Cornell's Sweet 16 run in last season's NCAA Tournament may have felt like quite the anomaly, but while the recent history of Ivy League March Madness may look like a string of first-round blowouts in the 2-15 game, that absolutely wasn't always the case.
Sure, Ivy hoops doesn't have the storied history of Ivy League football, which features Heisman Trophies, massive win totals, and a true era of dominance, but back in the day, the Ivy Leaguers were far more than just "happy to be there" in March — and "back in the day" really isn't that long ago.
Before Steve Donahue's Cornell squad last year, you'd have to go back to 1998 to find the last time one of the ancient eight won a tournament game. That team was Princeton, besting UNLV 69-57. The Tigers, though, were far from a Cinderella. They were the 5-seed in their region, expected to get the win over a team that had won the national championship that decade. If you go back only two more years, those same Tigers took out UCLA in the first round of the tournament, a team that had won the title just a year earlier.
The 1980s saw Princeton win tournament games in back-to-back years in 1983 and 1984, but that success doesn't hold a candle to what Ivy teams did in the tournament in the 1970s.
During the Me Decade, Ivy teams made it out of the first round in five of the 10 dances, including a Final Four run by Penn in 1979. In total, Ivy representatives won 12 games that decade — not exactly the stuff of Cinderellas.
Things were no different in the '60s, as Princeton made its own run to the Final Four in 1965. It was on that Tiger team that the greatest player in Ivy Basketball history starred, future New York Knick and presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Bradley's numbers in college were astounding, averaging over 30 points per game for his career, including a 58-point explosion against Wichita State in the '65 dance. That year, he took home the James E. Sullivan Award for the nation's top amateur athlete, becoming the first basketball player to do so. In total, the Ivies won nine tournament games in the 1960s, another sum that doesn't exactly equate to being a doormat.
Whichever team does end up winning Saturday's playoff will surely face an uphill battle come tournament time, but that's not to say things are impossible. They'll likely be a 13-seed in this year's dance, a ranking that makes it out of the first round with significant frequency. It may be hard to believe, but they'll have more than a little bit of history on their side, too.
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