If the Yale men’s basketball team can pull off a momentous sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard on the road, the entire landscape of the Ivy League will be altered.
Yale (9–9, 3–1 Ivy) enters the weekend series fresh off its best weekend of the season, when it topped Columbia and Cornell. The Bulldogs can gain serious momentum with another pair of victories.
Friday night will pit Yale against a resilient Dartmouth (9–9, 2–2) squad.
Despite losing center Gabas Maldunas, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, to a torn ACL in practice three weeks ago, the Big Green swept their two games last weekend to elevate their Ivy record back up to 0.500.
“They were able to beat Princeton and Penn at home and you wouldn’t think on paper that they would be able to do that,” said head coach James Jones. “They’ve actually stepped up and played really well … I think they’re going to be a formidable opponent.”
But the loss of Maldunas—a crippling blow—bodes well for the Yale team’s style of play. The Bulldogs have established themselves as an interior-based team, intent on pounding the ball inside and getting to the free-throw line.
With Maldunas unavailable to protect the paint, Yale is likely to feed its big men, primarily forward Justin Sears ’15, unrelentingly.
“With Maldunas out, there is even more of a reason why we need to make sure we get the ball inside,” Jones said. “We just need to move the ball more, make sure we’re patient, and get the ball where we want to get the ball to.”
In the absence of Maldunas, Dartmouth forward John Golden propelled the Big Green last weekend, averaging 17 points per game in the sweep.
Golden’s play mirrored Sears’s contributions to Yale, as the leading scorer for the Bulldogs averaged 16.5 points per game to go along with 9.5 rebounds per game last weekend. Fittingly, the two forwards shared Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
Though the pair of awards highlights the matchup between the two forwards, Sears said he is more focused on the task at hand than individual accolades.
“There’s a little more pressure to perform well this weekend, but all it really comes down to is if we win or not,” Sears said.
A name to watch for the Elis will be forward Matt Townsend ’15. Although he is averaging just 4.9 points per game this season, he has scored some big-time buckets recently for Yale. He also averaged 11.5 points per game in the two outings against Dartmouth last season.
The weekend’s slate of action will not get any easier after Dartmouth for the Bulldogs. On Saturday, Yale will travel to Cambridge to take on rival Harvard (17–3, 4–0).
The unanimous preseason favorite to win the Ivy League, Harvard has not disappointed. The Crimson, who picked up four votes in the most recent AP Top 25 national poll, are carried by the stellar backcourt of guards Wesley Saunders (15.2 points per game) and Siyani Chambers (11.0 points per game).
The perimeter defense of the Bulldogs has been worrisome at times, allowing opponents to make 41.2 percent of their three-point attempts. However, that figure has fallen to 35.3 percent in conference play.
Point guard Javier Duren ’15 said Yale’s improved defense on the perimeter has come down to execution.
“Taking the information given to us and executing it as best we can, that’s one of the things that Coach has praised us for over the past couple of games,” Duren said.
Harvard will look to test Yale’s three-point defense, as the Crimson are second in the Ivy League, knocking down 39.2 percent of their tries from beyond the arc.
Members of the team said that they understand what it would mean to knock off top dog Harvard, but the team also realizes that each game counts the same and that Dartmouth comes first.
“It’s huge any time you can pull off two wins,” said forward Armani Cotton ’15. “It’s just a difficult thing to do in the Ivy League because it’s back-to-back days and no time for rest.”
If Yale can put together a solid weekend of play, a coaching milestone may very well be reached. Jones is currently sitting at 199 career victories, all at Yale, and is seeking to become just the fourth coach in history to win 200 games at an Ivy League school.
Tipoff at Dartmouth is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Friday.