Since the Ivy League put on its inaugural four-team tournament in 2017, there have been exactly two champions of Ivy Madness: the Princeton Tigers and the Penn Quakers.
In fact, those are the only two teams to have ever made it to the tournament’s championship game. The Harvard Crimson have also made it to the tournament all three seasons — the one other team to do so — but always as the three-seed behind these two behemoths.
If you’re thinking, “It’s only been three years! Not a big deal,” how’s this: Not since 2009 has a non-Princeton, non-Penn team advanced to the NCAA Tournament (in this case, the Dartmouth Big Green).
So what makes the Princeton-Penn rivalry so special? Let’s look into the past three seasons — not just because that’s when the tournament began, but because this year’s seniors have only ever played in a world with Ivy Madness in it — and find out.
2016-17: Penn collects firsts, Nwokedi and Alarie have big years
Head-to-head: Penn won 2-0
No matter what happens, Penn will always be able to say they won the first-ever edition of Ivy Madness. This was a period in Quakers history where Penn had the definitive upper hand, this tournament win and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth the team’s third in the last four seasons.
For Penn, their standout was Ivy League Player of the Year Michelle Nwokedi, whose junior season saw her nearly average a double-double and lead the Ivy League in blocks. This dominance was especially evident in the pair of regular-season games against Princeton, where she averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Nwokedi was also one of just two players unanimously voted to the All-Ivy First Team.
But amid their losing season against the Quakers, Princeton’s brightest star was just emerging — freshman Bella Alarie took home Rookie of the Year and First Team All-Ivy honors.
2017-18: Leslie Robinson makes history
Head-to-head: Princeton won 2-0
This was, eventually, the year of Leslie Robinson, who ended up being the first-ever Princeton player taken in the WNBA Draft. But before that, she was a standout for the Tigers. In her senior season, Robinson made a name for herself as she entered the top 10 in program history in assists in a season and career games played.
In the regular season’s first win against Penn, Robinson had an impressive line across the board: 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. (Teammate and eventual Player of the Year Alarie flirted with a triple-double, notching 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.) And in the second win, Robinson nearly had a double-double ... in assists and rebounds, with 10 and seven, respectively.
Penn freshman Eleah Parker was named Rookie of the Year at the end of this season. Remember that name; we’ll come back to her soon.
2018-19: Princeton goes back for seconds
Head-to-head: Tie 1-1, each won on the road
Penn may have done it first, but Princeton became the first team to win the Ivy League tournament twice in 2019’s rubber match against their biggest rivals.
Getting to the rubber match took a bit of a milestone, as the two teams split their regular-season meetings for the first time since the 2013-14 season. In that season, both teams also each won on the road. The last time the teams split and each won at home was in 2008, when Dartmouth ruled the Ivy League.
The teams didn’t just split their head-to-head matchups, though — they also tied at the top of the Ivy League table with twin 12-2 records. Princeton won the tiebreaker thanks to its 2-0 record against third-place Harvard, who handed Penn its only non-Princeton loss.
Princeton used a 21-7 fourth quarter — fueled by then-sophomore Carlie Littlefield — to seal the comeback win in the championship game and keep Penn out of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
2019-20: Eleah Parker vs. Bella Alarie, one last time
Both Penn junior Parker and Princeton senior Alarie were named to this year’s Katrina McClain Award preseason watch list for the country’s best power forward.
Both were among the 35 athletes invited to trials for this summer’s Pan American Games team — but only Alarie made the final cut.
Both led their respective teams in scoring last season, both were named to the 2019 All-Tournament Team for Ivy Madness and both received individual conference honors last season — Alarie was Player of the Year, while Parker was Defensive Player of the Year. Both were also the only two unanimous First Team All-Ivy selections.
Both are, naturally, expected to have standout seasons on a national level. Before they take each other on in Ivy League play on Jan. 11 and Feb. 25, catch them as they establish themselves in some of their most notable non-conference games: Princeton meets Iowa, Penn State and Missouri, while Penn faces Duke and Villanova.