A blank screen.
That is how Yeshiva men’s basketball head coach Elliot Steinmetz has often described the abrupt ending to last season. “It stunk, but what is there to do about it?” added senior co-captain Gabe Leifer, describing the sudden conclusion to a historic campaign as upsetting, yet necessary. “Now it is just about either always wondering, or moving on to this season.”
It has been 11 months since the NCAA Division III Tournament was suspended due to COVID-19. With the scheduled start of the Macs’ 2020-21 season around the corner, it is an understatement to say that many of the YU faithful are excited. If we can provide any advice for Macs fans heading into the season, it would be to enjoy every moment of watching the Macs play. Many different pieces had to be worked through by those who had a hand in making this happen, and we should all be appreciative of their efforts. The Macs are excited for the opportunity to get back on the court, and we cannot wait to watch them play again.
2019-2020 Season Recap
It has been a while since we saw the Macs take the floor, so it is important to remember what this team accomplished last year. After dropping the first game of the season against Occidental College in California, the Macs went on an incredible 29-game winning streak, going undefeated in conference play and winning the Skyline Championship. The Macs advanced to the NCAA Tournament and put the world on notice with two dominant wins against WPI and PSU-Harrisbrug, in an empty Goldfarb Gymnasium on the campus of Johns Hopkins. YU was scheduled to face Randolph-Macon in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, but the tournament was suspended due to COVID-19. The Macs carry their streak of 29 consecutive wins into this season, and will look to continue their push to establish themselves as a perennial Division III powerhouse.
While this year’s schedule is certainly shorter than usual, it is not any less challenging. Yeshiva’s season opener is currently scheduled for February 13, at Manhattanville, with a rematch coming the day after, in the Max Stern Athletic Center. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the schedule is the Macs’ two games against Saint Joseph (CT). The Blue Jays are led by legendary Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, who, after spending the majority of his career with the DI UConn Huskies, came out of retirement to become the first head coach of Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball program. Calhoun has won the Division I NCAA Tournament Championship three times over his illustrious career, so these two games will definitely be ones to circle on the calendar. The Macs are set to play the Blue Jays twice, once at home and once on the road, on February 27 and March 1, respectively.
**All dates, times and opponents on YU’s schedule are subject to change. Fans will not be allowed to attend any contests held in the Max Stern Athletic Center, but we will be broadcasting all home games on MacsLive.com.
The Macs welcome 10 new faces to a team that has very high expectations. YU returns their two All-American stars: Gabe Leifer and Ryan Turell. This duo is as good as any in Division III, and as long as they are on the court, the Macs are a team to be reckoned with. Yeshiva also brings back the 2019-2020 Skyline Conference Rookie of the Year in Ofek Reef. Expect Reef to have an even bigger role on this team in his sophomore year. Despite losing Simcha Halpert, the Macs still have his younger brother Eitan, who will look to continue his late season success of last year and fill the void his sibling left. For more information on Yeshiva’s roster, be sure to check out our full roster preview, as featured last week in The Jewish Link.
What to Look Out For
1. Eitan Halpert’s ascent: Towards the end of last season we saw Eitan Halpert step up in a big way for the Macs, playing a pivotal role in some of their most important games. Halpert’s rapid ascent culminated with him working his way into the starting lineup for both NCAA Tournament contests, scoring a combined 32 points on 12/19 shooting in Baltimore. Now a co-captain, Eitan can often be seen in practice coaching up his fellow teammates. Look for Halpert to continue his progress and become a critical cog on both ends of the floor with his floor spacing, shooting and ball pressuring abilities.
2. Fast learners: The one new player on the roster who sticks out is graduate student Samuel Merkin, who comes to YU after having attended Columbia University. Merkin, whose high basketball IQ and overall intelligence has been evident early on, could prove to be a perfect fit, and be a difference-maker for YU during his time in Washington Heights. With a shortened season, the new guys will need to get adjusted quickly, step up and make meaningful contributions in year one. Keep an eye out to see which players Coach Steinmetz trusts this year, especially with less time than usual for the non-returners to prove themselves.
What to Expect
If there is one thing which has remained constant since March, it is to expect the unexpected. With that said, Yeshiva’s stance has been straightforward. As Coach Steinmetz simply stated, “We can do empty gyms, just get us a ball and an opponent. We just want to play ball.”
So what should Macs fans expect? Expect some fun basketball. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
The Macs are back.