Finally! Something good has happened to people affiliated with Yale University!
The Ivy League is college basketball's oldest and probably strangest conference. There are no athletic scholarships, no redshirt seasons, few games on weeknights and there's no season-ending tournament. The team that wins the regular season wins the conference.
There are no fluke winners in the Ivy, so that means either you're good or you're not. For many years, basically only two teams were good. Princeton has won it 24 times, Penn has won it 23 times. Meanwhile, Columbia hasn't won it since 1968 and Dartmouth hasn't won it since 1959. Harvard hadn't won since 1946 when they earned the league's NCAA Tournament bid in 2013.
And with Yale's win regular season win, they're going dancing for the first time since 1962. Last year, they tied Harvard for the regular season championship, but then they lost the one-game playoff to decide who went to the NCAA Tournament. (Yale people don't like losing to Harvard.) But this year, James Jones' 17th in charge, they're finally dancing.
But just because the Ivy is weird doesn't mean it's bad. When you picture "Ivy League basketball," you picture nerds getting whooped by 20. That's simply not the case anymore. The Ivy as a whole has gotten more competitive in recent years, with several NCAA Tournament upsets, and this Yale team went 13-1 in conference play. The last two teams to do that? The 2013 Harvard team that beat 3-seed New Mexico and the 2010 Cornell team that made the Sweet 16.
The 12-seeded Bulldogs go up against the Baylor Bears. Can they pull off the upset? Possibly!
How could Yale pull the upset?
Yale brings the heat defensively. They were tops in the Ivy League in virtually every tempo-free defensive category (they were second in block%, FTA/FGA and fifth in turnover percentage) and rank in the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency. They don't force a lot of turnovers, but they can effectively guard every position. If Yale's going to win, they're going to shut down their opponent and score just enough points to survive.
Yale is a spectacular rebounding team. They're sixth in the nation in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 39.2 percent of their own misses, and seventh in defensive rebound percentage, grabbing 76.0 percent of opponents' misses. This will be particularly helpful against Baylor, whose main strength isn't hitting shots, but grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring off those. That said, Yale is good at rebounding against Ivy League opponents, and Baylor has Rico Gathers, a 6'8, 275-pound monster who might be in the NFL someday. Keeping him off the glass will be hard! But to win, they'll have to do it.
Singing, then dancing
The Bulldogs are here in large part due to senior forward Brandon Sherrod. The 6'6, 240-pounder is a force inside, third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. This year, he set an NCAA record by hitting 30 consecutive field goals over the course of five games, including 9-for-9, 8-for-8 and 7-for-7 performances.
And last year, he didn't play basketball because he was touring the world as a tenor vocalist in an a Cappella group. Here he is singing in Singapore:
Sherrod was invited to join the Whiffenpoofs, a group that features 14 new Yale seniors each year. It's arguably the most famous a cappella group in the world. And when you're invited to join the Whiffenpoofs, you don't turn them down -- even if you're one of the key players on one of the best basketball teams in your school's history.
Sherrod and his fellow singers withdrew from school for a year to go on a world tour, singing everywhere from Australia to Zanzibar. Considering how close to the tournament the Bulldogs were last year, they probably wish he hadn't left. But now he's back and they're dancing, so everything worked out.
An aside about the real world
So, I'm writing these posts about various teams that can potentially upset teams in the NCAA Tournament, and since Yale is a team that can potentially upset somebody in the NCAA Tournament, I'm writing about Yale's basketball team. Considering their tournament drought, Yale has an objectively cool sports story that I'd normally love to root for. But I really can't root for them right now.
In February, Yale senior captain Jack Montague was expelled. The school has given no reason why due to federal privacy laws, but the Yale Daily News has reported that it was for sexual misconduct. Shortly after, his teammates came out in shirts bearing his number and nickname "Gucci." Afterward, a series of posters appeared around campus criticizing the Bulldogs basketball team for supporting Montague, and the basketball team reportedly tore them down.
It's true that Montague has not been convicted of any crime. In fact, he hasn't even been charged. And I can't fault those closest to an accused person for wanting to remain friends with their friend.
But for a sports team, especially one that represents a university, to publicly embrace somebody accused of sexual misconduct is not okay. Regardless of what happens with Montague, statistics show that there are other victims on Yale's campus, and for a popular, successful sports team to publicly embrace Montague loudly tells those victims they don't matter. This wasn't the time for solidarity.
Here is a good dog
This is Handsome Dan. He is a good dog.
Yale was the first school to have the brilliant idea of having a live dog mascot all the way back in 1889. We're now on Handsome Dan XVII. English bulldogs are selected as Handsome Dan based on their health, ability to interact with children, ability to handle the noise from bands and how upset they get when presented with the color crimson or a stuffed tiger. They are, in my opinion, good dogs.
A rundown of Yale basketball history
Yale was good shortly after basketball was invented, winning six national championships in between 1896 and 1903. Then about 120 years passed and now Yale is good again. Somewhere in there, Chris Dudley went to Yale. Let us watch a Chris Dudley highlight reel:
Can they really pull off an upset?
Yale's conference performance really makes me think so. They went 13-1 in a pretty good league, their only defeat a eight-point road loss to the league's second-best team. That's good!
However, they did play four games against teams from major conferences ... and lost all four. And one of those teams was an Illinois team that isn't within a country mile of the tournament. The Bulldogs only lost by two to SMU, but their losses to Duke and USC weren't particularly close.
Baylor presents a tough matchup. Yale's rebounding strength might not be good enough to stop Baylor's offensive rebounding. And Baylor is great at forcing turnovers (17th in the nation in turnover percentage) while Yale struggles with turnovers, turning the ball over on 20.1 percent of possessions.
But Ivy teams have pulled impressive upsets in the past few years, and Yale has been as good as any of those teams. Yale is talented enough to pull the upset, although it will be rather hard.
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