The Yale men’s basketball team has found itself in the running for an Ivy League title for much of head coach James Jones’ 18-year tenure, and this year is no different. If things go perfectly for the Elis this weekend, they could tie Princeton atop the Ancient Eight standings with four games left to play.
For that scenario to come to fruition, the Bulldogs (14–7, 6–2 Ivy) need two victories this weekend and a bit of luck from around the Ivy League. The Elis will have a revenge match with a formidable Princeton (15–6, 8–0) team on Friday before taking on a lackluster Penn (9–12, 2–6) squad on Sunday afternoon. To finish the weekend tied for the top seed, the Elis will need to win both of their games at John J. Lee Amphitheater and Princeton to lose to Brown in Providence Saturday.
“I think it’s nice [being at home] and being in your own bed,” guard Alex Copeland ’19 said. “I think we like playing at home. We’ve got great fans and have done pretty well here.”
Aside from the back-to-back games against Brown early in the season, this weekend will mark the first set of rematches in the Bulldogs’ 14-game conference season. An even stronger team than Harvard — the team that snapped Yale’s 22-game home win streak last Saturday — Princeton presents the toughest matchup the Ivy League can muster. While the undefeated Tigers rank just sixth in points scored, they have allowed the fewest points per game by a wide margin, ceding 6.9 points per game fewer than the second-place Crimson.
The Tigers have also made more three pointers than any other Ivy League team and sport a 37.7 percent conversion rate from distance, second best in the Ancient Eight. The Tigers are also an experienced team, with just three underclassmen averaging more than 10 minutes a game. Veteran leadership has manifested itself into smart basketball; Princeton has committed the fewest turnovers in the Ivy League and owns the conference’s best assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Tigers boast two senior forwards in Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook who stretch the floor in similar fashion to forward Blake Reynolds ’19 for the Bulldogs. The Princeton big men combine for 25.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while attempting an average of 10.1 three-pointers per contest. The Tigers’ sophomore guard Devin Cannady complements his upperclassmen downtown, converting on 37.9 percent of his shots from distance.
“[Princeton] is really versatile,” Jones said. “The play a number of difference lineups and have a lot of skilled players.”
Yale will likely look for advantages in the paint, as it has for much of the season. The best rebounding team in the Ivy League should secure a possession advantage over the Tigers, who rank just sixth in terms of overall rebounding. While this starts with Yale’s low-post threats, including forwards Sam Downey ’17 and Jordan Bruner ’20, the Bulldogs’ perimeter players will also be tasked with attacking the basket and drawing defenders on dribble penetration.
Eli guards Copeland, captain Anthony Dallier ’17 and Trey Phills ’19 combine for an average of 9.3 free-throw attempts per game, helping Yale become the second-best team in the Ancient Eight at getting to the free-throw line. Compared to the Tigers, which rank seventh in such attempts, the Elis have a strong advantage in this aspect and could put themselves in a position to win by creating contact inside and converting on their free throws.
Yale’s contest with the Quakers on Sunday does not seem as menacing for the Bulldogs as their Friday matchup, though no game can be taken for granted at this stage in the conference season. Penn has scored the fewest points in the Ivy League, and its 60-point outing against Yale on Jan. 13 indicates a deficiency that will likely be compounded in New Haven against the Bulldogs’ strong rebounders.
While the Quakers own two players, guard Matt Howard and forward AJ Brodeur, in the Ivy League’s top five rebounders and are not a poor rebounding team overall, the Elis have shown before that they can severely hinder opposing big men. Dartmouth’s Evan Boudreaux, the top rebounder in the Ancient Eight this season, recorded just three boards last Friday in a 73–64 loss in New Haven.
“We try to put a body on people when they come to our offensive glass,” Bruner said. “When [the ball] comes off the glass off someone on our team, we try to go and take it. We don’t want to give them any freebies or limit them to a certain number of rebounds. We don’t want them to get any.”
During the nonconference schedule, Yale shot the lights out from beyond the arc, only falling below the 30-percent threshold against Virginia, the NCAA’s top scoring defense. However, the Elis have not been as consistent from three-point range during Ivy play, shooting above 30 percent in just half of their conference games.
If there were ever a game for Yale to rediscover its long-distance consistency, Penn would be an ideal opponent. The Quakers allow the highest three-point percentage in the Ancient Eight, letting opponents connect on 36.2 percent of their attempts from downtown. Guard Miye Oni ’20, Reynolds and Dallier have all been deadly sharpshooters at times this season, and the Bulldogs will need them to remain consistent down the stretch if they are to contend for the title.
Oni has already asserted himself as one of Yale’s most valuable players, leading the team in scoring and ranking third in the Ivy League in rebounding as a freshman. According to Jones, Oni’s greatest growth this season has come at the defensive end, where freshmen often struggle in their introduction to college basketball. Downey has also surged on the boards as of late, now nipping at Oni’s heels in the conference’s boards-per-game column.
The Bulldogs will take on Princeton and Penn at home this Friday and Sunday, respectively. Tip off is at 8 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.