Fifty-four years. 1,411 games. Over 56,000 minutes of basketball.
However you want to count it, it’s been a long, long time since the Yale men’s basketball team last appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
But after the Elis’ thrilling 79–75 win over fellow Ivy contender Princeton on Saturday, Yale seems well-positioned to take advantage of rival Harvard’s stumbles in conference play and finally make the Big Dance.
Given what the Bulldogs have shown on the court this season, as well as the one-year dip in the Cantabs’ fortunes, this is the year for the Bulldogs if they want to bust some brackets in March.
Every tournament team needs experience and leadership, something that Yale has in spades. Four members of the starting lineup are seniors, and point guard Makai Mason ’18 has played well beyond his years this season to lead the team in points per game.
In fact, it’s Mason’s emergence that solidifies this team as a force to be reckoned with on offense. Mason has matched the numbers posted a year ago by first-team All-Ivy point guard Javier Duren ’15 and then some, averaging 15.7 points and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the field. When combined with forwards Brandon Sherrod ’16 and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears ’16, who have dominated in the paint this season, the Bulldogs have an inside-out combo that can go toe-to-toe with any team in the nation.
Finally, the tenacity and determination shown game in and game out by this team show that Yale can battle back from anything. The Elis are tied for fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game, a sure sign of willpower. They nearly came away with upsets at Illinois and Southern Methodist, and they’ve won eight game in a row.
This team is for real.
And to top it all off, archrival Harvard is down in the dumps, having lost three consecutive Ivy League games, including a pair at home. Just 9–11 this season, the Crimson shoots an atrocious 57.8 percent from the charity stripe — they call them free throws for a reason, guys — and has looked lost on offense for long stretches recently.
The stars have definitely aligned this year. But don’t get too cocky quite yet — because the long-term future isn’t nearly as rosy.
For starters, remember that experience Yale boasts? It also means that there will be a lot of production to replace starting in 2016–17. Over 60 percent of Yale’s points this season have been scored by seniors, and even with highly-touted recruits like three-star forward Jordan Bruner likely coming in next year, it could be difficult for the Elis to hit the ground running.
Harvard also figures to bounce back next year. Point guard Siyani Chambers, a three-time All-Ivy pick, will return for his senior year following a torn ACL that has kept him out this year. Joining him will be the No. 10 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN, featuring three of the nation’s 100 best high school seniors. Head coach Tommy Amaker has proven his recruiting prowess year in and year out, and Yale will need head coach James Jones to continue to find diamonds in the rough like Mason, a two-star prospect out of the Hotchkiss School.
But that’s not something to focus on now. We’ll learn a lot more about the Bulldogs’ chances starting this Friday night, when they take on the only other undefeated team in Ancient Eight play, Columbia, at home.
Go support this team, because you could be witnessing history.
Grant Bronsdon is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and former Sports Editor for the News.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .