Ivy League Entrant Penn’s Chances and Oversight in NCAA Tournament Seeding
My recent article and insight into NCAA Tournament committee corruption and oversight does not impact fans and bettors interest in the tournament once the ball is tipped and the tournament begins. March Madness is about the NCAA Tournament, and the brackets, betting and tournament pools that make the event so exciting. The sports books do big business, and all the other noise surrounding snubs of teams and the frustration and disappointment that follows is short-lived for a majority of college basketball enthusiasts.
We noted some of the NCAA Tournament snubs and oversight by the committee, and I've commented on a little more below including the Penn Quakers as a No. 16 seed. Plenty of small conference regular season champions did not win their conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament as well. That includes dominant league teams like UL Lafayette (Sun Belt), Middle Tennessee State (Conference USA), Northern Kentucky (Horizon) Wagner (Northeast) and the highest power-rated team in the history of the America East Conference, Vermont. However the dominant team from the Patriot League is in the NCAA Tournament again, as Bucknell is back. But the Bison were stampeded by the committee again drawing a monster in Michigan State, who could have easily been a No. 2 or even a No. 1 seed instead of a No. 3 based on their strength. Bucknell has its entire starting five back from last year's team that gave West Virginia everything it could handle in last year's NCAA tournament opening round before falling 86-80 as a 13-point underdog. Unfortunately, another very unfavorable and unfair draw for a strong small conference team. Could Bucknell be this year's 2008 Cinderella Davidson, who won 3 games on their run to the Elite Eight with star Steph Curry? Davidson was terribly under-seeded that year at No. 10.
Not likely perhaps, but Bucknell is higher-rated than Penn, yet each is the same 14.5 point underdog in the opening round with Penn taking on No. 1 seed Kansas, who I see as a weaker top seed. Of course, the NCAA Tournament committee stuck it to the Ivy League entrant further by having to play Kansas in Wichita, just 160 miles from the Jayhawks campus.
Speaking of money, it takes plenty to attend an Ivy League school. And the players don't get scholarships. They are quite happy to be playing, learning and growing as a cohesive group and team. But the crooked committee did the Ivy wrong this year, giving the Penn Quakers a No. 16 seed and then sending them to the Kansas Jayhawks backyard. Whether it's the new 'Quadrant' formula and system that hurt Penn and other smaller schools or not, it's clear that the 'braintrust' of the NCAA Tournament committee has a different agenda than those teams busting their balls to play better and earn a deserving bid and seed to the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps the NCAA Tournament committee, which includes University Athletic Directors and Conference Commissioners, need to go back to the classroom and learn more about the game, calculations and stats. I assure you, the Ivy League and other teams know the math, and it doesn't add up. Only the money and $100's do for the NCAA. Ben Franklin, an American Founding Father, Diplomat and Statesman surely didn't invent this. Or approve of the redesign and changes.
I think payback is in order, and I'm calling for a Penn victory over Kansas; the first No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history to beat a No. 1 seed since the tournament expanded in 1985. That despite few officials calls likely to go Penn's way; similar to the 35-2 free throw discrepancy in Kansas' favor this year at home against West Virginia. KenPom.com gives Penn an 11 percent chance to pull the upset over Kansas. Hopefully the Quakers can utilize some of the keys to NCAA Tournament success, hit plenty of shots and follow the game-plan that is sure to be strategic and strong by coach Donahue.
Penn Quakers (+14.5)
Kansas Jayhawks (-14.5)
Money Line: (-1300)/(+900)
The Pennsylvania Quakers (24-8) from the Ivy League are making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007. The Red and Blue dominated the league for years, but Penn snapped their longest NCAA Tournament drought and also posted their first winning season in the Ivy in six years. Clearly the Ivy League teams don't have the highly-recruited star athletes that the major conferences covet, but Penn and other Ivy League teams make up for their comparison deficiencies to those other athletes and basketball players by playing with a high IQ and smart basketball. That's still a necessary ingredient in today's college basketball game, even though the rules changes including reduction of shot clock have set up more pace and scoring for the superior athletes and teams.
Penn can defend, ranking top-25 in the country in efficiency defense including #2 in 3-point defense. That should be a real benefit against Kansas and the Jayhawks strong outside shooters. The fundamentals of boxing out and rebounding are part of the proven formula for success on defense for Penn too. They rank top-10 in the nation in opponent's offensive rebounding percentage. Penn won't be getting many second chance opportunities as on the offensive end they are weaker on the boards, but the Quakers are a pretty good shooting team and have a pair of senior guards that lead this together team and a solid sophomore in the post. Kansas has their worst rebounding team in many years, ranking near the very bottom of the Big 12 in rebounding margin. Penn was buried earlier in the season at Villanova, and I'm sure the Quakers will try to slow the game down as needed and reduce possessions.
Penn is coached by Steve Donahue, who you may recall turned around the Cornell program in the Ivy League the first 10 years of the century and took the Big Red to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and 2010. All Cornell did in 2010 as a No. 12 seed was win their first two NCAA Tournament games as underdog against Temple and Wisconsin, sending the Big Red to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to No. 1 Kentucky. But Cornell's Sweet Sixteen run was historic, as they went further than any Ivy League team in the NCAA Tournament since the 1979 Penn team went to the Final Four and were beaten by Michigan State and some guy named Magic Johnson. Michigan State beat Indiana State and Larry Bird in the NCAA Tournament championship game, and the tournament had just 40 teams at that time.
Ironically, that same year in January, 2010, Donahue-coached Cornell traveled to Lawrence and played Bill Self-coached Kansas. As a 20-point underdog, Cornell lost 71-66 in a game that Big Red led at halftime, out-shot Kansas and were dead even in total rebounds. Of course, the foul discrepancy was 26-17 against Cornell.
According to the Kenpom rating system, the last No. 16 seed to be ranked as high as the Quakers was UNC Asheville in 2012. UNC Asheville lost by single digits to the No. 1 seed Syracuse and were within two possessions of the lead with one minute remaining in the game. The game ultimately ended with questionable officiating resulting in a victory for the Syracuse Orange. Penn will have to avoid the orange peel on the court that is the officials, as the calls are not likely to be favorable for the Quakers.
Perhaps Donahue and the Quakers can pull off a real shocker and cause some movement, and I'm not talking about a Christian group but rather a shakeup of the NCAA Committee to make a movement towards more fairness and less faking for selling out for money. It may seem like a huge long shot for Penn to get a win in this year's NCAA Tournament, but so was Donahue-coached Boston College's 62-59 OT win at No. 1-ranked Syracuse in 2014 which happened to be at the same price point as a 14.5-point underdog.
Perhaps Donahue explained it best what it means for many players to play in the NCAA Tournament when Penn's NCAA selection show seeding was announced.
"To see [the players'] little window of 18 to 20 years old, their chance to go to something they dreamed about their whole life, and there it is in front of them, the excitement, and that's why you feel incredible for them," Donahue said. "Their actions are pure. They're excited, they want to play Kansas, they think they're as good as Kansas, and as I said, I'm not gonna be the one that steps on their dreams."
The closest a No. 16 team has come to beating a No. 1 seed in the modern NCAA Tournament was in 1989, when another Ivy League team, Princeton, lost to Georgetown 50-49. Princeton was a 23-point underdog and led at halftime 29-21, but Georgetown's superior athletes and dominant second half rebounding allowed them to prevail and exhale with Princeton missing two shots on the final possession of the game. In those days there was a 45 second shot clock, and the combination of Princeton's famous motion offense and their No. 1-ranked defense caused Georgetown fits. The Hoyas had a future NBA star and a senior PG who was the Big East Player of the Year and also played in the NBA.
The Penn vs. Kansas match-up may not be the same David vs Goliath, but a win and/or cover as a 14.5-point underdog would continue the Ivy League's strong run in the NCAA Tournament. As you see in the chart below, no Ivy League team has been a No. 16 seed and since 2010, Ivy League teams are 4-4 SU and 7-1 ATS in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. None of those teams were seeded higher (better) than No. 12, and the largest margin in defeat was 9 points. Combined with the Ivy League wins, the average scoring margin was +14 points.
|2018||Penn - 16||14.5||Kansas||?||?|
|2017||Princeton - 12||5.5||Notre Dame||58-60||W|
|2016||Yale - 12||5.5||Baylor||79-75||W|
|2015||Harvard - 13||10||North Carolina||65-67||W|
|2014||Harvard - 12||3||Cincinnati||61-57||W|
|2013||Harvard - 14||10.5||New Mexico||68-62||W|
|2012||Harvard - 12||5.5||Vanderbilt||70-79||L|
|2011||Princeton - 13||12.5||Kentucky||57-59||W|
|2010||Cornell - 12||3||Temple||78-65||W|
Surprising upsets happen throughout the NCAA Tournament, and in any one-and-done tournament format it's clear anything can happen. The Quakers have as good of a chance as any No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history. While a Penn victory as 14-point underdog wouldn't be monumental from a point spread perspective, it would certainly be historic as a first-ever No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. Be prepared for a stunning result. You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay