The Thursday before the final weekend of Ivy League play is usually the last practice of the season for the men’s basketball team. The players announce the end of the afternoon sessions and sometimes they even start counting down to the final workout days in advance.
Yesterday, that was not the case.
“It was really weird,” Yale captain Ime Archibong ’03 said. “That could have been the last practice of the year, but it did not feel like it.”
The Bulldogs sure hope it wasn’t, and with a pair of victories this weekend, Yale will have reason to practice come Monday.
With two wins this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, the Bulldogs will keep themselves in the hunt for the Ivy League championship and a postseason berth. To close out the regular season, Yale (17-9, 9-3 Ivy) hosts Harvard (14-10, 7-5) Friday night at 6 p.m. at the John J. Lee Amphitheater and entertains Dartmouth (9-16, 2-10) Saturday at 7 p.m. An Eli sweep combined with a Princeton loss in its final three games, and Yale captures at least a share of the Ivy League championship.
If Princeton wins out, the Tigers win the Ivy League championship outright, but a 19-win Yale team would have a legitimate shot at an invitation to an expanded NIT. If Yale, Penn and Princeton all win their games this weekend (Penn and Princeton travel to Cornell and Columbia) and Penn beats Princeton in the league finale, the league regular season would end in a three-way tie for the first time since its inception in 1956.
If the three-way tie scenario unfolds with the contenders finishing 11-3, a two-game playoff would be held to determine the league’s representative to the NCAA tournament.
But all is contingent on two Yale wins this weekend.
“It is extremely difficult to keep out all of the what-ifs,” Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “I think our team is doing a really good job of this.”
The Crimson are mathematically alive in the Ivy League championship race, and history demonstrates Harvard does not skimp on its efforts in the season’s final games. In the last seven seasons, Harvard has posted a 13-1 record in the Ivy season’s final weekend.
The Crimson have the added incentive of playing spoiler against their arch-rival and ending a three-game skid against the Bulldogs.
“We know they are going to come out real strong because it is Yale-Harvard,” Draughan said.
In the team’s first meeting this year, that is exactly what the Crimson did, jumping out to a 38-22 halftime lead. The second half was all Yale, though, as the Bulldogs went on a 40-11 run en route to a 66-57 win.
While the second half of that game was one of the best Yale has played all season, the Bulldogs, fresh off two emotional losses last weekend, do not want a similar letdown at the start of the game.
“We have reached the point where we are good enough and smart enough to avoid [a letdown],” Archibong said. “I really think we are past that.”
Archibong added that with help from an energized crowd in what should be a jam-packed Lee Amphitheater, summoning energy and intensity should not be a problem for the home team.
The Elis biggest challenge will be containing Harvard’s Patrick Harvey, the second leading scorer in the league at 19 points per game.
An Ivy Player of the Year candidate, Harvey is part of a talented Crimson backcourt that, on top of its scoring prowess, is one of the best defensive units in the league. The Eli backcourt of Draughan and point guard Alex Gamboa ’05 will need to be sharp against the pesky Crimson defenders.
The Yale guards will also need to get T.J. McHugh ’03 and Josh Hill ’04, Yale’s big men, involved in the offense. Teams have put more defensive pressure on McHugh and Hill of late, weakening Yale’s inside-outside, double threat offense.
McHugh had one of his best weekends of the year the first time the Elis played the Crimson and the Big Green (Yale won that meeting 73-55). McHugh won Ivy League Player of the Week honors for his efforts that weekend, averaging 13 points and eight rebounds in the two games.
Yale head coach James Jones said forward Paul Vitelli ’04, the Ivy League’s leading rebounder, has practiced all week after injuring his knee against Princeton, and should be 100 percent for this weekend.