The last time the Yale men’s basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, it was one of 25 teams competing for the national championship. This season, the Bulldogs return to the Big Dance for the first time since 1962 as one of 68 teams from across the country.
On March 13, or “Selection Sunday,” the Elis will learn what seed they are, who they are playing and where they will compete. The team’s seed — a number between 1 and 16 that indicates the team’s strength within its regional bracket — will determine its opponent, as the No. 1 team plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on. The Bulldogs could be assigned to play at one of the eight spots around the country, which range from Spokane, Washington, to Providence, Rhode Island.
Here is what Yale fans should know in advance of Selection Sunday.
SEEDING AND LOCATION
While not technically a science, bracketology — the system of predicting March Madness matchups — can provide the casual fan with a rough estimation of Yale’s seeding forecast. Since higher-ranked teams are given priority with regards to location assignments, it is unlikely that the Bulldogs will receive the location of their choice.
In recent projections, the Bulldogs have been seeded in the low teens, generally somewhere between a No. 12 and No. 13 seed. Yale was ranked 43 in the latest NCAA RPI rankings, which, if those rankings were used, would make the Elis a No. 11 seed for the tournament. Based on the KenPom rankings, Yale could make a case for a No. 10 seed, as the Bulldogs are ranked 39th in the nation.
A No. 10 seed would put the 2015–16 Eli squad in rare company. Since the 1994 tournament, Ivy League schools have been given seeds that range from No. 11 to No. 15, with the lone exception being a 1998 No. 5 Princeton squad that lost in the second round.
Regardless of the actual seeding, it may be even harder to predict where Yale will end up playing its first round game. As a No. 14 or No. 15 seed, there is little likelihood that the Bulldogs would play at a location close to New Haven. However, as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed, the tournament could be more favorable to the Bulldogs. The closest locations to Yale include Brooklyn, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island.
The other possible sites for the first round games are Raleigh, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Denver, Colorado; and Spokane, Washington.
In the three phases of the selection process, the 36 at-large teams — teams that did not earn an automatic berth by way of winning a conference tournament yet are selected by the NCAA Tournament Committee to participate — are chosen first, then the entire field is seeded and finally placed into the bracket, which will determine the location and date of the first round games for the Bulldogs. Yale may play on either Thursday or Friday.
YALE AGAINST TOP TEAMS
In recent years, the Elis have played a rigorous slate of nonconference games, and the team has put together some noteworthy performances during those contests.
Two years ago, the Bulldogs toppled the University of Connecticut, the then-defending national champions, 45–44 on a last-second three-pointer. The memorable win marked Yale’s first over historically dominant UConn since 1986, and it snapped a streak of 13 consecutive wins for UConn over its in-state foe.
Meanwhile, Yale faced two powerhouses this season in Southern Methodist University and Duke. The Elis lost both contests, though in the 71–69 loss to SMU, which came in the midst of a nation-best 18–0 start for the Mustangs, Yale controlled much of the action.
While it is possible the Elis can play Duke again — the Blue Devils are currently projected to be about a No. 4 or No. 5 seed — they will not be seeing SMU. Due to NCAA violations ranging from academic fraud and unethical conduct, the Mustangs will not be participating in the postseason this year.
Yale struggled to overcome Duke’s 2–3 zone defense after carrying a lead into halftime versus the Blue Devils. Following the game, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski praised the Bulldogs and forward Justin Sears ’16, who he said could be “an outstanding player” in Duke’s Atlantic Coast Conference. Sears is tied with point guard Makai Mason ’18 as the leading scorer on the team with 15.8 points per game.
The team also battled USC this season, a team that rose as high as No. 21 in the AP Poll, in a December contest that was within single digits with fewer than five minutes remaining.
Although Yale went 0–4 against top nonconference opponents this season, its strength of schedule and Ivy League domination garnered them seven votes in last week’s AP Top-25 Poll, more votes than all but seven other teams outside of the top 25.
“We do three things. We defend our behinds off, we block out and rebound like nobody’s business and we share the ball,” Yale head coach James Jones said on Tuesday. “Those three things are what Yale basketball is made of right now. And when we stick to that routine — when we do that — we’re dangerous.”
IVY LEAGUE TRACK RECORD
The Ivy League has made some noise in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. Although the only Ancient Eight team ever to advance to the National Championship was Dartmouth back in 1944, the Ivy champion has advanced to the Sweet 16 as recently as 2010.
That year, a Cornell team seeded No. 12 dispatched a No. 5 and then a No. 4 seed before falling to No. 1 Kentucky.
But history does not often repeat itself. Assuming Yale is assigned a No. 12 seed, the team is fighting the odds to advance as far as that Big Red squad did. However, No. 12 seeds have had their fair share of first-round success. Nine of the last 20 teams seeded 12th have pulled off opening-round upsets against the No. 5 seed. Of those nine teams, just two — Oregon in 2013 and Richmond in 2011 — won their Round of 32 games to advance to the Sweet 16.
Just last season, only four teams ranked as a No. 11 seed or lower made it to the second round, highlighted by No. 11 UCLA’s Sweet 16 finish. However, there were six the year before that, and examples like No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 demonstrate that underdog teams can overachieve and deliver on the promise of March Madness.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 12 seeds are 42–78 in the first round, while No. 13 seeds are 25–95 and No. 14 seeds are 20–100.
Looking to follow in the footsteps of Harvard, which has won a first-round matchup in two of the past four NCAA Tournaments, Yale has reason to believe it can achieve similar success.
Selection Sunday begins at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS. The Yale men’s basketball team will host a viewing party at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, with doors opening at 5 p.m.