With Ivy Madness seeding undecided and one spot still up for grabs in the Ancient Eight tournament next weekend, back-to-back wins for Yale men’s basketball this Friday and Saturday would secure the Bulldogs at least a portion of the regular season title.
According to Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group president Luke Benz ’19, 256 seeding scenarios remain for the conference’s four-team postseason tournament with one back-to-back remaining this season.
Although Yale (19–6, 9–3 Ivy) secured its tournament berth last Friday, the Bulldogs squandered their grip on the top seed with a loss to Columbia one night later. Before they return to New Haven to compete for an NCAA tournament appearance on March 16 and 17, the Elis first travel south for their regular season finale against Penn (17–11, 5–7) and Princeton (16–9, 8–4). Two wins would likely give the Elis the top seed, while Brown, Cornell and Penn battle for the two-day tournament’s final spot.
Just a season ago, the Quakers emerged victorious from Ivy Madness playing at home in the Palestra and earned the program’s 24th trip to March Madness. Penn, however, finds itself hunting for the conference’s fourth seed in the same arena this weekend, setting up what promises to be a high-energy standoff with the Bulldogs on Friday night.
“We just know we have to do whatever it takes to win [Friday’s] game,” guard Miye Oni ’20 said. “They’re going to be… scratching and clawing because they know their lives are on the line for an Ivy tournament bid. We know our lives are on the line for a one seed, and we want to get it, so it’s going to be a dogfight, it’s going to be a war, so we just got to play our best. That’s the only thing that it’s going to take to win.”
Regardless of how other games play out, the Bulldogs are concentrated on their own contests this weekend; victories in both would confer the program its third Ivy League title in the past five seasons. Yale defeated the perennial Ivy powers by a combined 27 points in early February, but Ancient Eight teams — including Harvard last month — have only managed to sweep the Princeton-Penn road series 12 times. The Bulldogs last accomplished the feat in 2015.
The Elis, the Ivy League’s highest-scoring offense, will face a Penn defense that allows a league-best 68.2 points a game when they storm the Palestra. In the teams’ latest meeting, a packed John J. Lee Amphitheater took in a nail-biting contest that saw Yale pull away in the final stretch after the Quakers managed to slice a 10-point lead down to three. A pair of emphatic, late-game dunks from Oni and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 on Penn forward Michael Wang drew the crowd to its feet and sent the Quakers back to Pennsylvania with a 78–65 loss.
Looking to avenge an 80–57 semifinal loss to Penn at Ivy Madness last March, Yale aims to keep the centerpiece of head coach Steve Donahue’s roster, star forward AJ Brodeur, under control. A workhorse under the rim on both offense and defense, the unanimous First Team All-Ivy big man ranks third in the conference with both 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Complimented down low by senior forward Max Rothschild — who hauled in six rebounds of his own against Yale earlier this season — Brodeur will likely receive priority on defense and the glass.
“[Rebounding is] the main thing preached when it comes to Penn,” Atkinson said. “Penn, Princeton — they all hustle really hard for the ball on the offensive glass, and they have Brodeur and Rothschild and a couple other bigs that are really crashing the glass hard. The main thing they want to emphasize in those games is rebounding and boxing out because they’re coming hard.”
Following the game at Penn, the Elis cross the Delaware River to take on a Princeton team that has already clinched a spot in Ivy Madness despite periods of absence from senior guard Devin Cannady. Following an incident in which police arrested the guard at a campus convenience store in January, the University reinstated Cannady before Princeton’s first game against Yale.
But after playing four games in February, the senior missed the Tigers’ matchups against Cornell and Columbia due to a personal matter. Last Friday, The Daily Princetonian reported that he was taking a voluntary leave of absence from the school and would not play another game for Princeton, citing a statement from Deputy University Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss.
Cannady retweeted the story later Friday afternoon to thank Princeton and later shared plans to return to the school “in the near future” to finish his degree in an Instagram post. In the same post, he announced his intentions to sign an agent and declare for the NBA Draft.
Despite the sudden conclusion of Cannady’s collegiate career, Princeton has proven more than capable without him, and Jones rejected the suggestion that he views the Tigers as a lesser threat in an interview with the News this week.
“No, that would be irresponsible of me to do that,” Jones said. “I think that they’ve actually played really well in his stead… So no, I certainly haven’t thought any less of them because he’s not here.”
Against Yale, Cannady’s abrupt return may have disrupted the chemistry the Tigers developed in his absence as Oni exploded for a career-high 35 points and 12 rebounds to propel Yale to a 74–60 victory. Guard Alex Copeland ’19 added 15 points, and Yale shot 54.2 percent from the field in the win. Princeton center Richmond Aririguzoh scored 17 points, many of them around the rim, while first-year guard Jaelin Llewellyn contributed 15.
Guard Myles Stephens, who struggled on both ends of the court at JLA earlier this season, rounds out Princeton’s key trio. The senior and former Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year averages 13.7 points and leads the team with 6.3 rebounds a game.
“We still control our destiny, everything’s in our hands to take a game at a time and win each game,” Oni said. “We win four more games this year, and we’re in the NCAA tournament, that’s just how it is right now.”
The Bulldogs dropped both games on its Princeton-Penn trip last season, falling to the Tigers by three in overtime and scoring only 50 points in a nine-point loss in Philadelphia.
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