, but that doesn't take away what's important.''

The postseason tournament also gives hope to all the teams in the league. One bad weekend won't destroy postseason aspirations.

''The tournament allows a little room for error early,'' first-year Columbia coach Megan Griffith said. ''It allows teams that are maturing the chance to do that. You hope you're playing your best basketball in March and this allows you to have potentially one bad weekend early on.''

Griffith played at Columbia and also was an assistant at Princeton for the last few years when they dominated the league. She doesn't see this year's Ivy League being a one-team race.

''I don't think .500 would be a terrible record in our league this season,'' she said. ''Nobody's going to be perfect. I think honestly this season a team that goes .500 has a chance to be fourth place or tied for it.''

Penn has the best shot at running through the league as the Quakers return all five starters from last season's championship team. Yet, they will face potential challenges from Princeton and Harvard, which went 11-1 in the non-conference season and is led by two stellar freshmen.

The Crimson won their first league game by five points over rival Dartmouth.

The rest of the Ivy League gets underway next weekend.

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