In the past few weeks, Yale fans have become believers. As the men’s basketball team climbed to the top of the Ivy League, so too did the attendance figures at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
No weekend, therefore, was surrounded by more hype and expectation than this past weekend against Princeton and Penn. Unfortunately, the majority of the fans who traveled to only one of the away games saw the wrong contest.
Several residential colleges bussed students down to Princeton, N.J., to see the Bulldogs take on the Tigers in what was billed as the easier of Yale’s two games. Fans were optimistic about the Eli’s chances, with memories of Ime Archibong ’03 emphatically dunking the ball after Yale’s 60-50 victory over the Tigers Feb. 9 fresh in their minds. But a repeat was not to be. Instead, the Yale fans perched high in the rafters of Jadwin Gym just saw ugly basketball.
Yale scored just fifteen — yes, fifteen — points in the first half. The Elis shot 12.5 percent from behind the three-point line. As a result, many Yale fans went home wondering what all the fuss was about.
Fast forward one day to the Penn game.
Behind 7 of 16 three-point shooting in the first half, the Bulldogs opened up as much as an 11-point lead against the Quakers. Late in the first period, Edwin Draughn ’05, who was 2-8 from the field against the Tigers, slammed down a one-handed dunk worthy of any 11PM SportsCenter. He then added to his highlight reel by going coast-to-coast and defeating the entire Penn defense early in the second half. Throw in an Alex Gamboa ’05 to Archibong alley-oop and a tie score with just 3:09 to play, and you have a college basketball game for the ages.
Alas, however, the Yale cheering section was considerably smaller than the night before. And now fans will see an 0-2 weekend against Penn and Princeton and remember a poor showing by the Elis at Jadwin.
So the question becomes, will students jump off the bandwagon? The answer should be no.
With one weekend left in the season, the Elis are still in striking distance of their first league championship in 40 years. A potential three-way tie between Yale, Penn and Princeton would mean a playoff between those teams. That’s right, a post-season playoff. Something the Ivy League is not supposed to have. The Ancient Eight is the only Division 1A league in the country without a conference tournament, but we just may get to see one this year.
The Bulldogs do not have to prove that they can match up with the elite of the Ivy League, their home sweep of Penn and Princeton and Saturday’s close game with the Quakers already did that. Yale, therefore, is in a new category. It is now the favorite in most of its Ivy contests. And if the fans keep turning out in droves, the Bulldogs can be one of the most formidable teams to have to play on the road.
Yale is a young team primed to make considerable waves in the Ivy League in the next several years. The key, then, is to make sure the newfound fan base sticks around come next November when the 2002-2003 season kicks off.
No one can predict if this will be the year the Elis triumphantly return to the Big Dance, but it’s sure going to be fun watching them try to get there.