M. basketball the best show in town this weekend

No excuses.

Not sleet, not rain, not snow, not thunder, not that stomach bug caused by food poisoning, and certainly not the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

This weekend, there are no excuses for not coming out to Payne Whitney Gymnasium to see the men’s basketball team take on the University of Pennsylvania Friday night at 7 p.m. and Princeton Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Since I’ve been at Yale, there has been no problem filling up all 3,100 seats in the John J. Lee Amphitheater for Penn and Princeton, but this year it is even more important that Yalies show up and make their presence felt.

The Elis are 5-1 in the Ivy League, good for second place behind a Princeton squad that is 4-0.

This Bulldog team has a solid chance of winning the Ivy League and making it to the NCAA tournament.

With Penn having already dropped two games, including one on their home floor to a Columbia team that figures to finish in the bottom half of the Ivies, and Brown also having two losses, the road is wide open. Throw in that Princeton is missing their best player for the rest of the season, and the chances of Yale finishing first this year are looking quite good.

But this weekend is Yale’s first big test of the season. Playing Penn and Princeton back to back will show us the Bulldogs’ true mettle. Before it can be said that the Bulldogs are truly an Ivy contender, they have to win against the big dogs, and they are going to have to do it on consecutive nights, which will not be an easy task.

Penn or Princeton has won every Ivy League men’s basketball crown since 1989. Penn has beaten the Elis the last seven times, while Princeton has won three straight against Yale.

So this is where the fans enter into the equation. Packing the Lee Amphitheater to capacity will help give the Elis the extra edge — that “sixth man” — to pull out two victories.

And this is where the Athletics Department can be of some help too. Two weekends ago at Brown, when Yale’s team played the Bears, their fans started crowding into the arena a full hour before game time. That’s right — fans arrived early to an Ivy League game.

It almost felt like Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke where, I will confess, I attended the Wake Forest game, skipping Yale-Brown at Yale, which coincidentally is Yale’s only loss in the Ivies this year. I’ve been at every other Ivy League game.

Now, certainly the Brown fans were showing their intelligence by packing their arena and going early to support their team. They saw an incredible basketball game with a high level of play and thrilling drama to the end.

But the fans also showed up because the Brown Athletics Department got creative and gave them some extra incentives to come. They gave out 10 to 15 free pizzas to the fans well before the game started. Then, every five to 10 minutes, they gave out some free T-shirts to keep the frenetic atmosphere going. And it worked. The atmosphere was electric, and all it took was some free pizza and good marketing.

This weekend, Brown is playing Princeton and Penn at home. So what is the Brown Athletics Department doing? They sent out a letter to students at the beginning of the week telling them about the game and telling them about the policies for tickets and things of that nature. And then they plan to give out “Miller’s Maniacs” shirts (their coach’s name is Glenn Miller) and thunder sticks (with which to make noise while the opposition is shooting free throws), as well as some more free pizza and other free T-shirts.

Surely Yale’s Athletics Department can come up with something similarly creative. I mean, I love the pep rallies in Commons at lunch (right), but sometimes it’s the little extra perk that could really bring people out in force. A letter is not a bad idea, nor is advertising the perks that will be at the game. Granted, Yale athletics has given free T-shirts before at games, but when was the last time the student body really knew this beforehand?

Yale’s Athletics Department needs to do its part and help make the Lee Amphitheater really rock.

This year’s team not only needs fan support, but they are fully worthy of the school’s support.

Sure, under Jones the Yale team has gotten off to a quick Ivy start each year, but not this good. And each year, the main stumbling block has been that Penn-Princeton weekend.

But this year, let’s make that change. Penn-Princeton is at home, and let’s really make it feel like home for the Bulldogs. Let’s heckle, let’s scream, and let’s cheer. Come one, come all, come drunk or come sober. Let’s make it fun for everyone except the Quakers and Tigers. And let’s cheer the never-say-die Bulldogs on to victory.

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