March 10, 2022
What to watch for in the 2022 Ivy League Tournament
Two-bid Ivy and Kathy Delaney-Smith's last stand in play
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Let’s get one thing straight: Tickets for the Ivy League women’s basketball tournament are an absolute bargain. $40 for three games, to watch conference Player of the Year Abby Meyers dazzle in the mid-range for Princeton? Sold. To watch Columbia’s Kaitlyn Davis show why her head coach calls her a “unicorn”? Absolutely. To see how Yale’s Camilla Emsbo follows up her 20-point, 14-rebound, 3-block performance from last weekend? And see Rookie of the Year Harmoni Turner try to spark a Cinderella run for Harvard on its home court? Yes and yes.
The tournament features the Ancient Eight’s top four teams playing on back-to-back days, March 11 and 12, at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The winner gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which would be the first Division I tournament appearance for either Columbia or Yale.
“This is why you coach and play,” Columbia head coach Megan Griffith told reporters on March 3. “You coach and play so that you can play in March. So this is where every program wants to be.”
Top-seeded Princeton and fourth-seeded Harvard will start things off on Friday at 4:30pm ET, followed by second-seeded Columbia and third-seeded Yale at 7:30pm. The winners will play Saturday at 5pm. The semifinals will be streamed on ESPN+, and the final will be on ESPNews.
But looking at the matchups seemingly produces more questions than answers, as there will be plenty of storylines packed inside the 1,636-seat Lavietes Pavilion. Here are the top ones to watch:
Does The Streak continue?
Princeton enters the tournament 14-0 in conference play for the second straight season and riding a 40-game conference winning streak. It is the defending champion from 2019—the last time this tournament was contested due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and just this week entered the AP Poll at No. 24. Any way you look at it, the Tigers are the clear favorite, and three challengers have their eyes on dethroning them.
“[It] kind of puts the nation on notice,” junior guard Julia Cunningham said of the national ranking on Princeton’s weekly podcast. “And it’s great timing right before NCAA Tournament time, right before seeding and things like that. … We have the target on our backs going into the Ivy League Tournament, and this just kind of amps up the stakes. So it’s exciting. Yeah, it was a really good feeling [on Monday] when we saw that.”
Cunningham added that the Tigers are confident because they know they can rely on their defense and preparation every night, regardless of whether shots are falling. That defense is holding opponents to just 72.7 points per 100 possessions—the second-best mark in the country. In the Ivy League, that number is even stingier, 65.4 points per 100 possessions, which has helped Princeton outscore conference foes by an average of 27.0 points per game.
|Opponent||Princeton’s Average Margin of Victory|
Of the other Ivy Tournament teams, Harvard and Columbia have played Princeton equally “close” in the regular season, each losing by 18 and 20 points. Yale’s average margin of defeat is larger due to a 38-point blowout in mid-February, but the Bulldogs might be the team that could challenge Princeton most. On Jan. 28, Yale led Princeton with less than seven minutes remaining but ultimately lost by 12—Princeton’s slimmest margin in conference play.
Will we get a two-bid Ivy?
If someone does upset the Tigers, the Ivy League is poised to receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament: the tournament champion plus Princeton as an at-large team. ESPN’s Charlie Creme currently projects Princeton to be a 10-seed, which gives the Tigers lots of room for error that they hope not to need.
|Team||Record Against Princeton||Record Against the Rest of the Ivy Tournament Field|
Columbia, led by a former Princeton assistant coach in Griffith, hopes to assume the role of Princeton’s foil, which has so often been played by Penn throughout the last decade. But Penn narrowly missed the Ivy League Tournament this year, and Griffith is confident that her team is prepared to seize the moment. The Lions’ only two conference losses have been to Princeton, and they lead the conference in assists and blocked shots.
“Everybody always says, ‘Oh, it’s hard to beat somebody three times,’” Griffith said. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess it is.’ But to me, it’s all about how you match up … I like our matchup with anybody in this league. To me, [the Ivy Tournament is] an opportunity for us to show that this isn’t a fluke, that we’ve earned the spot that we are in and that we are going to play for a championship.”
Just as Columbia is eyeing revenge against Princeton, Yale is looking to flip the script after going 0-4 against Columbia and Princeton this season (and 9-1 against everyone else). Freshman guard Christen McCann told the Yale Daily News that her team has “a chip on our shoulders” from the two losses to Columbia this season, which came by an average of nine points and cost Yale the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
With Emsbo, a unanimous First Team All-Ivy selection who stands 6’5, Yale has a height advantage of at least four inches over any of the other teams’ usual starters. Can the Bulldogs play through Emsbo all the way to the NCAA Tournament?
Or perhaps Harvard, which was only 7-7 in conference play in the regular season but claimed the final tournament spot in a tiebreaker, can learn from a home loss to Princeton just last weekend and bust the tournament wide open. Adding to the sense of urgency for Harvard, Yale and Columbia is that none of them are considered candidates for at-large bids, so they each would need to win the Ivy Tournament to give the conference two NCAA Tournament bids.
Is this Kathy Delaney-Smith’s last stand?
Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith will retire after this season, which is her 40th at Harvard and 51st in coaching overall. She has been rightfully celebrated all season for her longevity and success at Harvard on and off the court, but most people outside the conference know her name because of one game.
The year was 1998, and the final score was 16-seed Harvard 71, 1-seed Stanford 67 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Upsetting Princeton in the Ivy Tournament wouldn’t register as high on the Richter scale, but it would be historic because it would snap two streaks: Princeton’s conference win streak and Harvard’s NCAA Tournament drought. Under Delaney-Smith, Harvard made the NCAA Tournament six times between 1996 and 2007 but zero times since then. Can she make one last run and hear Harvard’s name called as a conference champion on Selection Sunday?
One person who isn’t overlooking the Crimson is the opposing coach, Princeton’s Carla Berube.
“I’m guessing they’re going to play at their very best, the highest level they could play,” Berube said on Princeton’s weekly podcast. “And we’re expecting that. … At this point in the season, for most, it’s survive and advance, and if you don’t win, your season’s over. So you’re leaving it all out there, and maybe even more for Harvard on Friday with it being, could be, Kathy’s final game.”
Who are the players to watch?
The obvious answer is to watch Meyers, the conference’s Player of the Year, and the entire 2022 First Team All-Ivy. Here are the members of the All-Ivy teams who will take the court in Cambridge:
|First Team||Second Team||Honorable Mention|
|Abby Meyers, Princeton*||Abbey Hsu, Columbia||Grace Stone, Princeton|
|Camilla Emsbo, Yale||Harmoni Turner, Harvard**||Lola Mullaney, Harvard|
|Kaitlyn Davis, Columbia||McKenzie Forbes, Harvard|
|Julia Cunningham, Princeton||Jenna Clark, Yale|
But let’s highlight a few snubs who could be difference-makers in the tournament.
The all-Ivy teams were voted on by the head coaches, but if I’d had a vote, I would’ve put Abbey Hsu on the first team. Hsu—or “Downtown Abbey,” as I call her—is a sophomore guard who has made 91 3-pointers this season at a 38.4% clip. In contrast, Cornell made just 110 3-pointers all season.
Along with her 16.3 points per game, which ranks third in the Ancient Eight, Hsu has contributed 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. And she has been one of the more efficient offensive players in the country, ranking in the 91st percentile nationally in points per play (0.95). Her season high in points is 27, and she’s made six threes in a game twice this season. If she gets rolling early, it could be a long night for the opponent.
(One player who could cancel out Hsu’s shooting, though, might be McCann, the Yale freshman. There are two reasons for that: she has hit a team-high 44 3-pointers this season, and she will likely guard Hsu in the semifinals as one of Yale’s top perimeter defenders.)
Princeton sophomore point guard Kaitlyn Chen and sophomore forward Ellie Mitchell could likewise be pivotal for Princeton if opponents lock down Meyers and Cunningham. Take Princeton’s win at Columbia on Feb. 23, for example: Columbia defended Meyers and Cunningham well, but Chen scored 21 points in the decisive first half. Chen would have been my runner-up for Rookie of the Year behind Harvard’s Turner (Chen was enrolled in classes last year, but the Ivy League did not play), and that Chen-Turner matchup will be fun to watch for a third time this season in the semifinals.
Mitchell was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, yet she didn’t make an all-Ivy team. She is averaging just 6.3 points per game but is the conference’s leader in total rebounds (10.1 per game) and offensive rebounds (3.9). She also averages 2.3 steals per game, which ranks fourth in the conference behind three guards. One of those big defensive plays—or offensive putbacks—could be just what Princeton needs if it finds itself in a close game.
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 and FanSided.