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.
We all know the 2014-15 Yale men”s basketball season didn”t have a storybook ending. Just four months ago, Harvard edged out Yale at the Palestra, 53-51, in an already legendarily back-and-forth Ivy playoff game after the Bulldogs let a last-second lead literally slip away at Dartmouth that would have clinched the Elis” first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962. Then the NIT online casinoinexplicably slipped away too.
It is I, The AQ. This week I am guest hosting the IHO Power Rankings. For the purists out there, after the first back-to-back Ivy weekend, the rankings should probably look something like this:
Normally, this list is dutifully accompanied by the earnest commentary and incisive statistical analysis that you’ve come to know and love from IHO. An introspection of our favorite teams that is indeed worthy of our elite educations.
For those of you expecting this, my apologies in advance. This week, since it is still early in the 14-Game Tournament and because there were no real surprises in the games last weekend, I thought it was the perfect time to switch things up a bit. (After all, you have the whole month of February to get your ORAT freak on.) Instead, I’ve decided to rank the teams as I see them which of course has nothing to do with reality. So without further ado, here is The AQ’s “Special” IHO Power Rankings for February 1, 2015.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and that means New Year’s resolutions abound. If the Ivies could have one doable New Year’s resolution each, here’s what they would be, along with the likelihood of each team making good on that resolution (Ivy power rankings included).
8. Penn (3-7) – Get the freshmen substantially more minutes
Sam Jones is averaging 6.1 points in just 15.1 minutes per game so far this season and has proven himself to be the kind of sharpshooting threat Penn has been missing for a long time, shooting an eye-popping 45.9 percent from beyond the arc. Yet Jones logged just 10 minutes at La Salle last night. He must be in coach Jerome Allen’s doghouse, but he has to play more regardless.
Meanwhile, now that Mike Auger’s back from a foot injury, he has to play more too. He’s just seventh on the team in minutes per game despite being second in rebounds and third in points per contest. Freshman guard Antonio Woods is actually logging more minutes than anybody due to junior guard Tony Hicks’ chronic foul trouble, but he’s just one of many frosh that will have to pick up the slack if Penn is to make a run at the top half of the conference.
Much in the way that the frenzy around MLB’s winter meetings and the NBA’s star players hitting free agency captivate fans as much as or more than regular season games, so too do the machinations of the summer and winter transfer windows in soccer. As the winter transfer window opens on Thursday, I thought about an alternate reality where the NCAA also had a transfer window to deal with in between the fall and spring semesters. While English teams are roughly halfway through their round-robin season when the window opens, Ivy basketball teams have nearly completed their nonconference schedule and will have an opportunity to correct weaknesses, address injuries, or move the focus completely towards next year without worrying about getting relegated.
Along with IHO resident soccer expert Peter Andrews, I thought up moves each team could make in this hypothetical, never could, would or should happen situation. We will also be ignoring that in reality, Duke, Kansas or Kentucky would buy up all of the good players anyway.
BROWN: LOANS Kendall Jackson from Columbiaand Andre Chatfield from Harvard No Bear averages more than 3.5 assists per game and no starter has an assist/turnover ratio better than 1.1. Thus, the Bears bring in two guards buried on their respective team’s depth charts in the hopes that one sticks as the ball handler of the future and a permanent transfer can be worked out after the season.
COLUMBIA: BUYS Gabas Maldunas from Dartmouth. Columbia remains weakest in the frontcourt, where Cory Osetkowski has put together an inconsistent campaign in scoring and on the glass. They”d pay a hefty transfer fee to pry Gabas Maldunas away from Dartmouth, a team going nowhere fast this year. Maldunas would instantly upgrade the post presence for Columbia. In addition to cash, the Lions would send monstrously tall center Conor Voss on a loan to Dartmouth, in the hopes that some regular playing time will reveal basketball skills.
Yale did something this weekend it hasn’t done in years. It won a basketball tournament. The Bulldogs, playing as well as any Ivy team right now, handed the home team, Kent State, its first loss to win the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic.
Yale had defeated Illinois-Chicago, 70-58, and Illinois State, 53-46, to reach the final. It took an heroic performance from senior Matt Townsend, who flew in from New York after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, to seal the victory. Townsend had 12 points, including the go-ahead basket.
Congratulations to Yale senior forward Matt Townsend for being named Rhodes Scholar this weekend. Townsend interviewed for the prestigious award in New York on Saturday and then notched 12 points on perfect 5-for-5 shooting in a win over Kent State on Sunday. Now that’s a productive weekend.
“It makes me understand that I’m at the right place,” Yale coach James Jones said of Townsend’s honor to Yale’s basketball program in a statement. “Basketball is important and academics are important. Yale is the best of everything.”
Townsend becomes the fourth Yale men’s basketball player to be named a Rhodes Scholar, joining Robert McCallum (1968), Mike Oristaglio (1974) and James McGuire (1976).
Yale starting senior forward Matt Townsend will miss the next two games for a pretty good reason.
Townsend will interview for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship as one of eight Yale students selected as finalists for the award. Townsend, the first Yale basketball player since 1999 to earn Academic All-America honors, has maintained a 4.0 GPA average through six semesters at Yale as a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major.
He’ll interview in New York this weekend and won’t play Friday against Illinois-Chicago or Saturday against Southern Illinois. According to the Associated Press, Townsend plans to rejoin the team for a Sunday game against Kent State.
Townsend averaged 4.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season. He would be the fourth Yale basketball player to earn a Rhodes Scholarship.
There is a changing of the guard in the Ivies and nowhere is that more obvious than in New Haven. Yale has been picked by many to finish second only to Harvard by many preseason magazines. Over Princeton and Penn no less.
James Jones, the dean of the Ivy coaches, is not surprised. He is a confident guy to begin with, also noting that “top to bottom [this is] the best the league has been in my tenure.” That says a lot, considering Jones has helmed the Bulldogs since 1999.
Yale is coming off a loss in the finals of the CIT at Murray State. The Elis won 19 games in 2013-14 and if they take a page from Mercer, the CIT winner the year before, Yale could see NCAA action in March.