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.
Penn moved on to the quarterfinals of the CBI Thursday night, with a convincing 74-63 victory over Quinnipiac in front of a small crowd of 1,268 at the Palestra. Quinnipiac went ahead 5-4 five minutes into the game on a Zaid Hearst jumper, but Steve Rennard answered with
a quick three and the Quakers would never trail again. Penn”s backcourt had a monster night with Miles Cartwright dropping in 23 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing out 6 assists. Zack Rosen added 16 points and 9 assists. Perhaps most impressively, the two guards tallied only one turnover between them. Penn moves on to host Butler on Monday. A win against one of March”s winningest teams of the past few years would push the Quakers into the CBI semis, where they could be matched up against, you guessed it, the Princeton Tigers.
The last time that Harvard lost at Lavietes was February 19, 2010, a 79-70 loss to Cornell almost two years to this day. Since then, the Crimson has racked up—after last night’s comfortable 69-42 win over Brown—26 consecutive wins at home, and they now trail only Kentucky (49 wins) for the longest home winning streak in the country (D1). In short, as Yale’s season lies in the balance tomorrow—Yale must win to continue any hopes of seizing an Ivy League title—the Bulldogs are traveling into one of the toughest road environment’s imaginable to make or break their season.
After a crucial 60-53 win last night against Penn (11-10, 3-1 Ivy), the Bulldogs (14-5, 4-1 Ivy) have the chance to make a serious statement about their title aspirations with another win today against Princeton. The good news is that the Bulldogs have some momentum coming into this game. In their last two outings, since suffering a humiliating 65-35 loss at the hands of Harvard, the Bulldogs have been absolutely stellar on the defensive end, having allowed only 53 and 52 points respectively.
A week removed from their thrilling come-from-behind 68-64 victory over Brown in New Haven, the Yale Bulldogs will travel to Providence tomorrow for part two of this home and away against the Bears. Neither team has taken the court since last weekend, and while one could intuit that the rest has certainly benefited Brown’s point guard Sean McGonagill, who played all 40 minutes last Saturday and fueled the Bears’ impressive offensive effort, it would be foolish to think that the Bulldogs have not had more to gain from the week of practice.
Brown really pushed the Bulldogs to the edge in their first meeting. However, despite the fact that the Bears did almost everything they could have hoped for—shooting the lights out (12-23 from
downtown), containing star center Greg Mangano (15 pts, 4 rbs), and carrying a lead into the final minute of play—they still lost. The problem, moreover, is that it would be hard to imagine Brown playing Yale much better than they did at John J. Lee.
As we move into January, there are so many things to be excited about– the NFL playoffs, bowl season, Burmese Independence Day, and for those who are strict adherents to the teachings of the National Association of Fruits and Vegetables, Dried Fruit and Tubers month.
And while for many Americans, football and dried prunes may be the main focus of the first month of the calendar year, the Brown/Yale series typically produces at least one great battle between the squads every January. We have seen splits in 3 of the last 5 years, and two of those have involved both road teams claiming victory. In the Ivy League season, a single loss can be damaging to a team’s title chase, and two losses can be fatal. When any Ivy school comes into the season with dreams of a title run, a good start is so pivotal. Two losses to your travel partner can kill a season mighty quickly. For Yale in this year’s deep league, even a split would be extremely damaging.
“……if we was flying any lower why we'd need sleigh bells on this thing… but we got one little budge on them Rooskies. At this height why they might harpoon us but they dang sure ain't gonna spot us on no radar screen!”
When Major T.J. King Kong said those words back in 1964, it's likely he wasn’t referring to the 2011-12 Yale men's basketball team. That said, if any team is flying way under the radar, but quietly performing up to the high expectations presented to them, it is Coach Jones' Yale Bulldogs.
At one point during a break in the action at tonight’s Yale-Seton Hall matchup at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, a 7-year old lined up against a 13-year old to compete in the classic put-on-these-oversized-clothes-and-run-down-the-court-and-score contest. A 7-year old really has no business competing with a 13-year old, but there were so few people in the stands, they may not have been able to find two kids of a similar age (kidding, but barely). After a few missed lay-up attempts by the older child, there was the 7-year old, shuffling to the elbow and launching a prayer.
The shot fell far short and the older child made his lay-up to win the prize.
I could use that as a tidy little metaphor for the game that played out between Seton Hall and Yale, but it wouldn’t really be accurate. The Bulldogs had every opportunity to win this game, and it certainly wasn’t because Seton Hall was bigger and more experienced. On the contrary, there were quite a few times tonight when you would have thought the Bulldogs were the 13-year old, forcing Seton Hall into bad decisions on defense and finishing on clever passes at the rim. Yale is still a work in progress, though, and they let a big opportunity slip away during a seven-minute scoreless stretch late in the game. As an Ivy fan, it was frustrating to watch because the Bulldogs were talented enough to win this game. Here’s what Yale needs to improve upon if they want to eventually challenge Harvard and Penn, who look like the class of the league right now.
Brown, Sean McGonagill: The Bears’ sophomore point guard picked up where he left off last season with an impressive 20 point (7-12 shooting), 10 assist performance in a 86-66 victory against D-III Johnson & Wales.
Columbia, Blaise Staab: Staab came out of nowhere to be the bright spot for Columbia on a night when Agho and Barbour couldn’t finish at the rim. Staab, who played a grand total of 70 minutes in his first three years in New York, finished with a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and looked comfortable mixing it up with the nation’s best in Storrs, CT during the Lions’ respectable 70-57 loss.
Penn, Zack Rosen: Rosen had a monster night for the Quakers, tallying 26 points on 10-16 shooting, including 4-6 from range. The Quakers put UMBC away early in the second half behind some shutdown defense en route to a 59-45 triumph.
Yale, Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite: The Bulldogs held off a late charge from CCSU to win their opener 73-69 behind 23 points and 13 rebounds from their senior star, Mangano. Captain Reggie Willhite also had a big night, dropping in 21 and adding six steals and six boards.
Check out these Ivy basketball links you may have missed from the past few days:
The statistical wizard, Mike James, released his preseason player insights over at one of our favorite blogs, . The entire article is certainly worth reading as James goes into detail explaining his picks for an All-Freshman Team, All-Ivy candidates, and finally All-Ivy First and Second Teams. One pick against the grain was his prediction that Keith Wright drops to the All-Ivy Second Team from his POY perch:
This is how stacked the Ivy League is at the post position. It”s not really a commentary on Wright, but more a fact of the circumstances. The Crimson”s 6″8 post won”t be required to eat up as many possessions this year with support from a healthy Kyle Casey and a presumably strong bench, which will likely hurt the counting stats that voters so often cite.
Wright”s improvement from his sophomore to junior year was monumental. While some of that was merely being healthy all year, his passing also improved and he became a more consistent force on the boards. The biggest jump, however, came in free throw rate. Wright”s most successful split prior to last season was his freshman year Ivy campaign, when he posted a FT Rate of 41.3% and his only adjusted offensive rating over 100 (102). He spent all of last season in the 40s and the results were clear – all three splits showed offensive ratings in the 110s.
Maintaining that rate will be the key to Wright matching last year”s breakout performance.”
“Yale scored an equally important pledge from (Plainfield, N.J./Plainfield), a highly athletic 6-7 forward who took an official visit to Stanford earlier this month.
Sears was widely recruited by the vast majority of the Ivy League throughout the summer and saw his recruitment continue to escalate as he proved himself to be a dynamic two-way player. At Yale, his biggest impact may be on the defensive end of the floor where he’ll not only be able to defend multiple positions but also be able to serve as a dominant weak-side shot-blocker. “
“People often say that losing builds character, that you learn more from a loss than a win. I never bought into that idea. I”m more of the George Brett school of thought when he says, “If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out.” Whether it”s a game against Princeton in the Palestra or a “friendly” game of Blokus with my roommates, losing has never sat too well with me.”
And to wrap up, we point you back to the Ivy League”s most entertaining player blog, Mid Major Chillin. This week, the crew posts about their marketing efforts with their website (business cards), as well as an environmental campaign in which the players participated that produced the following iconic image: