Basketball scheduling is always a tricky proposition. Coaches and athletic directors look to find a balance that keeps their team competitive, prepares their athletes for conference play and avoids excessive travel.
In conference play, meeting opponents twice in a home-and-home series is the norm. The quirks in the system are when teams meet multiple times in nonconference play or, thanks to conference tournaments and postseason play, when they square more than twice. In fact, some teams have played each other as many as six times in a single season, mostly in the early days of college basketball. (Apologies for the list being dominated by teams above the Red Line, but a few friendly faces can be found.)
Yale and Brown have added their own twist to the home-and-home series. Since 2005-06, the Bulldogs and Bears have played their first two games of the Ivy League against each other. The trend extends further back, sporadically appearing over a 20-year period since the 1991-92 season.
Heading into the conference play, the Bulldogs and Bears were pointed in opposite directions. Yale was off to its best start since that 1991-92 season at 10-4; Brown was 5-11 and hadn't won in more than a month. But in the first matchup, Brown led for nearly 37 minutes until a pair of Reggie Willhite steals and baskets gave Yale the lead, and the Bulldogs hung on for a 68-64 win.
In the lead-up to today's game, I spent a lot of time thinking about how the teams must react. Of course, most teams will reflect on the results of a previous game when the matchup looms. But how must it be when the wounds are that fresh, when the past seven days have been spent thinking about the last time you stepped on the floor?
I can't imagine either team was particularly happy with what happened in New Haven, Conn. The Bears had a chance to pull off the road upset and let the game slip away. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had a week to think about how close they were to stumbling out of the Ivy League blocks. I have to imagine practices were a little more intense and a little more focused; both teams knew exactly what needed to be done to make up for the mistakes of the previous matchup.
The gym and state may have changed, but things seemed quite similar as the game tipped off. The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead at the first media timeout, but the Bears pulled within one in the next four-minute segment.
That's where the narrative from last week changed. The Bears started to run away from the Bulldogs in the first half of the first game. This time, things were much more back and forth. Neither team led by more than four in the final 10 minutes of the half, and Yale led 38-35 at intermission.
As an aside, I have to point out that I love Brown's halfcourt logo -- a large B with Ivy wrapped around it. In a sport where courts are getting more and more elaborate, with multiple wood colors forming pictures to go along with the paint, I found Brown's effort to be simple and effective.
My instincts were to continue to look for patterns, to explain why I was seeing what I was seeing. Instead, I became engrossed in this game. Both teams were playing similar basketball, going up and down the court while knocking down jumpers and lay-ups. This was a relatively even matchup, throw out the records and let them go at it. If it were up to me, I'd gladly watch both teams play again next weekend.
For reasons that were never quite clear, Brown's leading scorer, Sean McGonagill, who scored 23 versus Yale last weekend, was benched for the final 15 minutes of the game. He had scored 11 points up to that point and there was no obvious reason for his removal -- one foul, no obvious injury -- so I'll be curious to hear what led coach Jesse Agel to pull his playmaker.
As the second half went on, the game turned into one of cat-and-mouse -- by that I mean Tom and Jerry. No matter what Brown tried, it couldn't quite catch the elusive Yale, which finally started looking like the team picked to finish second in the Ivy League. (The Bulldogs have an extremely important matchup at home with Harvard on Friday.) Led by Greg Mangano's 18 points (33 points in the series), Yale won 73-60.
And for another year, the Brown-Yale home-and-home series to kick off the Ivy League has ended. With it, another unique aspect of the college basketball season lies dormant. In 2013, Brown and Yale will play their 150th game. I hope it comes at the start of league play -- and that Game 151 follows immediately after.
YALE 73, at BROWN 60 01/21/2012
YALE 12-4 (2-0) -- G. Mangano 7-15 3-7 18; A. Morgan 2-6 4-4 10; M. Grace 3-8 1-2 8; J. Kreisberg 3-5 2-2 8; J. Pritchard 4-6 0-0 9; R. Willhite 5-7 3-5 13; B. Sherrod 0-4 2-2 2; I. Salafia 1-1 0-0 3; M. Townsend 0-0 2-2 2; S. Martin 0-3 0-0 0; J. Duren 0-2 0-0 0; R. Anderson 0-0 0-0 0; W. Bartlett 0-0 0-0 0; A. Cotton 0-1 0-0 0; G. Kelley 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 17-24 73. BROWN 5-13 (0-2) -- A. McCarthy 3-6 0-1 6; S. Albrecht 8-19 3-3 23; M. Sullivan 2-7 1-2 6; S. McGonagill 4-10 2-2 11; T. Ponticelli 0-2 0-1 0; D. Walker 2-5 2-3 6; J. Harris 2-6 2-2 8; T. Lundevall 0-3 0-0 0; Y. Longi 0-0 0-0 0; P. Donnelly 0-1 0-0 0; J. Schmidt 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-60 10-14 60.
Three-point goals: YALE 6-14 (G. Mangano 1-4; M. Grace 1-3; S. Martin 0-1; A. Morgan 2-4; J. Pritchard 1-1; I. Salafia 1-1), BRWN 8-25 (S. Albrecht 4-12; J. Harris 2-4; A. McCarthy 0-1; M. Sullivan 1-2; S. McGonagill 1-3; P. Donnelly 0-1; T. Lundevall 0-2); Rebounds: YALE 44 (G. Mangano 11), BRWN 27 (A. McCarthy 7); Assists: YALE 11 (A. Morgan 5), BRWN 10 (M. Sullivan 4); Total Fouls -- YALE 19, BRWN 18; Fouled Out: YALE-None; BRWN-None.