Brown has hurt the Yale men’s basketball team almost as much as the Killer P’s in the past two seasons. The Elis (5-8, 0-0 Ivy) will face Brown (4-9, 0-0) at the John J. Lee Amphitheater today in both teams’ league opener.
The Elis were swept last season by the Bears, in addition to losing one game to them during Yale’s championship 2001-02 season. Lost to graduation, however, is Brown’s Earl Hunt, the fourth all-time leading scorer in Ivy League history. Also departed from the Bear’s squad is the 2002-2003 first-team All-Ivy center Alai Nuualiitia. Hunt and Nuualiitia were Brown’s first and third career points leaders, respectively.
Last season’s first-team All-Ivy point guard Jason Forte will play, though his numbers have fallen since he lost Hunt and Nuualiitia as passing options. Through the first 15 games of the season, Forte’s number are down from last year. The Brown floor general is currently averaging 4.0 assists per game, one less than his 2002-2003 average of 5.44. Nor has Forte been as prolific in creating his own shots. He is averaging 11.3 points per game, almost two points less than the 13.03 figure he put up last time around. Despite a dip in the box scores, Forte remains a returning all-league player that Yale must be sure not to neglect.
“Alex [Gamboa ’05] and Edwin [Draughan ’05] will cover Forte for most of the game,” captain Matt Minoff ’04 said.
Keeping Gamboa, the only Eli point guard who receives significant playing time, in the game is of the utmost importance for the Bulldog squad. For the most part, he has avoided foul trouble, but on the few occasions it has found him, Yale’s ball-handling and organization suffered noticeably.
“I made a stupid [foul] against American,” Gamboa said, during a winter break conversation. “I just have to be a lot smarter.”
The Elis expect less defensive pressure when bringing the ball down the court against Ivy teams than against their generally quicker non-league opponents, but Yale’s press-break woes this season make it likely that even the Ivies will try their hand at full-court pressure.
“Not being aggressive against [the press] has been our biggest problem,” head coach James Jones said. “We have to punish people for pressing us.”
Despite a record the sons of Eli universally describe as disappointing, the Bulldogs must remember that this year’s schedule was the team’s most rigorous ever. As of Jan. 13, USA Today’s Sagarin Ratings ranked Yale as having the 14th most difficult schedule in all of Division I basketball. The Elis’ eight losses have come at the hands of teams whose combined record is now 82-28. Included among those defeats are losses to No. 1 UConn and No. 4 Wake Forest.
However, for the first time this season, IvyBasketball.com’s Power Poll has Yale ranked below the top three.
“I don’t think [the drop in the poll] is of any concern,” Minoff said. “We have played a very difficult schedule thus far and I believe that will help us to be successful in league play.”
In the first of those games, Minoff expects to face varied looks from Brown.
“I suspect they will switch up their defenses throughout the game,” he said. “We will probably see some zone press, some switching man-to-man, and some [regular] zone.”
Against a zone, Minoff said that he could see forward Paul Vitelli ’04 and Gamboa getting a number of open 3-point looks. With Vitelli hitting on 46 percent of his deep attempts and Gamboa making 40 percent, both could force the Bears out of the zone. Against a man defense, Minoff said centers Justin Simon ’04 and Dominick Martin ’05 would have a big advantage inside.
Martin, however, was injured in practice on Wednesday.
“[Martin] sprained his ankle,” Minoff said. “But [he] will be ready to play [Friday].”
So too, Yale fans hope, will the Elis.
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