Like many of Shaka Smart’s recruits after his Final Four run, Jairus Lyles came to VCU with many stars next to his name and national rankings not usually associated with mid-majors.
But the 2013-14 campaign was mostly frustrating for Lyles, as he scored only 13 points all season. Lyles decided – like many players – that he would like to have a chance to be on the court more than not, so he transferred to Robert Morris, joining up with what would have been an NEC powerhouse. After his first semester there, though, he missed home (Silver Spring, Md.) and he left that program without ever suiting up in a regular season game.
As his team make a makeshift theater out of the visiting locker room at Leede Arena, Cornell coach Brian Earl was some 50 yards away, as far as humanly possible in Dartmouth’s quaint home. He seemed to be intensely watching the young sons of Dartmouth coaches play a 2-on-2 game, but his mind was elsewhere. Probably in many places at once.
Cornell had just completed an impressive 86-75 road victory over Dartmouth to finish 6-8 in Ivy League play. But to finish fourth and qualify for its first Ivy League Tournament, it needed Yale to knock off Princeton in New Haven. The Bulldogs had an eight-point lead late, but the Tigers stormed back to force overtime as the Big Red was leaving the floor in Hanover. So there they were in the locker room, huddled around a hastily constructed broadcast.
They were traveling uphill all night, but there was a sense of hope for Columbia midway through the second half Friday as they were able to almost get their deficit to host Dartmouth to single digits. Miles Wright rose and his three-pointer was well long, only it took a strange carom, floating straight up toward the ceiling, and somehow fell straight through the hoop.
Of course, Columbia fans thought.
Fairfield had a one-point lead with time running out when it executed a beautiful out of bounds play to seal a 69-66 comeback win over Monmouth Saturday afternoon on Senior Day.
Tyler Nelson, who was playing his final game at Webster Bank Arena, initially broke toward the ball, but instead reversed direction and got a perfect baseball pass from Wassef Methnani. It was so good that Nelson’s defender fell down, leaving Nelson alone to lay the ball in.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about a streak like Vermont’s is taking perspective when it finally ends. The Catamounts had the longest current win streak in the nation (15), hadn’t lost a regular season conference game in more than two years (33 games), and had the country’s second-longest home win streak nationally (22, and would have been tops if Vermont had won, as Cincinnati lost later in the day to Wichita State).
But it was a poised, veteran, well-coached Hartford squad that came to Patrick Gym and finally wiped all those streaks off the board with a 69-68 upset in front of a sellout crowd of 3,168. While the Hawks hope the ultimate culmination will come in the America East finals in three weeks, this win will show the national crowd just how far Hartford has come since posting a 19-46 record the last two seasons (and just 8-24 in America East).
One of the benefits of having nearly two decades of experience in charge for Yale coach James Jones is to let other people do the worrying about his team for him.
Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs were 2-4 in Ivy League play and appeared to have a very good chance of missing the Ivy League Tournament, despite the fact Yale was picked to win the conference in preseason. Injuries to Makai Mason and Jordan Bruner changed those plans a bit, but Jones and Yale have finished in fourth or better in Ivy play for an amazing 17 straight seasons.
Perhaps the rise of the UMBC basketball program can be explained best not by its 68-59 win at a veteran New Hampshire squad Sunday afternoon, but by the relative lack of shockwaves such a victory made around the rest of America East.
The Retrievers are in second place now after all, at 9-3, and – with all due apologies to Albany and Hartford – are probably Vermont’s biggest obstacle en route to another NCAA Tournament berth.
Princeton did lose Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook to graduation last season, both huge pieces in a squad that was supposed to usher in a new era of Ivy League dominance for the Tigers, which had finished 28-2 in the last two years in Ivy play. However, Princeton had also somehow maneuvered around season-ending injuries to starters Henry Caruso and Hans Brase and came within seconds of beating Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.
Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens, and Amir Bell returned, so surely the Tigers would find enough from newcomers to at least contend for another Ivy crown.
While Dartmouth had been extremely competitive in Ivy League play, it was still somewhat surprising to see the winless Big Green leading Penn by four heading to the final media time out Friday night at Leede Arena.
A hoop or two in the next couple of possessions could finally give Dartmouth its first league win and give it fleeting hope at least of the beginnings of an improbable run to its first Ivy League Tournament. After all, Penn had started 0-6 last year and pulled it off.
Even with Bryce Aiken out injured, the Harvard basketball team is chock-full of recruits that the Ivy League likely wouldn’t have gotten a decade ago. Tommy Amaker has raised the bar, and went to where no Crimson team had gone before, four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and two NCAA victories (and a near Sweet 16 visit).
In many ways, Amaker and Harvard have dragged other Ivy League competitors, particularly Yale and Princeton, with them (Yale also grabbed an NCAA Tournament victory, while the Tigers lost by two to Notre Dame last season).