Princeton Needs Win Over Penn to Set Up March 12 Playoff Against Harvard

Princeton University needs to win its regular-season finale at the University of Pennsylvania tonight to set up a weekend playoff game against Harvard University for the Ivy League’s automatic berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Princeton, which has a 23-6 record, including an 11-2 mark in the league, visits Penn (13-14) at 7 p.m. local time at The Palestra in Philadelphia.

With a victory, the Tigers would advance to a one-game playoff against Harvard on March 12 at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. If Princeton loses tonight, Harvard -- which is 23-5 overall and 12-2 against league opponents -- clinches the Ivy League title outright and returns to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament for the first time in 65 years.

“If we take care of business, it’s a tie ballgame,” Princeton senior guard Dan Mavraides told reporters.

The Ivy League, which doesn’t have a conference tournament, has had seven playoffs to determine its automatic qualifier for the 68-team NCAA championship. Princeton has been a part of all of them, most recently in 2002, when three schools finished tied atop the league.

The Tigers needed overtime to beat Penn 62-59 in their previous meeting this season, on Feb. 8 in New Jersey. Princeton won at Penn the past two seasons and tonight will be seeking its first three-game winning streak at The Palestra since 1997-99. The Tigers have won four straight overall against the Quakers, their longest run in the series since winning six in a row from 1996-99.

A victory tonight would give Princeton a share of its 26th Ivy title, snapping a tie with Penn for the most in the 54 years the league has crowned a champion.

Harvard Ends Drought

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard, the top university in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking, had been the only school in the eight-team Ivy League not to win a men’s basketball championship. The Crimson now are guaranteed being at least co-champions after beating visiting Princeton 79-67 on March 5 to end a five-game losing streak against the Tigers.

Harvard made its lone NCAA tournament appearance in 1946. Princeton has gone 23 times, most recently in 2004.

The possible playoff would be played midway between the schools, at rival Yale’s 2,800-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater. New Haven is about 130 miles (209 kilometers) from both Princeton and Cambridge.

The Ivy League has never sent more than one school to the NCAA tournament in a season.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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