Yale men’s basketball picked to finish third in Ivy League
If Yale men’s basketball coach James Jones is worried about tempering expectations for his team after last year’s historic season, all he has to do is look at the Ivy League’s preseason media poll.
“Looking at the poll, no one’s expecting us to win it this year,” Jones said, with a laugh, on the league’s coaches teleconference on Wednesday. “We didn’t receive one first-place vote.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the poll. Princeton, which finished second to Yale in the Ivy last season but returns its entire starting lineup, tops the poll for the first time in six years with 130 points and 12 first-place votes. Harvard was tabbed for second with 123 points and five first-place votes. Yale nabbed 101 votes.
The Bulldogs went 23-7 last year and 13-1 in the Ivy while advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 54 years. There, they upset Baylor in the first round for the first NCAA tourney win in program history, before falling to Duke in the second round.
But Yale loses two-time Ivy League player of the year Justin Sears to graduation, along with stalwarts Brandon Sherrod and Jack Montague. Even with the return of Makai Mason, who became a star in those NCAA tourney games, and a couple of other key seniors, along with a talented group of four sophomores and four freshmen, Yale has its work cut out for it to repeat as Ivy champs.
“There are a lot of expectations around the program, and that’s a good thing, because we’ve worked hard to become good and improve our brand and our program,” said Jones. “But the young men on the court understand it’s a new year, new season, and they have to go out and be as good as we were last year to be able to get to that point.”
Of course, even if the preseason poll is correct and Yale finishes third in the league, the Bulldogs will still have a chance at earning an automatic NCAA tournament bid. For the first time in its history, the Ivy League will hold a championship tournament this season. The top four teams in the league will play in the two-day tourney on March 11 and 12 at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
“We’re thrilled to have a postseason tournament,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “It’s an incredible moment and history-making moment for all of us. Having it at the Palestra, we feel is the right choice for the league. It’s such a historic facility.”
The regular-season winner will still be considered the Ivy League champion. The tourney will determine who gets the automatic NCAA bid.
“I think it’s fantastic,” added Princeton coach Mitch Henderson. “I think that as we get closer to the tournament, all the teams in the league will be excited about it. In the past, a couple of really hard losses and it could cost you. And it did for us. The landscape’s very different now. It’s gonna be really great for exposure of the league.”
Jones noted that he has alumni already talking about going to the Ivy tourney.
“And we haven’t even qualified yet,” Jones pointed out. “This is something the coaches have wanted for a long time, and I think it’s a great thing for the league, for our exposure, for teams that hadn’t been involved to get involved. It’s a tremendous thing.”
The Yale men’s and women’s teams will celebrate the start of their respective seasons with Blue Madness on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Lee Amphitheater.
The event, hosted by H.O.R.S.E., will include music, dunk and 3-point contests, and numerous prize giveaways. The two teams will also play 10-minute scrimmages. The first 500 fans in attendance will receive a Yale basketball T-shirt. Fans can also receive a discount on season tickets.
Parking and admission to the event are free.