Statistically Speaking: Columbia’s Tournament Bid Longshot Could Slip Away This Weekend

The Lions will need to defy the odds this weekend as the compete on the road this weekend against Penn and Princeton (Photo: Ben Goldsmith / Logo: Chase Manze)

The Lions will need to defy the odds this weekend as the compete on the road this weekend against Penn and Princeton (Photo: Ben Goldsmith / Logo: Chase Manze)

Statistically Speaking is a weekly update on the men’s Ivy League Basketball standings—rooted in the numbers. This week, we considered what could be Columbia’s last weekend with any chance of making the 2019 Ivy League Tournament, and quantified the likelihood of that chance continuing.

With just six games remaining in the 2019 Ivy League men’s basketball season, Columbia needs its performance down the stretch to be much stronger than it has been thus far this year. For a team that has lost five of eight conference games by three points or fewer, that won’t be easy. Hopefully it will start with an underdog win (or two) this weekend if it happens at all.

On Monday, we released The Change-Up’s season predictions for which teams were likely to compete in the 2019 Ivy League Tournament. Columbia had the smallest chances, sitting at just about 0.2 percent. With no Ivy action since then, that figure hasn’t changed, but the Lions will have two chances—albeit rather unlikely ones—to increase that figure this weekend.

(Graphic: Rachel Page)

(Graphic: Rachel Page)

On Friday, Columbia takes on Penn in Philadelphia and our Elo ratings-based model gives the Lions a mere 22 percent chance of winning. That means that Penn, which is still working for a tournament spot, is about three times more likely than Columbia to win, and even that may be a little generous for a Lions team whose only Ivy win came by just three points against Cornell.

One of our model’s assumptions is that all Ivy League teams retain the same home court advantage. However, the “Cathedral of College Basketball” may be more challenging than visiting any old gym, as rates Penn’s home court advantage as one of the top 100 most influential in the country.

Likewise, the Lions have struggled playing on the road, winning just one of nine games and none of their away Ivy match-ups thus far. This does not bode well for the team as the begin a four-game road trip stretched across the next two weekends.

That said, a loss on Friday would be doubly disastrous for the Lions: it would block their ascent and lift Penn—a likely fourth-seed—to better standings. Even though the Quakers are two wins behind fourth-place Cornell, we still put Penn’s chances at qualifying at 50/50 based on its ranking and easier upcoming schedule.

Regardless of its outcome against Penn, Columbia’s chances of moving up are not much better on Saturday against Princeton. The Lions will travel to New Jersey and are again expected to win just 25% of the time. The Tigers have struggled as of late, dropping three of their last five. The team’s shaky mid-season slump could provide a good opportunity for Columbia to snap it’s six-game losing streak (if it hasn’t already against Penn).

But, in addition to needing their own miniature miracles, the Lions will depend on certain results from games outside their control. For example, Columbia would greatly benefit from Princeton taking down Cornell on Friday to keep the Big Red further from a tournament seed, and a Harvard win over Brown would also make the fourth-place race slightly less contentious.

This may seem like a lot to ask for a team that kenpom ranks as the 347th “luckiest” side out of 353 Division I teams, and it is. The likely alternative is a third straight season that denies Columbia a tournament bid and a chance at March Madness. While many may have predicted that from the season’s start, the odds are certainly not moving in Columbia’s favor.

The Change-Up’s Ivy League Basketball model was built by Leo Goldman and Sagar Lal.

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