Harvard still controls its own destiny

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
1:35
PM ET
Making sense of all the possibilities in the suddenly tight Ivy League race can wrap the mind up in knots.

Had Harvard been able to outlast Penn on Saturday night, the Crimson would’ve clinched at least a share of the title (for the second straight season) with two chances to win it outright (with a win at either Columbia or Cornell in the regular season’s final two games).

Zack Rosen had other ideas. The Quakers star scored the visitors’ final nine points and Tyler Bernardini took a charge on Kyle Casey’s last-second shot attempt that would’ve stolen back the game for Harvard, allowing Penn to leave Cambridge tied in the loss column.

The result is a muddled title picture. No fewer than four teams have a chance to play for the title, and there is no shortage of potential playoff matchups.

On Tuesday, Drew Cannon addressed the Crimson’s sudden standing on the NCAA bubble (Insider required) and outlined the permutations possible the rest of the way:

    Currently, there are seven remaining games that can affect the championship of the Ivy League. Using the win probabilities given on KenPom.com, here are the likelihoods of each possible regular-season champion:

    1. Harvard, 60.5 percent

    2. Harvard-Penn tie, 26.9 percent

    3. Penn, 8 percent

    4. Harvard-Yale tie, 2.4 percent

    5. Harvard-Penn-Yale tie, 0.9 percent

    6. Harvard-Penn-Princeton-Yale tie, 0.7 percent (this would happen if Princeton finishes the season 3-0, Harvard loses to Columbia and Cornell, and Penn beats Brown but loses to Yale -- it would be the first four-way tie for first in Ivy League basketball history)

    7. Yale, 0.3 percent

    8. Penn-Yale tie, 0.1 percent

    9. Harvard-Penn-Princeton tie, 0.1 percent

    10. Harvard-Princeton-Yale tie, 0.1 percent

    There are some important things to note here. First, Harvard has higher than a 90 percent probability of at least sharing the regular-season title. Second, there's nearly a 1-in-3 chance of the ninth-ever Ivy League tournament being required. And based on the likelihood Harvard would beat Penn on a neutral floor (considering their Pomeroy ratings), the Crimson's chance of needing to impress the selection committee at all is somewhere around 20 percent.

    The thing to remember, though, is that Harvard controls its own destiny. If the Crimson win their next two (and, if necessary, three) games, they will go to the NCAA tournament. All they have to do is avoid losses to teams ranked below 100 in the KenPom rankings, below 95 in the RPI, and below 125 in the BPI.

    If they don't, however, we start talking about a team with no fewer than four bad losses, and with two of their three remotely impressive wins having come in the Bahamas to extraordinarily inconsistent opponents. That Saint Joseph's win is nice, but Penn also beat the Hawks at home -- and for that matter, so did UMass and American. If Harvard doesn't win out, then it might not have earned the spot that could be taken away.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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