Season in Review: Yale Bulldogs

Yale fans rushed the court when the Bulldogs knocked off league leader and archrival, Harvard, on Senior Night last year. (Photo Credit: Yale Daily News)

This is the second piece in a series looking back at how each Ivy League squad fared during the 2010-11 season. The Yale Bulldogs ended the year at 15-13 (8-6), finishing third in the conference.

The Yale Bulldogs entered the 2010-2011 campaign with some serious question marks needing to be answered, as they lost their leading scorer Alex Zampier as well as 6’ 10” center Paul Nelson to graduation. To make matters worse, starting forward Mike Sands withdrew from school for personal reasons the day before the season, leaving serious doubt about how this team would be able to compete down low.  Some younger players were going to need to step up for this team to finish in the top half of the Ancient Eight.

Almost immediately, Yale made headlines in the non-conference season. After starting the season with a loss to Quinnipiac, the Bulldogs put up a scrappy effort in a narrow 58-55 defeat against Big East foe, Providence. In their next game, Yale continued the Ivy League’s dominance over the ACC’s Boston College thanks to a breakout performance from sophomore guard Austin Morgan, who exploded for 25 points, including six 3-pointers, to key the upset road win for Yale. In non-league play against other major conference opponents, Yale lost games to Stanford from the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and Illinois from the Big-10.

The Bulldogs started out Ivy play with two wins over Brown, but quickly had their chances at competing for the Ivy title effectively end the next weekend, getting swept by Princeton and Penn on the road.  Both were competitive games, but they left Yale two games behind Princeton and Harvard, and since the Ancient Eight does not employ a conference tournament, the Bulldogs were all but eliminated from league title consideration. As the league quickly became a race for 3rd, the Bulldogs won three of their next four before getting swept again by Penn and Princeton, as they remained clumped with multiple teams in the league’s second tier, while Harvard and Princeton sprinted away from the pack.

The rest of Yale’s conference season was not without multiple barnburners. The Elis lost to Penn in New Haven on a Zack Rosen jump shot with just two seconds left. A week later though, in their most complete effort of the year, the Bulldogs upset Harvard on Senior Night, 70-69, erasing a six point deficit in the final six minutes to pull out an emotional one point win at John J. Lee.  In the season’s final weekend, the Bulldogs had a twelve point lead late against Columbia, but Brian Barbour caught fire, scoring thirteen points in the last four minutes to key a Lions run and send the game into overtime.  The Bulldogs pushed back though, and pulled out the 87-81 victory after two bonus periods. Amazingly, not until the final game of the year, a thirteen point loss to Cornell, did the Bulldogs play a league game decided by double digits.

Austin Morgan was one of a handful of nice surprises for the Bulldogs last year. Other major contributors included junior Reggie Willhite, who worked his way into the starting lineup and averaged nearly ten points per game after rarely seeing the floor his previous two years.  Freshman Jeremiah Kreisberg started for much of the year at center, helping replace some of the frontcourt minutes vacated by the loss of Sands and Nelson.  Kreisberg averaged 7.2 points per game and ripped down 4.5 boards per game.

However, the biggest impact came from Greg Mangano, a first-team All Ivy selection whose play last year earned him Lindy’s preseason pick for the 2011-12 Ivy Player of the Year. Mangano was a force all season on the glass, averaging 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. He kicked off the conference slate with a monster 23 and 17 in Providence and followed it up with a 17 point, 12 rebound, 7 block masterpiece in leading the Bulldogs to two early season victories. After declaring for the NBA draft in the offseason (and then retracting his name), Mangano was selected for the U.S. World University Games team, playing with some of college basketball’s big names, including Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine, Kentucky’s Darius Miller and current Purdue coach Matt Painter. Mangano was the only Ivy League player selected for the squad.

Mangano, Morgan, Kreisberg and Co. helped the Bulldogs finish alone in 3rd place at 8-6, having swept Brown, Columbia, and Dartmouth, split with Harvard and Cornell, and been swept by Princeton and Penn. The Bulldogs went 1-3 against co-champions Princeton and Harvard, losing the three games by a combined fourteen points and stunning Harvard on Senior Night in New Haven, dealing their archrivals their second loss and forcing them to have to beat Princeton twice to make the NCAA tournament.

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