The Yale men’s basketball team, a No. 13 seed, faces No. 4 Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament on Friday afternoon. The game, which tips off at 4:15 p.m. in Spokane, Washington, will be the Bulldogs fourth appearance in March Madness since 2016. 

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or never watched a game before, here is everything you need to know about this season’s Bulldogs.

What is March Madness, and how did Yale get there?

‘March Madness’ is a popular name for the NCAA’s annual Division I college basketball tournament. It is one of the world’s most-watched sports events. The single-elimination tournament is organized into a 64-team, four-quadrant bracket system. Teams are ranked, or “seeded,” from one through 16.

In each quadrant, the highest-seeded teams are matched up against the lowest. In Yale’s quadrant of the bracket, No. 1 Uconn will play against No. 16 Stetson, while No. 2 Iowa State will face No. 15 South Dakota State. If a team loses, they are eliminated from the tournament. The tournament continues until only one team remains.

Thirty-two of the tournament’s spots are reserved for the champions of each of the NCAA’s 32 Division I conferences. The remaining spots are awarded by the NCAA’s selection committee to the next-best teams in the nation. 

Yale earned an automatic “bid” to March Madness by winning the four-team Ivy League tournament this past weekend. The Bulldogs defeated Cornell in the semifinal round 69–57. In the championship game against Brown, the Bulldogs fought back from a six-point deficit in the game’s final thirty seconds and won on a buzzer-beating layup by Matt Knowling ’24

Yale’s story this season

After losing to Princeton in the championship game of last year’s Ivy tournament, the Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the Ivy League’s preseason poll, as their roster had several returning players and a promising cast of young talent. 

Throughout the season, though, Yale displayed both moments of excellence and spells of inconsistency. 

The team got out to a strong start with a dominant win over Vassar in the home opener, a valiant effort against nationally-ranked Gonzaga and impressive wins over Loyola Marymount and Colgate.

But then the Bulldogs made national headlines for the wrong reasons. On Dec. 2, Yale lost against Vermont, and let a six-point lead slip in the game’s final three seconds. The Bulldogs lost their next game against Fairfield on Dec. 6 despite entering the matchup as 17-point favorites. The loss dropped their season record to 5–5.

As the Ivy League season approached, Yale’s play was largely overshadowed by Princeton, which held a 12–1 record at the time and ranked as one of the nation’s top 50 teams. 

The Elis began to hit their stride, though, with a stretch of ten wins in January and February, which included home victories over Princeton and Cornell. The winning streak also matched the team’s best start to an Ivy League season in school history

The streak ended in an away loss to Princeton on Feb. 18, and Yale lost again to Cornell in Ithaca the following weekend. In their regular season finale, the Bulldogs — entering as 11.5-point favorites — fell to Brown

However, Yale got its revenge in the Ivy tournament. Yale is the only Ivy League team in this year’s March Madness tournament.

Who are the players to look out for?

Yale is one of the most versatile teams in the tournament. All five of the Bulldogs’ starting players average double-digit scoring figures.

All-Ivy selection Danny Wolf ’26 leads the team with 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. A 7-foot forward, Wolf can score around the basket, shoot from the perimeter and has unique passing ability for a player of his size. He is complemented by Knowling in the frontcourt, a 6’5” forward averaging 11.8 points per game on 57.7-percent shooting.

Second-team All-Ivy selection John Poulakidas ’25 forms an elite three-point shooting duo alongside team captain August Mahoney ’24. The two average a combined 41 percent from beyond the arc this season, including three triples in the final two minutes of the Ivy League championship game against Brown. 

Point guard Bez Mbeng ’25 typically handles the ball on offense and anchors the Bulldogs on defense. The two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year averages almost two steals per game and consistently matches up against the opposing team’s top scorer. 

Who is Yale head coach James Jones?

James Jones has been Yale’s head coach since 1999, making him tied as the fourth-longest-tenured active head coach in men’s college basketball. Jones has overseen the most dominant era of Yale basketball in school history. His 395 career wins is the highest in team history, and he is responsible for revitalizing a Yale program that struggled throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Under Jones, the Bulldogs have finished in the top half of the standings in every season except his first. In 2016, he led Yale to its first March Madness appearance since 1962 and upset No. 5-seeded Baylor in the tournament’s first round. Since then, Yale has qualified for the tournament three more times. 

After the Ivy league introduced the Ivy Tournament in 2017, Yale is the only school to have qualified for every tournament and has advanced to the championship game in all but one. In May 2019, Yale signed Jones to a contract extension through 2026.

On the court, Jones has a calm, steady demeanor and is known for being well-dressed. He is one of the few remaining coaches in the country who wears a suit and tie to every game.

What are Yale’s chances against Auburn?

March Madness is a tournament known for its upsets. No. 13 seeds have an all-time record of 32-120 against No. 4 seeds, a 21.05 winning percentage

Still, the Bulldogs have their work cut out of them, as the Tigers will be the most talented team they’ve faced all season. They recently won the SEC’s conference championship and are ranked fourth in the nation by, a popular basketball analytics website. Yale is ranked 84th. 

In particular, Auburn has dominated against mid-tier competition. The Tigers are 24-0 this season against teams outside of what the NCAA considers “quadrant one,” which consists of the nation’s best teams. Yale is a “quadrant two” team.

Entering the game as a 12-point underdog, the Bulldogs will need to be at their very best to come away with the victory. 

The game will tip off at 4:15 pm Eastern and will be televised nationally on TNT.

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.