MEN’S BASKETBALL: Ivy Madness berth up for grabs at home
A win versus Penn on Friday night would secure a berth before Senior Night on Saturday.
The Bulldogs’ three seniors — forward Jordan Bruner ’20, captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 and forward Austin Williams ’20 — will play their final game at home for the Yale men’s basketball team on Saturday night.
A pregame ceremony with flowers, framed jerseys, family and friends will precede the Elis’ game with Princeton (12–11, 7–3 Ivy) that night, but Yale (20–6, 8–2) hopes it can tip off the celebration a bit sooner.
With a win over Penn (13–10, 5–5) on Friday at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs would clinch an Ivy Madness berth. Securing an appearance at the four-team tournament, hosted this season at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion in two weeks, would mark Yale’s fourth consecutive trip to the conference tournament that first took place in 2017. The ultimate prize this weekend could be an Ivy League championship, of which the Elis can clinch at least a portion with a weekend sweep and one Harvard loss to either Columbia or Cornell.
According to former president of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group Luke Benz ’19, a loss to Penn and victory against the Tigers would almost definitely secure a spot as well, save one small exception, the league’s third tiebreaker that draws on an aggregate of recent national ratings. But no matter Yale’s specific postseason status, a win over the Quakers on Friday is priority number one before Saturday’s game takes on special meaning for Bruner, Monroe and Williams.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Monroe said. “It’s really weird… I think Jordan said that [we only have two games left at home] to me [three] weeks ago after our Harvard–Dartmouth weekend and I was like, ‘What the heck?’ That’s pretty crazy… The season’s gone by super, super quick.”
Monroe said the Siena game, which Yale won at JLA in triple-overtime on Nov. 20, feels so recent. Now, only four of Yale’s 30 regular-season games remain after the Bulldogs earned a hard-fought sweep on the road last weekend at Cornell and Columbia.
On Monday, the Elis swept the Ivy League’s weekly awards. Bruner, who recorded the first triple-double in school history and third-ever in Ivy League history in Yale’s 81–80 double-overtime win at Cornell last Friday, earned Ivy League Player of the Week, while the conference honored guard August Mahoney ’23, whose layup off an assist by Monroe secured the one-point win, as its Rookie of the Week.
Bruner said the realization that the final two home games of his career take place this weekend has sunk in.
“I’m somebody that thinks about things like that all the time,” he said. “I just try to savor it, try not to rush through anything and try to enjoy the times that I have here and continue to win every game that we have.”
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Yale an 87.8 percent chance to win Friday, but recent experience offers proof of Penn’s skill. The Quakers, who sit at fifth in the Ivy League, defeated Yale by eight in Philadelphia two weekends ago. The Elis led, 58–53, with less than five minutes to play before senior forward AJ Brodeur helped his side to an 11–0 run late in the second half.
In the 69–61 loss, Yale shot poorly from the arc, converting just seven of their 27 attempts after thrashing Princeton, 88–64, a night earlier. Monroe said that the team discussed the importance of maintaining its intensity after a big win, but ultimately lacked its usual focus and attention to detail on the court. Offensively, he said, Yale played into Penn’s gameplan.
“They bait you into taking jumpers early in the shot clock,” Monroe said. “We did that, and you can beat ‘em that way if you make the shots, but we didn’t make the shots… Threes aren’t just threes. There’s good threes, okay threes and bad threes. Penn [wants] to force teams to take okay to bad threes.”
Penn has fallen in both games since, dropping single-digit road contests at Dartmouth and Harvard. The Crimson enter the weekend tied for second with Princeton — both are one game back from the Elis.
When the Bulldogs played at Jadwin Gymnasium two weeks ago, the Tigers’ three leading scorers — guard Jaelin Llewellyn, forward Ryan Schwieger and center Richmond Aririguzoh — combined to score just 10 points in one of Yale’s most dominating performances of the season.
“There’s a certain focus that you have to bring, and it’s hard to do it every single night,” Bruner said. “But that’s what has to be done if you want to be a championship team… Our gameplan doesn’t really necessarily change for anybody. We play our defense against every team we come across. But how well it goes depends strictly on us. If guys make shots, then guys make shots, but in terms of how well we guard and the effort and focus we bring in, it’s gotta be something that we do every day.”
NCAA.com college basketball correspondent Andy Katz will be present in JLA Friday night. Katz, who traveled to the White House before March Madness each spring to solicit Barack Obama’s tournament picks for ESPN’s “Barack-otology” segment when he worked for the site, will nationally broadcast Yale’s game with Penn on Westwood One Radio with Lance Medow.
In many ways, his presence confirms what all the postseason prognosticating suggests: March is nearly here. Seeding scenarios can get confusing — as Benz pointed out, with 16 total regular season games remaining in the Ancient Eight, 65,536 possible paths still exist. But Yale’s focus is simple.
“We’re not trying to overlook any games,” Swain said after scoring 29 points in a win at Columbia last weekend. “We treat [them] the same way. We’re trying to tighten up our principles as we get to the gritty games cause it’s gonna matter down the stretch.”
Yale’s weekend games both tip at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN+.
William McCormack | email@example.com