Yale basketball has a habit of falling just short

It was the classic letdown game. Just when the Yale men’s basketball team finally seemed to hit its stride, the monumental road bump that is Brown managed to trip the Bulldogs up yet again.

Everyone who knows anything about Yale basketball saw this coming. After sweeping perennial Ivy League powers Princeton and Penn, it makes sense that it would be Brown — the team that always shatters Yale’s hopes just when expectations reach an apex — that nailed the coffin shut on the Bulldogs’ season.

In each of the previous two seasons, Brown killed Yale’s Ivy League title chances by putting the Bulldogs in an 0-2 hole to start conference play. This year a snowstorm forced the Bears to wait until last night, but the outcome was the same. It’s all over. I don’t need to waste any more time examining scenarios for Yale to catch Penn.

There will be no second run at an Ivy crown for the class of 2005. Even with a backcourt with championship experience and a talent-laden roster, this team never seems to get its act together. That’s been the story for Yale basketball the past three years.

This failure is an issue that needs further discussion, but I’m not writing the eulogy for ’05 yet. I wrote most of what follows before the Brown game, and it would be nice to say something positive about this team, especially because the Bulldogs deserve a lot of credit for what they did this past weekend.

So, in an effort to ignore the fact that the basketball team has just ripped my heart out for the last time, here are several facts about the Bulldogs that were proven to me during Yale’s weekend routs of Princeton and Penn. In no particular order, and with minimal details from the Tuesday night nightmare:

1) Edwin Draughan ’05 is the best player in the Ivy League. Everyone already knew he should be able to dominate with regularity, but it seemed like he finally realized how to take over this weekend. As he dropped 20 points on Princeton and 19 on Penn, it seemed that nobody could stop him from getting to the basket. Even with the turnover on the decisive possession against Brown, it’s hard to take anything away from Draughan. He kept the Bulldogs in the game and carried the team during the stretch run. I’d rather forget the travel and focus on the repertoire of sick moves he made over the last three games. My personal favorite was a nasty head fake he used to free himself for a foul-line jumper, which sent his defender soaring past him in the second half of the Penn game.

Perhaps even more impressive was Draughan’s defense. The defining moment of the Penn game may have been the first play of the second half. Tim Begley, Penn’s leading scorer and the favorite for Ivy Player of the Year (until now), had been shut out in the first half. On Penn’s first possession of the second half, Begley broke free and appeared to have the lane wide open for an easy lay-up. Instantly, I was envisioning Begley catching fire en route to scoring 20. At least until Draughan came out of nowhere to deflect the shot. Begley finished with no points on 0-for-6 shooting.

2) Casey Hughes ’07 is the second coming of Ime Archibong ’03. Over the last few games, Hughes demonstrated he’s the best athlete in the Ivy League. Again, we already knew that. His dunk on Saturday night still has me light-headed. Looking around in the aftermath of that high-wire act, it was almost as amazing to see the dropped jaw on every student’s face as it was to realize that somehow Hughes’s facial had propelled me four rows back from where I started. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Unfortunately, Hughes has what I like to call Archibongitis. All you want him to do is defend and dunk. But just like Ime, fans start cringing whenever he handles the ball or takes jump shots. I don’t want to criticize Hughes’ jumper too much right now because I don’t know how much is related to his shoulder injury, but that shot was never pretty to begin with. Basically, if Hughes is going to be a star player once Draughan graduates, that jumper needs to get fixed.

3) By his senior year, if not before then, Eric Flato ’08 will be the most hated player in the Ivy League. Flato is outright nasty, and he’s great to watch because of the attitude he brings to the floor. He’s constantly smiling and chatting up his man, and he clearly takes pleasure in shaking his guy with a crossover or burying a three-pointer in someone’s eye and letting his follow-through linger for an extra few seconds. Of course, this type of flare makes players incredibly popular with their own fans, but inevitably detested on the road (see J.J. Redick). After a few more years watching Flato’s sweet handle, seven other groups of Ivy League fans will probably have had their fill of the kid. Fine with me. Just keep the filthy moves coming.

The freshman had some huge moments over the last couple of weekends, including nailing two big shots on Friday night just as Princeton was sneaking back into the game. His three in the final minute last night gave the Bulldogs a chance to win. But my favorite moment occurred on Saturday night when Ibrahim Jaaber, the league’s leader in steals, tried to draw a charge in the backcourt and Flato, without slowing down at all, blew by him with a behind the back dribble. The kid is money.

4) Dominic Martin ’06 is the Ivy’s best post player. The Ancient Eight doesn’t have a lot of legitimate post players, so Martin is an incredible advantage for the Bulldogs. In his 20-point performance against Brown, he was Yale’s offense in the first half. Unfortunately, because of foul trouble and the Bulldogs’ inability to stick with the post game, he’s averaged fewer than seven shots a game in league play.

5) The freshmen were the answer all along. A month ago, who would have thought Flato with either Caleb or Nick Holmes ’08 would be eating up crunch-time minutes? It turns out that the backcourt combination of Flato and Alex Gamboa ’05 gets the Bulldogs much better penetration and ball movement. Meanwhile, the Holmes twins provide shooting for a team that didn’t have enough outside threats to open up opponents’ defenses.

If only Jones had discovered this rotation before the Ivy season. Maybe it just takes time for freshmen to gain confidence. Then again, “too little, too late” seems to fit this team too well. For example, why did Draughan wait so long before finally deciding to carry the team? Couldn’t he have done this earlier in the season? Or maybe for the last three years? I’ll save those thoughts for the eulogy.

Right now, I’d rather focus on how the Bulldogs managed to really click for the first time in three years. Maybe the dominating home wins over Princeton and Penn should be enough to redeem the season.

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