- Mark Twain
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The tough or impossible thing, depending on your perspective, about trying to project where a Mid-majority basketball team is going to finish the season, is often exposure.
Granted, it's much easier today than it ever was to try to see every game in every place, but - as we try to point out repeatedly here - watching Our Game through a television screen or computer monitor does not have the same impact as sitting in the stands or courtside.
Yale is my de facto hometown squad, the closest campus to my home. I grew up going to Bulldogs games, even though my appearances per season usually eclipsed their win
total, at least in the Ivy League. To be fair, Yale is rarely terrible. But it's also rarely good, which is why they haven't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1962.
The Ivy League, without a postseason tournament, does not reward
mediocrity. Last season looked like it had potential to break the streak, Yale had a veteran squad and opened 5-1 in Ivy play, but was no match for Harvard and faded down the stretch for a respectable 19-10 and 9-5 in conference.
This season's expectations? Not so much, which were pretty much confirmed
when I watched them blow a 24-point second-half lead in the season opener to a banged up Sacred Heart squad
. The Bulldogs slogged their way through non-conference play
, and the only thing separating them from an 0-4 Ivy start was an overtime home win over Brown.
But last weekend, Yale won at Princeton and Penn (the Ivy League always doubles up in conference play). Now Penn is down this season as you've probably seen if you read this site on a regular basis, but it marked the first time the Bulldogs had swept the southernmost Ivy trip since 1987, back when the shot clock and #superhoop
were experiments that might be yanked away at any time.
And so Yale entered Friday's contest with Cornell at 3-3 in conference, two games back of Harvard and Princeton, but with some hope? Maybe?
Lee Amphitheater is one of the great college basketball relics, even with a little hometown bias built in. I didn't get there much before tip-off so I decided to stay in one of the standing room areas behind the basket, which give a tremendous view of the action if you can stay on your feet for two hours.
Alas, this newfound Yale juggernaut was nowhere to be seen early as Cornell harassed the Bulldogs at every turn and it took nearly seven minutes for them to get their first field goal (when they finally did, it was an #omgdunx
from Jeremiah Kreisberg). I had seen the Big Red employ a similar strategy last season, but it was still slightly jarring from someone who saw Steve Donaghue have so much success at Cornell with what was basically its antithesis: changing defenses regularly and playing a lot more passively, even in their pressure.
Current coach Bill Courtney is also much more animated on the sideline, and he didn't like the fact that Yale was able to find its legs and climb back to 30-27 by halftime. When reigning Ivy League Player of the Week Javier Duren hit a jump shot two minutes into the second half, Yale had its first lead and momentum in front of a decent, but not great, crowd.
From my perch, it was easy to see movement and tendencies (which is why coaches tape games from above, duh), and just when it appeared the new-look Yale was going to pull away, Cornell rode the backs of two players: sophomore Shonn Miller and senior Johnathan Gray. They came in as Cornell's two leading scorers, but neither was even at 11 per game.
However, you wouldn't know it Friday. Midway through the second half, they combined for 14 straight Big Red points in a 16-5 run that put Cornell back up eight. Yale clawed its way back to tie the game at 59 late, but back-to-back #superhoops
by Nolan Cressler and Gray, combined with some dreadful free throw shooting by Yale (12-for-26 overall) put the game, and any feint hopes of Yale ending its 51-year NCAA Tournament drought away.
When I used to work covering high schools in New Haven, a couple of fellow reports and myself always had a category for strange results: "Games We'd Like to See On Tape". With just a boxscore to work with, it's hard to tell exactly how a team overperformed or their opponents did the opposite.
But last week's Yale-Princeton game would definitely fall into that category. How exactly did this year's Bulldogs squad upset a Tigers team that appears headed for a crash course with Harvard for the Ivy League title, in Princeton no less?
Proponents of the Ivy League not having a postseason tournament might point to that type of result as Exhibit A for their case. For me and for Yale, though, any hope of going to the NCAA Tournament was extinguished Friday night.
There's always next year.