On Saturday, it will be exactly five years since one of the toughest nights in recent Yale men’s basketball history. Leading by five points in the final minute against a Dartmouth team that was playing just for pride, the Bulldogs lost in perhaps the most excruciating manner possible: a buzzer-beater by Gabas Maldunas off an inbound play. The Ivy League title trophy – set to be awarded to Yale – was quickly covered and hustled out of Leede Arena and Hanover.
After losing a tiebreaker to Harvard the following week, their NCAA Tournament drought reached 53 years, and – having graduated four contributing seniors – who knew when they would get another chance the way Harvard and Princeton were trending?
It would be easy to point back to last season’s heartbreaking collapse and say that this year’s title run started simmering from the moment Javier Duren’s runner rimmed out at the Palestra on March 14, 2015. Certainly, that would be a convenient starting point for this narrative of redemption that culminated in this year’s seeding upset of the Baylor Bears. But anyone who’s been following the Bulldogs knows that this journey towards a title to call our own started long before that.
How did we get here?
There have been countless close calls since James Jones took the reins back at the turn of the century: the three-way tiebreaker in ’02 with Penn and Princeton, the thrilling up-tempo ’07 squad led by Eric Flato and Casey Hughes that started 9-2, beating undefeated Penn and sparking the only (non-Princeton) court storming I’ve ever witnessed at John J. Lee, the dangerous Greg Mangano-Reggie Willhite-Austin Morgan trio that raced out to fast start in ’12. But it wasn’t until Justin Sears arrived in New Haven that following summer that Jones could finally build around a true superstar in blue. And while getting to the Promised Land required contributions from everyone on this year’s squad from Blake Reynolds to Khaliq Ghani to Makai Mason, this was clearly Sears’ team.
But first, let’s go back to where it all began, back to a time when Yale basketball conjured up images of January hope and February despair, not the March ecstasy that we’ve come to know.
Last year, Yale trumped Penn easily at the Palestra, 75-48, with Makai Mason leading the way off the bench with 14 points. The series finished much closer in New Haven, with the game not decided until the final minute. Yale won, 55-50, partially due to a 32-24 rebounding advantage and 9-for-10 free throw shooting from now graduated Javier Duren.
IHO takes a closer look at Saturday’s two Ivy conference matchups.
Brown at Yale, 5 p.m.
Last season: Then-senior guard Javier Duren canned a jumper with 3.4 seconds remaining to break a 65-65 tie and help ensure a Bulldogs victory. Yale’s 69-65 win completed a sweep of Brown, and the Elis took the lead for good with 12:28 to go in the game after Brown had led 31-25 at halftime. Justin Sears and Duren scored 27 and 24 points respectively, combining for 15 of Yale’s 20 field goals. Brown got a more balanced scoring attack, with Rafael Maia, Steven Spieth and Tavon Blackmon combining for 50 of Brown’s 65 points just five days before it Leland King’s departure from the Brown basketball program was announced. (King played only in the first matchup of this series in Providence last season, his final game as a Bear.)
Maybe I and others overrated the Ivy a tad bit before this season started. I actually said that it might be a two-bid league come NCAA Tournament time. Now it appears that there will be an automatic NCAA bid and perhaps no NIT bid.
The Ivy League is currently ranked 17th among 32 Division I conferences according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the lowest the Ivy has been ranked since the 2011-12 season, when it was also ranked 17th. The Ivy hasn’t been ranked lower than that since 2009-10, when it was slotted 22nd by KenPom. (The rankings are based on the average adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of teams within each conference.)
Why is the Ivy’s arrow pointed slightly down at the moment?
If one word could encapsulate Yale’s upcoming season, that word would be retribution.
The Elis lost the Ivy League championship and the coveted NCAA bid by a total of three points over two games within one week last March. As Bulldogs fans already know, they first fell at Dartmouth, 59-58, in a game which would have been the clincher and then they lost in a playoff at the Palestra, against arch-rival Harvard, by two.They have not been to the NCAAs since 1962.They were strangely denied an NIT bid, an eventuality which the Ivy office bears fault for not enough marketing of its teams during the season.
Yale won 22 games under all-time winningest coach James Jones, the school’s most since 1948-49.Those wins included one over then-defending national champion UConn on the road.
This year the Elis play another defending National Champion in Duke and take a road trip to powerhouse SMU, as well as a trip to Illinois.
You don’t hear the team members using the word retribution, but it’s lurking at every practice.
Here are some sentences that I have written about Maodo Lo in the past year. (No two are from the same article.)
“On Friday night, Maodo Lo showed his class. It’s Maodo Lo’s world, and we’re just living in it … This game should serve as Maodo Lo’s coming-out party for a national audience … Every time the ball left his fingertips, the swoosh seemed a mere inevitability … He remains as cool as a cucumber … No Ivy guard can match Lo’s blazing quickness, and when combined with his dribbling skills he is a nightmare to defend … Don’t worry, Columbia fans: The greatest basketball player of all time isn’t graduating just yet.”
Dartmouth went into its regular season finale on March 7, 2015 needing to defeat Yale to finish 14-14 and thus qualify for the College Invitational Tournament (CIT), for what would mark the program’s first postseason appearance since 1959.
We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because Jonah Travis is a master Tweeter.
With 28 seconds remaining in March 7’s Yale-Dartmouth game, Harvard had a 0.41 percent chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament (according to KenPom). The Crimson needed Dartmouth to pull out a miracle victory to force a one-game playoff between Harvard and Yale, and even then the Crimson would need to win that game to earn an NCAA bid. By the time those 28 seconds elapsed, Dartmouth had taken care of the “miracle victory” part of the equation, setting the stage for an epic Ivy League battle at the Palestra between two archrivals who had split the season series.
Eurobasket.com reported Saturday that 2015 Yale graduate and All-Ivy first-teamer Javier Duren has signed a contract with Holland’s Aris Leeuwarden in the Eredivisie League.
Duren averaged 10.2 points per game for his career, as well as 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals per contest in 2014-15 as he led the Bulldogs to a share of the Ivy League championship.