After proving the experts wrong last year with a third-place finish in the Ivy League, the Yale men’s basketball team appears poised for another season of success.
The Elis will start their season this weekend against Central Connecticut. The two teams will meet on Saturday as part of the 5th Annual Connecticut 6 Classic, a tournament among six in-state rivals. The tournament marks the beginning of what the Elis hope will be a title-winning season.
“The goal for the team this year is to win the Ivy League championship,” forward Javier Duren ’15 said.
The Bulldogs will be helmed by James Jones, who enters his 15th the season as head coach of the Elis. Under the guidance of the coach with the fifth most conference wins in Ivy League history, the Bulldogs will look to improve upon last year’s unexpectedly successful season.
Jones’ leadership will be key, as the Elis graduated three players from last season’s squad, including leading scorer guard Austin Morgan ’13 and former captain Sam Martin ’13. With the exception of forward Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14, who will miss the season recovering from a back injury, every other Bulldog will return. The squad will also add four new players who appear ready to contribute right away.
“As hard as it was to learn that [Kreisberg] wasn’t going to be playing this year, I think guys are going to step up,” forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 said.
This season, Yale will count on its tremendous depth in the frontcourt. In addition to Sherrod, the Elis can rely on a number of experienced big men, including Matt Townsend ’15, Greg Kelley ’15 and Justin Sears ‘16.
Yale’s backcourt will get a boost from consistent appearances from captain Jesse Pritchard ’14, who missed all but 13 games last year with an injury. Pritchard, along with guards Armani Cotton ’15 and Javier Duren ’15, will be at the head of Yale’s veteran backcourt.
Duren believes the Bulldogs will benefit greatly from the experience they gained last season.
“With a lot of experience comes a lot of maturity,” he said. “We really started to see how good we could be in the last few games of the season. Guys are back now bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter, so I think that’ll benefit us going forward.”
A new wrinkle to this season will be the rule changes instituted by the NCAA men’s basketball rule committee. The changes, which aim to prevent aggressive hand checking, are designed to enhance freedom of movement and increase scoring.
For Yale, this might prove to be a beneficial development. Yale’s significant size advantage — only two of its players stand under 6’4” — will only be amplified by the tighter rules. Jones suggested the Elis’ height will be apparent in most contests.
“How are you guarding Javier [Duren] when you’re 6 feet tall?” he asked. “At the basket you can’t do it. You’re going need to foul him or have help from somewhere that’s going to lead to open baskets. We’ve certainly implemented stuff in our offense to take advantage of our size.”
The rule changes will have implications for the Elis on the defensive side of the court, as well.
While Jones said he is reluctant to excessively use zone defense, he admitted that the scheme might become more effective due to the rule changes.
“It may [be] helpful to play some zone and hide a player who is in foul trouble,” he said. “We may play more zone than we have in the past because we’ve shown that we can be effective in it.”
The Ivy League men’s basketball preseason media poll projects the Elis again finishing third in the conference, behind first place Harvard and second place Penn.
Penn’s predicted second place finish would be a significant improvement on last year’s fifth-place finish.
“It was a tad frustrating that we were picked third behind Penn given that we beat them both times [last season],” Duren said. “But they’re just rankings. At the end of the day we have to go out and prove how good we are. It’s all about playing basketball.
Coach Jones pointed out that six of the last eight years, the Elis have surpassed the predictions made by the preseason poll.
In last year’s poll, Columbia was picked to place second in the conference, but ended up finishing dead last.
“My point is that it doesn’t much matter what they say and I think our guys understand that,” Jones said. “You have to go out and play the games. That’s the fun part. It’s almost better that they don’t pick you higher because it gives you something to strive for.”
The Elis tip off in Bridgeport against Central Connecticut at 5 p.m. this Saturday.