The parents of current Yale legacies probably do not remember the last time the men’s basketball team won the Ivy League championship. The Ancient Eight title has not called New Haven home since 1963. Not even Chris Dudley — Yale’s lackluster answer to Princeton’s Bill Bradley and the only Eli ever to play in the NBA — could lead the Bulldogs to a league crown in the mid-80s.
The 3-9 record that the team has posted in non-conference play and the last place Ivy finish the media predicted at the start of the season may have some fearing yet another winter of discontent at the Lee Amphitheater. Yet, in a league that most analysts have all but handed to Pennsylvania on a silver platter, the Bulldogs are confident that they can make a run at an Ivy League championship.
“I think we can win it,” team captain Neil Yanke ’01 said of the team’s prospects in Ivy League play. “I don’t think anyone has any doubt that we can do it.”
While the Elis are better than their record indicates, dreams of an Ivy League crown may be premature for a Yale squad that features only three seniors and 12 sophomores and freshmen. As the team begins conference play tonight at Harvard (WYBC-AM 1340), it is unclear whether the team’s strong performance in a difficult non-conference schedule will translate to Ancient Eight success.
“We played a really tough non-conference schedule and I think we are pretty prepared for the Ivy League,” point guard Chris Leanza ’03 said. “We are going to have a lot of success.”
Closely contested games were the norm for the Bulldogs on their non-league slate. The team dropped two tight contests on the road after falling behind early at Vermont and Rhode Island. The team then led for much of the game against a strong Holy Cross team in Worcester before falling by five.
In their most impressive half of the season, the Elis took a 35-31 into the break against California in Berkeley. These signs point to a team that is ready to make a splash in league play.
Still, the Elis have serious problems to fix in order to compete successfully in the Ancient Eight. The team has managed to stay in almost all of its games despite averaging a dreary 38.5 percent shooting from the floor.
“It is a situation where you shoot the ball from the perimeter pretty well and you have got to make some easy shots,” head coach James Jones said. “We have got to make some shots at the basket and some guys are going to have to step up and do a little better job.”
That burden will fall on the 6-foot-11 Yanke, forward Tom Kritzer ’01 — a recent addition to the starting lineup — and slashing guard Ime Archibong ’03.
On the perimeter, Leanza, whose 16 points per game leads the Elis, has been the consistent standout in Bulldog blue. He is shooting 45 percent from the field — good for fifth in the Ivy League and an impressive stat for a player who takes two-thirds of his shots from behind the arc.
A trio of freshmen — Scott Gaffield, Matt Minoff and Paul Vitelli — have impressed with their perimeter play. But their strong nights have only been flashes in the pan and one, if not all three, will need to torch the nets consistently for the Bulldogs to improve on their 62 points per game average.
On the defensive end, Jones said he has been disappointed with his team’s effort at points this season.
“We don’t get stops a lot of times in crucial points of the game and that is something we definitely need to concentrate on,” Jones said.
Tonight’s league opener versus Harvard provides an immediate test for the young Eli squad. The Crimson boast one of the premier players in the Ivy League in All-Ivy forward Dan Clemente, whose strong inside-outside game is a difficult challenge for those with the unenviable task of guarding him. Patrick Harvey and Elliot Prasse-Freeman make a dangerous outside shooting combo that Yale must contain.
The duo of Yanke and the 6-foot-10 Kritzer should prove to be a difficult match-up for the Cantab front line.
“I think where they are weak is in the five spot,” Jones said. “We definitely want to get the ball inside. That is our game plan and that is where our biggest advantage is.”
After the Harvard contest, the Bulldogs will make the three hour trip to Hanover, N.H. to take on Dartmouth (2-9, 0-2 Ivy). The Big Green dropped two close contests to the Crimson by a total of five points, and will provide another demanding test for the Elis.
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