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Ivy League Basketball Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Princeton Favored, But There’s Value Elsewhere

Ivy League Basketball Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Princeton Favored, But There’s Value Elsewhere article feature image
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Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jaelin Llewellyn.

In the world of college basketball, especially in conference tournament week, the Ivy League marches to the beat of its own drum.

The Ivy League conference tournament, known as Ivy Madness, holds a lot of distinctions amongst its peers.

It was the last conference tournament created, starting in just 2018. It’s the final conference tournament to start this season, tipping off about 36 hours prior to the Selection Show. It’s also the smallest conference tournament with just four participants.

That’s a lot of lead up to say, quite simply, the Ivy runs things differently. What isn’t unique about Ivy Madness? It features programs with historic rivalries fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. In that regard, this conference tournament fits right in with all others.

The Participants

Ivy Madness only features three games, which will be played between the top-four teams in the conference standings: Princeton, Yale, Penn and Cornell.

Harvard is a noticeable absence on that list. Tommy Amaker’s program has been through some tough heartbreaks in recent years.

In 2015, the Crimson lost a one-game playoff by two points in the final seconds to rival Yale. In 2018, Harvard made the title game of Ivy Madness, losing by just three to a Penn team playing at home at the Palestra. In 2019, Harvard again made the title game and again lost to the host team, rival Yale again.

In 2020, it was Harvard’s turn to host the event, having won seven of its last eight games, but the Ivy League was the first conference to cancel its conference tournament as the pandemic loomed.

In 2021, the Ivy League didn’t play basketball at all. Now, Harvard was again slated to host the tournament, but lost six of its final eight games and missed out on a chance to participate.

Instead, fans in Cambridge will be treated to some fantastic basketball by four road teams, all of whom could cut down the nets Sunday afternoon.

The Favorite: Princeton -110

The Tigers have been the best team in the Ivy League all season, ranking just outside KenPom’s top 100 with a top-30 offensive efficiency. Princeton lost just twice in conference play, dropping back-to-back games just before and after New Year’s.

Outside of the conference, Princeton has two wins over power conference teams — albeit not very good ones — in South Carolina and Oregon State.

Princeton succeeds, well, pretty much exactly how you’d expect them to. The Tigers run a crisp offense that is built on the pillars of the Princeton-style offense, but with modern twists. The most modern element is the Tigers’ love of the 3-point shot. Princeton is in the top 40 in the nation in 3-point rate and the top 10 in 3-point percentage.

Princeton has four players scoring just about 15 points a game, creating a three-headed monster that is tough to stop. Jaelin Llewellyn and Ethan Wright are perimeter threats, complemented by newly crowned Ivy League Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan in the paint.

Betting Princeton, if you can find them at a plus-number, is not a bad play. Yet given the nature of a two-day tournament that would require the Tigers to win back to back games in a 25 hour span, there’s also value elsewhere.

The Alternative: Yale +220

Fans watching this event really deserve to see Yale and Princeton duke it out in Sunday’s title game.

The Bulldogs have been nipping at Princeton’s heels all year, especially during a midseason winning streak that included a win at Princeton. That streak ended, however, when Princeton returned the favor and beat Yale in New Haven.

The headliner for Yale is fifth-year senior Azar Swain, who is a small guard who loves to make big shots. He’s taken almost 700 threes in his career at Yale, hitting at 38 percent, and most of them have not been easy looks. He dropped 37 points on Columbia this season and 34 points against a high-quality Iona team.

Swain is the most dangerous player in this tournament, capable of shooting Yale past anyone.

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The Longshot: Penn +600

If you’re looking for an option with some more juice, you can do a bit better than Penn. The Quakers enter Ivy Madness having lost three of four and finished the season just 1-3 against Princeton and Yale.

Much of that is due to Penn’s defense, which struggled in Ivy League play, finishing seventh of eight in defensive efficiency. The Quakers forced a turnover on just 15% of their possessions in Ivy play, lowest in the league.

The Quakers meet Yale in the semifinals, after beating the Bulldogs back in January. That game was played in Philadelphia, and Yale shot 3-for-19 from outside the arc, hardly a repeatable recipe.

The Puncher’s Chance: Cornell +600

The more intriguing option among the underdogs is Cornell. The Big Red are a high variance team with up-and-down results all year.

Cornell won each of its home games against Yale and Princeton, as well as a home win over NCAA Tournament-bound Colgate. Cornell also was swept by Penn and had bad losses to Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard.

Cornell is so much of a roller-coaster because of the Big Red’s style of play, a high tempo run-and-gun strategy. Ivy League Coach of the Year Brian Earl has his team in the top 15 in the nation in tempo and 3-point rate. On the right shooting night, that mix can make the Big Red a potent opponent. In their upset win over Princeton, Cornell dropped 88 points on over 1.1 points per possession.

The Pick

You certainly wouldn’t be wrong thinking Princeton is going to finish the job and earn their way into the NCAA Tournament after a stellar season. Going 12-2 in conference play is impressive in any conference, and it puts the Tigers in position to secure the tourney bid.

I just don’t love the Tigers’ odds this weekend. Saturday’s semifinal, against a dangerous Cornell team, tips at 11 a.m. ET and just screams trap game. Even if Princeton survives that one, the subsequent battle with Yale will be brutal.

For me, the chances of Princeton winning that back-to-back simply doesn’t match the roughly even odds set by the sportsbooks.

And while I’m tempted by a flyer on Cornell, I think Yale is the play here. Cornell has only been to Ivy Madness once, losing a semifinal in 2018. Yale has been to the two of the last three title games. Azar Swain was a contributor on the 2019 Yale team that pushed LSU to the brink in the NCAA Tournament. Safe to say, he’s prepared for the pressure of this weekend.

With the tournament up the road from Yale at rival Harvard, the Bulldogs are likely to have the closest thing to a home court advantage. That makes their value even higher in my book.

The Pick: Yale +220

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