After a challenging nonconference schedule, the Elis (6–8, 0–0 Ivy) will finally start their Ivy League season against Brown tomorrow.
Yale will enter the game having recently snapped a four-game losing streak with a victory against Baruch last Saturday. The Bulldogs’ tough nonconference schedule included opponents such as No. 24 St. Louis, Connecticut and Providence. Brown, however, will pose its own challenge to the Elis.
“I think because Brown plays a lot like we do, it’ll be a really good test for us to see where we stand as a team right now,” forward Matt Townsend ’15 said. “Both teams are physical and athletic at the post positions and have some guys who can really make some plays from the perimeter, so it should be a good barometer for us.”
Brown (8–6, 0–0) comes into the season opener having won its last two games, including a blowout victory against Daniel Webster. Despite losing four players to graduation last season, including leading scorer Matt Sullivan, head coach Mike Martin has kept the team playing at a high level.
Brown’s current leading scorer, guard Sean McGonagill, is first in the Ivy League in points per game this year at 18.7. The Bears also boast the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, forward Cedric Kuakumensah, who is fifth in the conference in rebounding and center, Rafael Maia, who leads the Ivy League with 8.3 boards per game. As a team, the Bears are hauling down an impressive 41 rebounds a game — five more than second place Penn. The Elis are currently in sixth place after finishing second last year.
Head Coach James Jones pointed to an injury to guard Armani Cotton ’15 as a factor in the Bulldogs’ recent rebounding woes.
“We haven’t been as good [at rebounding] because he’s a big part of us,” Jones said. “He makes rebounding easier for everyone because he just draws so much attention and it creates space for other guys.”
Cotton is second on the team with 4.2 rebounds per game. After playing a combined 17 minutes off the bench in the previous two games, he rejoined the starting lineup against Baruch and put up an efficient nine points, six boards, two assists and a steal in 20 minutes of action.
“I’m going to be playing this weekend and as long as I’m in there, I’ll take that responsibility to help with rebounding,” Cotton said. “That’s one category I’m going to make sure we’re a plus in at the end of the game.”
Although Cotton is central to the Bulldogs’ rebounding scheme, he will receive help from Yale’s other big men. Forward Justin Sears ’16 leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per game, and Townsend could see his average of 3.1 boards increase along with his playing time. Townsend has played at least 27 minutes in two of Yale’s last three games, averaging 4.0 rebounds over that span.
Cotton’s return to the hardwood is not the only thing that will help the Elis. Jones also noted the improvement in decision making from guard Javier Duren ’15.
“Javier has really improved and matured by leaps and bounds since last year,” Jones said. “He still has a few more steps left to take. He has to be a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio guy. When he is able to do that for us, we will be a much better basketball team.”
Duren is the Elis’ second leading scorer and leads them in assists per game for the season with 3.2, but is averaging almost as many turnovers (2.9). Over the last two games, however, he has taken better care of the ball, recording just two turnovers compared to nine assists. In addition to battling their opponents on the boards, the Bulldogs will have to take great care of the ball against a Brown defense that also leads the league in steals per game with 5.9.
Jones stated that it will take a complete effort to tackle the Bears.
“Fundamentally we have to do a better job of finding each other offensively,” Jones said. “Rebounding the ball, scoring at the basket — those are things we’ve relied on the last couple of years and we hope we can rely on them this year in the league.”
The Elis tip off against Brown tomorrow at 2 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater.