Courtesy of Drew Dummer, Ryan Chiao, William McCormack

When he got to Yale, RJ Kranz ’22, the men’s basketball team’s head student manager, knew he wanted to stay involved in basketball.

Kranz played for Guam’s under-18 team during his senior year of high school. As he began college, he found emails for the Yale coaching staff, reached out and walked into Payne Whitney Gymnasium to meet with them a couple weeks into his first year in September 2017. Kranz talked with the coaches about joining the program as a manager and rebounded shots for Jalen Gabbidon ’22, the Yale guard and now captain, who was also then only a few weeks into college. It was the first time Kranz met anyone involved in the program. 

“It’s crazy how fast it’s gone,” Kranz said this week as Yale (16–11, 10–3 Ivy) prepares to host Brown (13–15, 5–8) for its final regular season and home game Saturday night. This weekend’s contest at the John J. Lee Amphitheater will be the last career home game for Kranz and the Elis’ four senior players — Gabbidon, guards Azar Swain ’22 and Eze Dike ’22 and forward Jameel Alausa ’22. However sentimental, the game also gives Yale a potential opportunity to win its third straight regular-season Ivy League title — a win over Brown and a Princeton (21–5, 11–2) loss to Penn (12–14, 9–2) would result in a triumphant conclusion to senior night. 

Four and a half years since Kranz’s first meeting with the coaches and Gabbidon, the manager has been involved with the program ever since and now even lives with Swain and Gabbidon.

“JLA is probably the place I’ve spent the most time on campus and is where I’ve made a lot of friendships that I really value,” Kranz said. “I’m looking forward to throwing on a suit for one last time and giving myself a couple of moments to stop and just take it all in.”

Yale’s head student manager RJ Kranz ’22 at the Barclays Center in December 2021. (William McCormack, Contributing Photographer)

Dike is the only current senior player who was in the class of 2022 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Alausa, Gabbidon and Swain, in addition to Kranz, were all originally in the class of 2021 before each taking a yearlong leave of absence during the 2020-21 school year as the pandemic disrupted campus life and caused the cancellation of athletic competition. 

Swain, who leads Yale and ranks second in the Ivy League averaging 18.7 points per game, said Saturday was going to be emotional for him.

“Thinking back on the journey, I’m just grateful to be in the position that I am today,” he said. “Coming to Yale as a first year in 2017, I just wanted to contribute in any way I could on the court and help solidify a strong, tough and winning culture. … It means a lot to be in a position to finish my career off on a positive note and help the younger guys on the team experience winning. That’s what it’s all about.”

Swain referenced the players who helped him develop throughout his career and specifically called out former Yale guard and 2019 NBA Draft pick Miye Oni, whom he said has been a “great motivator, supporter and friend in my preparation for this season.”

Yale guard Azar Swain ’22, right, enters the weekend third in program history with 117 games played. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

Over the course of his Yale career, Swain has appeared in 117 games, a mark that ranks third in program history behind Justin Sears’s ’16 120 and Austin Morgan’s ’13 118. Swain and Gabbidon, who was the 2020 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and is the program’s all-time leader in steal percentage, have combined to make 119 starts for the Bulldogs. 

Alausa, who underwent double hip surgery last year, has missed his final season while remaining a part of the program and adding a veteran presence on the bench. A point guard, Dike made 12 starts during Yale’s nonconference slate but has not played since late January because of injuries. Along with forwards EJ Jarvis ’23 and Luke Kolaja ’25, he missed last Saturday’s loss at Cornell (14–10, 6–7) because of a non-COVID-19 illness. After the game last weekend, Jones said he expected Dike and the forwards to be available for the senior night matchup with Brown but did not know for sure.

Once the pregame ceremonies conclude, the game could still be important for the Bulldogs. Yale, which currently trails first-place Princeton by a game in the Ancient Eight standings, can share the Ivy League’s regular-season title with the Tigers with a win over Brown and a Princeton loss to Penn. The Quakers-Tigers matchup at the Palestra tips off at 6 p.m., while the Yale-Brown game starts at 7 p.m., meaning that Yale fans, if not coaches and players actively competing, should know whether Princeton wins or loses around when the Bulldogs start the second half.

Yale guard Eze Dike ’22 is the only senior who was originally in the class of 2022 when the pandemic began. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Regardless of how Yale fares in the regular-season title race, the matchups for Ivy Madness, the conference’s four-team postseason tournament taking place in Boston next weekend, have essentially been set since last weekend. Yale’s loss to Cornell and Princeton’s sweep of Harvard (13–12, 5–8) locked the Big Red as the No. 4 seed, eliminated Harvard from the field for the first time since the tournament’s 2017 inception and virtually guaranteed the Tigers the No. 1 seed. 

If they share the regular-season title this weekend, Princeton and Yale will be as evenly matched, according to the Ivy League’s tiebreaker rules, as any two teams in recent history. With the same records in Ivy play, the Tigers and Bulldogs would also be knotted on the conference’s first two tiebreakers — they would have identical records against themselves and against every other team in the Ancient Eight, with losses to Penn, Cornell and each other. After those first two tiebreakers, the league would rely on “an average of the most recent ratings indices identified in advance by the coaches,” such as ratings from Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroy and the NCAA’s NET ranking, to seed the two teams. As of Thursday evening, Princeton ranks 108th in the NET and 112th in KenPom of the country’s 358 Division I men’s basketball programs. Yale ranks 151st in the NET and 147th in KenPom, leading to a rankings deficit that would be nearly impossible to eliminate given that the Bulldogs are hosting a lesser-ranked team — Brown sits at 216 in the NET and 210 in KenPom as of Thursday evening — on their home floor.

Yale guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 drives around Harvard guard Evan Nelson during the Elis’ win at Harvard last month. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

The result of all the tiebreakers is that Yale will likely face Penn in the first round of Ivy Madness. Luke Benz ’19, a biostatistics doctorate student who analyzes Ivy League men’s basketball odds, said his model suggests missing out on the tournament’s top seed may not substantially affect Yale’s chances of capturing the Ivy Madness championship, which comes with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“The numbers suggest that playing Penn in the semifinals doesn’t fundamentally hurt Yale’s chances of reaching March Madness,” Benz said after last weekend’s Ivy League action concluded. “As it stands, Yale will have about a 59 percent chance to reach the finals and a 27 percent chance of winning Ivy Madness. Had they been the top seed and only had to face one of Penn [or] Princeton, they would’ve had a 62 percent chance of reaching the finals and a 29 percent chance of claiming the Ancient Eight auto bid to March Madness.”

Yale beat Brown, 66–63, when the two teams played in Providence in January.

William McCormack covered Yale men's basketball from 2018 to 2022. He served as Sports Editor and Digital Editor for the Managing Board of 2022 and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he was in Timothy Dwight College.