After a 52-45 win over Brown last night, Harvard remains alone atop the Ivy League with a 5-0 record. The Crimson now has at least a two-game lead on every team but one: Yale, its opponent tonight.
The Bulldogs were perhaps the Ivy League’s quietest team in non-conference play. Harvard was Harvard; Princeton and Columbia earned headlines with hot starts; Brown and Dartmouth played .500 or better and looked like teams on the rise; and Penn and Cornell were hot topics for less desirable reasons. Yale never really lived up to its preseason billing as an Ivy League contender, but it wasn’t terrible either, mostly beating bad teams and losing to good ones.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising, though, that Yale upped its game when Ivy League play began. After a home-and-home split with Brown, the Bulldogs swept Columbia and Cornell last week and hammered Dartmouth on the road last night, bringing a 4-1 record into Lavietes Pavilion. After all, under longtime coach James Jones, all Yale does is win (a little more than half the time):
Jones has won only one Ivy League title with the Bulldogs (a three-way share in 2002) and never reached the NCAA tournament, but his teams’ consistency is nothing short of remarkable. In Jones’ first year, 2000, the Bulldogs went 5-9 and finished fifth; since then, they have been in the top half of the Ivy League every single season. It hasn’t always been pretty (a 6-8 record was good enough for fourth in 2010), and Yale has only once finished less than three games out of first place, but it always ends up in the upper division.
Most likely, the Bulldogs won’t be a serious contender for this year’s Ivy League title. They enter tonight’s game as a 13-point underdog, and given the league’s depth this year, even a 4-1 start doesn’t guarantee a top-four finish. But if it pulls off an upset tonight, Yale will be tied for first place, with a chance to turn 2014 into one of its best seasons yet. It may be one of the Ivy League’s last shots to catch Harvard.