The men’s basketball team begins conference play this weekend with an Ivy League title in mind as the Bulldogs travel to Brown for the front end of a home-and-home series.
Yale (11–6, 0–0 Ivy) finished off its nonconference schedule with a dominant 102–47 victory over Division III opponent Daniel Webster and will look to carry that momentum into its matchup against Brown (9–8, 0–0). The Elis have performed well early this season, playing a difficult slate of games against power conference teams such as UConn, Florida and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs hope that this experience will prepare them for the dangerous Ancient Eight opponents to come, since the Ivy League’s NCAA bid goes to the regular season champion.
“[The conference schedule] is basically a 14-game tournament,” guard Jack Montague ’16 said. “The importance of every game is very, very high.”
Brown also had success against out-of-conference opponents, with wins against Bryant, Providence and Sacred Heart. But unlike the Bears, the Bulldogs were unable to pull out a win against Providence, falling 72–66 in late November during a stretch of four games in one week.
The Bears finished off the first half of their season with a strong performance against Lyndon State, winning 88–42. Predicted to finish fifth in the Ivy League by the preseason media poll, Brown is out to prove that it belongs in the top half of the league following a 7–7 finish and trip to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season.
“I look at the league this year and how every one has performed [in] nonconference [games so far],” head coach James Jones said at the Ivy League midseason media teleconference. “I think there is more parity in the league than a lot of people believe … There [are] not going to be any easy games.”
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, will try to live up to the high expectations set forth by a preseason second place prediction. Yale has struggled at Brown in recent history, splitting the opening series against the Bears the past two seasons.
The Elis are currently the league leaders in scoring offense, averaging 69.5 points per game; rebounding margin, grabbing 7.3 boards more than their opponents each game; and assist-to-turnover ratio, at 1.1.
That said, turnovers have hampered the Bulldogs often this season, as the team has committed 15 or more turnovers in each of its last four losses.
“These past three or four games we’ve turned the ball over quite a bit more than we’re used to,” Montague said. “Hopefully as a team we can recover and get over that, because it’s not necessarily that teams forced us to turn the ball over, it’s basically us turning the ball over on ourselves.”
Defensively, Yale will need to contain forward Leland King, who is averaging 14.4 points per game for Brown, a figure good for fifth-best in the Ivy League. Forward Cedric Kuakumensah is another player to watch for the Bears, as he has grabbed at least seven boards in six of his last seven games along with 43 blocked shots this season, the most in the conference.
The Bulldogs have had a week to prepare for their Ancient Eight opener and will look to take advantage of their longest layoff between games since the 10 days between Florida and Vermont.
Multiple players noted the benefits of having a full week of practice to prepare for Brown. Forward Matt Townsend ’15 mentioned that the team has been able to return to the fundamentals of defense. Montague noted that the layoff has given the Bulldogs a chance to focus their efforts learning the Bears’ plays, personnel and defense.
This will be the Elis’ first shot at an Ivy League opponent this season, and they have their sights set on an NCAA tournament bid.
“We have a sense of urgency this year,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “We just know we have to play each team like we’re at home and as hard as we can.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Providence at the Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center.