Although half of the Ivy League teams have already commenced conference play, Yale still has the remainder of the week to rest up for its first league matchup — a road test at Brown on Saturday afternoon.
The game against Brown will come after a strong start to the season for the Elis. In 17 games — a total that no other Ivy team has topped — Yale escaped non-conference play with an 11–6 mark, notching the most wins in school history prior to league play.
“It’s nice to have the 11 wins but we’re still hungry and we know we haven’t reached our potential yet,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “We’re still going to push and fight in practice and hopefully we can pull off a good record in Ivy play.”
At the University of Connecticut, the defending national champions, a Dec. 5 upset thriller propelled the Elis to an 8–2 mark. Soon afterward, some fans began considering the possibility of Yale earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should Ivy League favorite Harvard win the league and the automatic berth that comes with it. Such a scenario would make Ivy League history, as the conference has never seen two of its own compete in March Madness.
“That would be great,” point guard Javier Duren ’15 said. “I think the Ivy League has earned the right to be a two-bid league based on the postseason successes in the past seasons across the league.”
Yale’s hopes at an at-large bid have likely been dashed since, however, as a blowout loss to Florida just three days after the UConn victory and three tight losses since then have blemished the Elis’ resume.
Nevertheless, that resume is still one of Yale’s most impressive in recent years. That, paired with some Harvard struggles thus far — especially on the offensive end, where the Crimson ranks next-to-last in scoring — has some in the media thinking the Crimson may not be the surefire favorite this year. Prior to the start of the season, Harvard was selected as the unanimous frontrunner in the preseason media poll to win the conference title.
“[Harvard guard Siyani] Chambers is having a real down year offensively and the loss of sharpshooter Laurent Rivard has allowed defenses to pay more attention to the Crimson frontcourt,” said Ian Halpern ’10, founder of Ivy Hoops Online, a site dedicated to Ivy League basketball. “There’s definitely reason to question Harvard’s undisputed claim on the ’15 Ivy hardware.”
After shaking off a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Quinnipiac to open the season, Yale rattled off five straight wins including three in three days to claim the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic tournament back in late November.
The Elis then demonstrated similar resiliency in response to its only blowout loss of the year, the 85–47 slipup at Florida, when the Bulldogs beat Vermont, the team’s first win at Vermont in its last eight tries. The one-point victory over the Catamounts, a participant in the National Invitational Tournament a year ago, continued a trend of tight games all season long.
Perhaps nowhere is that trend more evident than when analyzing Yale’s losses. Excluding the game at Florida — a Final Four participant a year ago and perennial contender for the national championship — the Bulldogs’ five other losses were close defeats that came down to the final buzzer.
In fact, the average margin of defeat in those five losses is just five points. Furthermore, four of those losses came on the road, with two coming in double overtime affairs, including one against Southeastern Conference member Vanderbilt.
While Yale’s 11–6 record is still second in the Ivy League in terms of winning percentage, with Harvard coming in first, many on the team are not satisfied and believe the Elis’ record could have been even better.
“Honestly if you had told us at the beginning of the season, would I be happy with 11 wins, I would have said ‘definitely,’” forward Matt Townsend ’15 said. “But I think all of us feel like that number could have been higher — 14–3 or something like that.”
Regrets aside, the Bulldogs’ main priority and their number one goal still lies ahead of them: Winning the Ivy League championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament, regardless of what the selection committee thinks of their resume. Members of the team have high hopes that they can accomplish that goal.
“It’s been nice to play in some close games because that will give us late-game experience when games go down to the wire,” guard Jack Montague ’16 said. “This is a special team that can definitely win an Ivy League championship.”
The team’s season continues this weekend’s tilt against Brown at the Pizzitola Center in Providence, where the Bears have won two straight contests against Yale and are 6–2 this season.