Tiny Dancers: Yale makes the NCAAs for the first time since 1962

The second-longest NCAA Tournament drought in college basketball history is finally over.

The Yale Bulldogs are dancing for the first time in 54 — !! — years. John F. Kennedy was President of the United States the last time the Elis made the NCAAs. (If you missed it, we were on to this Yale-making-the-tournament thing a few weeks back.)

Yale went into Columbia (21-11) on Saturday night and finished up its Ivy League slate with a 71-55 victory, finishing 13-1 in the conference. The Ivy is the only Division I league without a tournament. So, by nature of this outcome, the Elis are the second of 68 teams to clinch a bid, doing so approximately an hour after Austin Peay shocked the Ohio Valley and punched its ticket.

Makai Mason led Yale with 22 points and three steals. Brandon Sherrod had 13 points for the Bulldogs. Maodo Lo, a senior, led CU with 21 points. Sherrod’s got a really interesting story. He’s a talented singer in addition to being a really good basketball player. In fact, he gave up basketball in 2014-15 to tour the planet with one of the oldest and most prestigious singing groups in America.

Yale has consistently been a top-three program in the Ivy in the past decade under longtime coach James Jones, but it has never been able to win when it came to deciding the league by nature of a tie-breaking playoff. That won’t have to happen this season. Yale made good after being dubbed preseason favorites, something that had never happened before.

This was the scene as time expired.

And this is an interesting note, as shared by NCAA communications director Dave Worlock. It was a different universe, let alone world, back when Yale was last playing in the big bracket 54 years ago.

Player to watch: Justin Sears won the Ivy Player of the Year award last season, and should win it again in 2016. Sears entered the Columbia game averaging 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. He has a skill set that’s rugged yet smooth; he’s one of the hardest players at the mid-major level to defend because of how varied his game is. Between him and Sherrod, they should match up pretty well with almost any front court combination they’ll face in the first round.

The Vitals:

    • Record: 22-6 overall, 13-1 in the Ivy League
    • Most recent tournament appearance: 1962 (lost 92-62 to Wake Forest in the first round/quarterfinals, back when they didn’t even seed the teams)
    • Jerry Palm predicts: 13 seed
    • RPI: 52
    • KenPom ranking: 40
    • Sagarin ranking: 62
    • Best wins: vs. Princeton, vs. Vermont
    • Worst losses: at Illinois, at Albany
    • Notable stat: 30: The number of consecutive field goals Sherrod made earlier this season. I was at the game when he set the record. Yes, you read right, an NCAA record. It was a crazy run. Sherrod takes smart shots and uses his body well within 10 feet of the hoop.

Closing quip: Let’s address the serious topic that is hanging over Yale’s season right now. The team no longer has senior starting guard Jack Montague on the roster; he’s not even enrolled in school. In the past week, controversy has come up on campus over the reason Montague left. The program has not said anything specific, other than to acknowledge his departure. Meanwhile, posters have been showing up in various locations, alleging the college basketball team’s support for Montague amid publicly unclear allegations of sexual misconduct. After Montague left the team, Yale players wore warmup shirts with his nickname on them.

The issue and subsequent show of support by Montague’s former teammates have ignited many groups at the prestigious, Connecticut-based campus. On Saturday morning, the dean of the school sent a campus-wide email to the student body. That email reportedly urged undergraduates to remain “civil” with each other.

Here’s a pull-quote from Saturday’s story in the Yale Daily News.

The Yale Women’s Center and Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale also released statements earlier in the week, on Wednesday night and Thursday morning respectively, calling for an improvement in campus climate. Additionally, a student petition titled “I stand with yale women” began circulating around campus on Monday afternoon, calling for support for survivors of sexual violence.

Despite allegations circulating campus, the reasons for Montague’s departure remain unclear. No University administrators or members of the basketball program have publicly addressed his absence from the team. However, Montague’s father, Jim Montague, told the New Haven Register on Thursday that Jack Montague had been expelled from the University for “ridiculous” reasons.

All of this will make for a sensitive, complex story as backdrop to a historic season for Yale. Jones, who is in his 17th season as coach, will have to face these questions in the coming days or weeks. The team is about to go national, and the reason many people will be paying attention to the Bulldogs will not have to do with basketball.

Justin Sears is Yale’s reigning Ivy League Player of the Year. (Getty Images)

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