March 13, 2024 

What to watch for in the 2024 Ivy League Tournament

Same semifinal matchups as 2023 — but maybe different results?

If you’re planning to attend the Ivy League Tournament this week, make sure to bring earplugs.

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The tournament will take place at Columbia, which has led the Ivy League in home attendance for three straight seasons despite having a relatively small gym. With a capacity of just 2,700, Columbia averaged about 1,400 fans this season and topped 2,000 four times, including a sellout against Princeton on Feb. 24.

The Ivy League Tournament final was sold out before the tournament seeding was even finalized, and the semifinals aren’t far behind.

“Gratitude is a word that often comes up when I’m at a game and look into the stands,” Columbia head coach and alumna Megan Griffith told reporters on March 7. “… Everybody always comments to me — not even just people in our league — they’re like, ‘Wow, this is an amazing college basketball experience.’ … You don’t get this everywhere.”

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The Lions (22-5, 13-1 Ivy League) are the No. 2 seed after sharing the regular-season Ivy League title with Princeton for the second straight season. The Tigers (23-4, 13-1 Ivy) earned the No. 1 seed based on tiebreakers, which came down to the teams’ NET rankings on March 10. Harvard (16-11, 9-5 Ivy) is the No. 3 seed and Penn (15-12, 7-7 Ivy) is the No. 4 seed.

The tournament begins on Friday with the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN+. The championship game is on Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPNews.

Here’s what else to know about the tournament and the teams chasing a championship.

Harvard guard Harmoni Turner attempts to use her body to shield a right-handed layup from Princeton guard Kaitlyn Chen, who leaps to contest it.
Princeton guard Kaitlyn Chen (20) contests a shot by Harvard guard Harmoni Turner in the Ivy League Tournament championship game at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, N.J., on March 11, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

We meet again

For the first time since the Ivy League Tournament was implemented in its current form in 2017, the same four teams have qualified in two straight seasons. And not only that, but all four earned the same seeds as last season, so the semifinals will feature the same matchups.

That doesn’t mean the results will be boring, though. The first semifinal will feature traditional rivals Penn and Princeton, who just played a physical game on March 9. The Tigers won both regular-season matchups, but the Quakers pushed them each time, and the Tigers know it won’t be easy to win again.

“It’s definitely something else,” Princeton star guard Kaitlyn Chen said on March 9 on ESPN+ about playing the same team three times. “It’s hard to beat a team three times, and they’re a really good team. So we’re definitely going to learn from this game and hopefully bring our best next weekend.”

Meanwhile, Columbia and Harvard have stoked their rivalry over the past two seasons. They played a record four times in 2022-23, including a Harvard win in the 2023 Ivy League Tournament semifinals that cost Columbia an NCAA Tournament bid.

Ahead of the teams’ first meeting this season, Griffith told reporters, “I think Harvard knows we’re going to be pretty frustrated with them for the next however many years. … You don’t avenge that loss. Something was taken from you. And not that they didn’t earn it. They outplayed us. … [But] we’re definitely talking about it still. It’s not a focal point. But it’s definitely part of the story.”

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Different paths to the party

Although the same four teams as last season will fight for an Ivy League Tournament title, they each took different paths to New York. In some cases, their paths also differed from the ones they followed last season.

Princeton, Columbia and Harvard were the consensus top three teams ahead of the 2023-24 season, and they have remained that way all season based on NET rankings. Each has stayed in the top 100 in the NET, and their closest competition has hovered around 140 at best.

Penn, on the other hand, had to claw out of a hole to reach Ivy Madness. For a while, it looked like Brown was going to seize that final spot, but Penn surged at the right time, jumping 29 spots in the NET between Jan. 28 and March 11. Penn and Brown finished tied for fourth place with 7-7 conference records, but Penn’s home win over Harvard in the second-to-last game of the regular season gave the Quakers the tiebreaker.

A graph showing the NCAA NET rankings for all eight Ivy League women's basketball teams.
The NET rankings for the Ivy League women’s basketball teams every Monday of the 2023-24 regular season (once the rankings were available). (Graphic by Jenn Hatfield using data from the NCAA)

Princeton got here by bringing back three major Ivy League award winners from 2023, including Chen, who won Player of the Year. The Tigers rolled through a tough nonconference schedule to win at least a share of the Ivy League regular-season title for the sixth straight season and 18th time overall. And the dynasty appears to be in good hands with several underclassmen who have complemented the returning stars, most notably freshman starting guard Skye Belker.

On the other hand, Columbia graduated seven seniors and lost 54% of its minutes played after claiming the program’s first-ever regular-season title last season. No matter: The Lions reloaded around standout senior guard Abbey Hsu, and Griffith told her players in the preseason that this year’s team could be even better than the year before. Columbia took some lumps early in nonconference play, but it enters the tournament ready to show that Griffith’s prediction was prescient.

Like Princeton with Chen and Columbia with Hsu, Harvard brought back its leading scorer from 2022-23 in point guard Harmoni Turner. But the Crimson have faced several injuries this season, including to Turner and star forward Elena Rodriguez. At times, they’ve had just seven healthy players, which is the Ivy League minimum to compete. However, they are getting healthy at the right time, and they believe that they can play with and beat Columbia and Princeton.

“Obviously, we want to win a [regular-season] championship, but if we’re not going to win a championship, I think you take that into the tournament [as], hey, all the pressure’s on them,” Harvard head coach Carrie Moore told The Next on March 1. “And we talked about that a lot last year. And we just got to go and play our best basketball for 40 minutes and do it twice. And so … with that experience from last year and having a lot back, I think there is a belief and there is an excitement.”

Penn is the only Ivy Madness team that lost its leading scorer from 2023, as star guard Kayla Padilla graduated. Enter breakout junior forward Stina Almqvist and freshman point guard Mataya Gayle, who have stepped up to give the Quakers a strong “Big Three” with senior forward Jordan Obi. Gayle, who was named the league’s Rookie of the Year on Tuesday, will be in for a challenge in the tournament as the only underclassman starting at point guard. But she has said she loves the biggest challenges — and there are few brighter spotlights than the postseason in New York City.

Tournament history and odds

If Princeton wins the tournament, it will be the Tigers’ fifth title in six editions of the tournament. Penn won the other title back in 2017, while Columbia and Harvard each have one appearance in the final to their names.

Princeton head coach Carla Berube will put her 4-0 record in Ivy League Tournaments on the line this year. Also at stake: her unbelievable 57-3 record against Ivy opponents in four seasons at Princeton, across the regular season and the conference tournament.

Looking at the semifinal matchups, one is projected to have the same result as a year ago, while the other is expected to flip:

2023 WinnerProjected 2024 WinnerProjected 2024 Margin
Semifinal 1: Princeton vs. PennPrinceton, 60-47Princeton15.6 points
Semifinal 2: Columbia vs. HarvardHarvard, 72-65 (OT)Columbia10.1 points
Source: Her Hoop Stats
Penn guard Stina Almqvist shoots the ball with her right hand. Columbia guard Abbey Hsu has her arms straight up to contest, while teammate Kitty Henderson looks on from behind Hsu.
Columbia guard Abbey Hsu (35) contests a shot by Penn guard Stina Almqvist during a game at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Penn., on Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo credit: Mike Nance)

Who’s playing their best basketball?

Columbia enters the tournament as the hottest team. It has won 10 straight games, tying the program record, and 20 of its past 21. And beyond the wins, the Lions enter the tournament confident after dismantling Cornell in the season finale.

That’s in contrast to last season, when the Lions barely defeated Cornell to secure the Ivy League title and entered the tournament feeling a lot of pressure to keep winning.

“I think last year’s team just had more pressure, maybe more to lose,” Griffith said. “I don’t know if that is the right way to say it. But I think that’s what it felt like at moments for them. And I think this year … they’re still growing as a team, and that’s exciting because they’re focused more on that than winning.”

Princeton has won three straight games, all by double figures, since a loss at Columbia on Feb. 24.

Harvard blew out last-place Dartmouth in its regular-season finale, a game that Turner called “a must-win” in her postgame interview on ESPN+ after the Crimson had lost their previous two.

Penn is the only team entering the tournament on a loss, but it had a three-game win streak before that and has been playing well in recent weeks. The Quakers might also draw confidence from being competitive in both games against Princeton this season, including trailing by just two points in the fourth quarter on Feb. 10.

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A two-bid Ivy League?

The Ivy League just missed out on two bids to the NCAA Tournament last season with Columbia’s semifinal loss. This season, the Ancient Eight has another shot at getting two teams in for only the second time ever and the first time since 2016.

The best chance for a two-bid Ivy League is for anyone other than Princeton to win the conference tournament, which would give that team the automatic berth and Princeton an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. As of Wednesday, ESPN’s Charlie Creme projects Princeton as safely in the field and a No. 9 seed, though its seed would likely drop with a loss.

Columbia also has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference tournament. The Lions are Creme’s fourth team out of the field, and they would likely need to make the final and then lose to Princeton to keep their hopes alive.

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Record watch

Several of the league’s top players could break significant individual records during the Ivy League Tournament. So, in addition to watching the teams play, here are the individual milestones to know:

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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