The Yale Bulldogs hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 54 years.

John F. Kennedy was President of the United States. The Super Bowl hadn’t even been invented. John Wooden was days away from making his first Final Four at UCLA when Yale last took the court in the Big Dance.

If those Dancing shoes were out of use, the Elis certainly slipped back into them without too much trouble.

Yale looked the part of a team that was comfortable in its surroundings. Playing in front of a supportive crowd in Providence, Rhode Island, the Ivy League champions knocked off the Baylor Bears, 79-75. The win gives the Ivy League four round-of-64 wins in the past seven years. It also gives the Big 12 a second loss (Texas Tech was the other) in the first eight-game session of the tournament. Immediately, one conference can already see the dark narrative clouds forming.

Yale, on the other hand, will take its bright smiles into the round of 32 on Saturday to face the Duke Blue Devils.

The day in New England was one of discord and disconnect for Baylor, which couldn’t get its act together:

A year ago in the NCAA tournament, Baylor actually controlled its first-round game most of the way. The Bears led Georgia State by 10 points with 1:40 left, but a flood of turnovers caused that lead to shockingly evaporate. Baylor lost to GSU in the final seconds, a crushing blow for a program that has become one of the Big 12’s more consistent outfits.

This year, Baylor hoped for a bit of role reversal, needing to scramble from behind and catch the Elis late.

It didn’t seem likely as the second half wore on. Yale carved up the Bears with smart cuts and dives to the rim such as these:

However, the cauldron of March pressure nearly swallowed up the Bulldogs as they tried to protect their lead. Baylor never stopped attacking Yale’s ballhandlers, leading to this panicky sequence and a tighter scoreboard margin in the final minute:

Baylor worked itself into a position to be able to tie the game with a two or win with a three in the final five seconds, down 77-75. However, a rushed dribble bounced off the foot of the BU ballhandler and into the Bulldogs’ hands. Two foul shots by Yale with 2.2 seconds left iced the win, setting off a massive celebration in Providence while restarting all the familiar narratives about the Big 12 in March.

Last year, the Big 12 put seven of its 10 teams in the Big Dance — no league had a higher percentage of its programs in the NCAA tournament. Yet, not one of those schools made the Final Four; moreover, not even one made the Elite Eight. The league went 5-7 as a whole, and with two teams bowing out in the first six hours of the 2016 tournament, the window of opportunity for the conference to do something big this month has already narrowed to an uncomfortable degree.

Yale’s tandem of Makai Mason (31 points, 11-11 free throws, many of them late) and Justin Sears (18 points on 7-10 field goal shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) won’t care about the Big 12’s troubles or a second straight first-round exit from the tourney by Baylor coach Scott Drew. They’re reveling in their accomplishment and eager to have a shot at Coach K on Saturday.

They’re also elated about the fact that they gave their coach, James Jones, his first NCAA tournament win in a Yale career which stretches back to 1999.

Jones spent 16 seasons in the March Madness wilderness — it’s only a fraction of the wait Yale had to endure in order to win an NCAA game, but on Thursday against Baylor, it was certainly worth it.

About Matt Zemek

| CFB writer since 2001 |