Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

The Yale men’s basketball team, a No. 14 seed, faces No. 3 Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament on Friday afternoon. Making their third trip to March Madness since 2016, the Bulldogs are set to tip off with the Boilermakers Friday at 2 p.m. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Here are a few things to know about the tournament-bound Bulldogs:

Fast facts

Overall record: 19–11

Ivy League record: 11–3

Record in Quadrant 1 games: 0–4

Record in Quadrant 2 games: 1–1

Record in Quadrant 3 games: 5–5

Record in Quadrant 4 games: 12–1

Overall NCAA Tournament seed: 56 (of 68)

National ratings, as of Wednesday evening (of 358 DI programs): 146 (KenPom), 142 (NCAA NET), 135 (Sagarin)

Adjusted offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions): 101.3 (210th in nation)

Adjusted defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions): 99.1 (103rd in nation)

NCAA Tournament appearances in school history: Six (1949, 1957, 1962, 2016, 2019, 2022)

NCAA Tournament record: 1–6

NCAA Tournament win(s): One, in 2016, a 79–75 win over No. 5 Baylor

Yale guard Bez Mbeng ’25 (2) celebrates as time expired to end the Ivy League championship game against Princeton at Lavietes Pavilion in Boston, Mass., on Sunday, March 13, 2022. Yale won 66-64 to clinch the Ivy League title. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

How did Yale get to March Madness?

Yale won the Ancient Eight’s four-team conference basketball tournament, Ivy Madness, last weekend to clinch the league’s automatic bid to March Madness. The Elis’ defense, which has limited opponents to the lowest average shooting percentages in the Ivy League, shined during both games at Ivy Madness. Yale limited Penn to 61 points in the semifinal, the Quakers’ fourth-lowest all season, and kept Princeton to 64 points — tied for the Tigers’ season low — in Sunday afternoon’s championship game.

IN PHOTOS: Yale men’s basketball wins Ivy Madness, bid to NCAA Tournament

Although the Crimson did not actually qualify for the men’s bracket, Harvard hosted this year’s tournament, which was the first to take place since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yale won that last instance of Ivy Madness in 2019 as well, making the Bulldogs repeat Ivy League representatives in the tournament despite a three-year gap between the pair of appearances. The Ivy League canceled its conference tournament in March 2020, the day before the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. The league also canceled athletic competition during the 2020–21 school year, making the Ancient Eight the only conference not to send a team to last year’s bubbled tournament in Indianapolis. 

What’s the story of Yale’s season?

Yale was picked to finish first in the Ivy League’s preseason media poll. But given the year off from competition, there was uncertainty around how the Ancient Eight standings would shake out. Five different teams — Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Brown — received first-place votes. Like many other Ivy League squads, the Bulldogs have nine players on their roster — of 19 total — who had no college experience before the season began. 

The Elis experienced an up-and-down start to the year during nonconference play. There were spurts of strong play — they notched a 20-point win over the University of Massachusetts during their first game against a Division I opponent, scoring over 54 percent from the field — interspersed with subpar performances. Slow starts in the first half, and particularly the few minutes following tipoff, emerged as an issue during some games. Yale came back to beat lesser-ranked Lehigh in early December but did not complete a similar comeback against Stony Brook earlier in the week, falling to the Seawolves at home in what the NCAA’s NET ranking metric considers Yale’s worst defeat of the season. After a mid-December loss to Monmouth, the thirteenth game of the season, Yale head coach James Jones and players expressed a similar sentiment: the Bulldogs, then 6–7, were not performing to their full potential. 

READ MORE: “We’re not playing as good as the sum of our parts:” Monmouth sends Yale into finals break with 69–60 loss

Some struggles during nonconference play came against talented, high-major teams like Seton Hall and Auburn, whose size posed issues for Yale. Especially compared to recent years, when forwards like Jordan Bruner ’20 and Paul Atkinson ’21 anchored the Bulldogs’ frontcourt, Yale is relatively undersized this season. The team’s average height this year is the lowest it has been since the 2010–11 season — that average ranks 249th out of the 358 DI teams in men’s college basketball, according to KenPom. The tallest player in the Yale rotation is 6-foot-8 forward EJ Jarvis ’23, who missed most of nonconference play with injuries. Six-foot-7 starting forward Isaiah Kelly ’23 has adopted a role as Yale’s center even though that is not his natural position. Against nonconference opponents last fall, Yale guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22 essentially had to play power forward. When the school year began last August, Jones also expected to have two extra veteran players in the post. Ongoing hip issues and double hip surgery sidelined forward Jameel Alausa ’22 for the season, while former forward Wyatt Yess ’21 SOM ’22 decided to step away from basketball after finishing his undergraduate degree.

The return of Jarvis and two new additions to the starting lineup — first-year guard Bez Mbeng ’25 and sophomore, but still rookie, forward Matt Knowling ’24 — significantly benefited the Bulldogs when Ivy League play began. COVID-19 cases within the program caused Yale to pause team activities and postpone its first three Ivy League games at the turn of the year. When they finally returned to games, the Elis won nine of their 10 first league matchups. They are 13–3 in 2022. A win on the road at Princeton in late January snapped the then-first-place Tigers’ 10-game win streak and was perhaps Yale’s best regular-season victory this season.

Princeton beat Yale when the Tigers visited New Haven in February, tying the teams in first place. A Bulldog loss at Cornell in late February allowed Princeton to win an outright Ivy League title, as Yale finished the regular season in second place heading into Ivy Madness last weekend. The Bulldogs’ and Tigers’ combined regular-season scores were identical over their two regular-season meetings — 155–155 — before they met again in the conference tournament championship.

Yale head coach James Jones, pictured above during a game vs. Harvard in February, is the second-winningest coach in Ivy League men’s basketball history. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

Who is James Jones, Yale’s head coach?

James Jones has been Yale’s head coach since 1999, making him the seventh-longest-tenured active head coach in men’s college basketball. His career win total of 352 is the highest in program history — Joe Vancisin ranks second with 206 career wins — and is the second-most in Ivy League men’s basketball history behind Pete Carril, who had 514 overall victories at Princeton. Jones’ 191 Ivy League wins also rank second in league history.

Yale won a shared Ivy League championship during his third season in 2001–2002, and despite not winning the league again until 2015, the Bulldogs have finished in the top half of the standings in every season except his first, when Yale tied for fifth. Jones has led the program to its most successful era in school history in recent years — Yale is 74–24 in league play over the last seven seasons. The Ivy League Coach of the Year in 2015, 2016 and 2020, Jones also received the Ben Jobe Award in 2019 as the top minority coach in Division I men’s basketball after leading the Elis back to March Madness. Yale signed Jones to a contract extension through 2026 in May 2019.

READ MORE: ‘He just had a plan’: An oral history of Yale men’s basketball in its first season under James Jones

Jones, who was only 35 years old starting his first season as head coach, has said he coached with a frenetic energy in his earliest seasons at Yale. “If you were to hear my first few years, my guys might have thought I was crazy because I was,” Jones said in a podcast interview last summer. The buttons on his blazer disappeared because he ripped his jacket off so often during games. Now, Jones is calm, cool and still very well-dressed on the Yale sideline. Amid a casual trend among coaches in the sport, he and his assistant coaches have continued to wear suits and ties.

Jones’ younger brother Joe is the Boston University men’s basketball head coach and was formerly the head coach at Columbia.

Guard Azar Swain ’22 (right) is Yale’s all-time leading three-point scorer. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

Who is Azar Swain, Yale’s leading scorer?

Yale guard Azar Swain ’22, the Most Outstanding Player of last weekend’s Ivy Madness tournament and a First Team All-Ivy selection for the second year in a row, is the Bulldogs’ go-to scorer. His average of 19.2 points per game this season tops the team. Swain scored 48 points over the course of Yale’s back-to-back at Ivy Madness, creating and converting his own shots during clutch moments in each win.

Last December, Swain became Yale’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made. He has now made 269 triples in a Yale jersey, 40 more than the previous record held by Ed Petersen ’92. As a junior during the 2019–20 season, Swain set the school record for most three-pointers in a single season with 93. When Yale tips off with Purdue on Friday, he will break another major school record for career appearances. His 120 games played are currently tied with Justin Sears ’16. Entering March Madness, Swain’s 505 career field goals rank eighth in program history and his 1511 career points rank fifth.

READ MORE: Before year of uncertainty, a summer workout with Azar Swain

Originally from Brockton, Massachusetts, Swain attended the Rivers School outside Boston and is the school’s all-time points leader with 2,185. As a wide receiver on his high school’s football team, he also set the school record for most career touchdowns. Last year, along with seven other returning teammates who also competed during the 2019–20 season, Swain took a yearlong leave of absence in order to preserve his final season of Ivy League eligibility. 

Swain set his current career-high of 37 points during a win over Columbia in January, the most any Yale player has scored in a single game since Jones became head coach.

Correction, March 17: A previous version of this story said Yale advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1956. In fact, the appearance came in 1957, at the end of the 1956–57 season. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

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.