The Yale men’s basketball team travels to Penn and Princeton this weekend, looking to bounce back from its first Ivy League loss last weekend and retain its place at the top of the conference.
In the first half of Ancient Eight play, the league has showcased remarkable depth and volalility.
Yale will have to contend with an inconsistent Penn team (7–12, 2–3 Ivy), a squad that defeated Cornell by two but fell to Harvard by 25 and Columbia by 27. The Bulldogs then head to New Jersey to face Princeton (10–11, 3–2), which sits in third place after a loss last weekend at Cornell a day after defeating Columbia.
As both Penn and Princeton can attest, the Ivy League this year has been rife with upsets. Road teams have winning records this year in conference play at 13–10. In order to win the Ivy League, therefore, head coach James Jones believes depth is crucial to overcoming the doubleheaders that teams play every weekend.
“That’s the beauty of this conference, you have to have depth,” Jones said. “You have to have people to come in and give guys a rest when you play Friday and Saturday night.”
The Elis have demonstrated a deep, productive roster thus far, with seven players averaging five or more points per game and with nine players averaging more than 10 minutes per game. That figure could soon become 10 players as Jones is looking to re-integrate guard Nick Victor ’16, a starter a season ago, into the regular rotation. Penn and Princeton each have only eight such players averaging double-digit minutes per game this season.
Moreover, Yale has been one of the most consistent teams this season on offense, leading the league with 14.2 assists and 69.1 points per game. But in their 52–50 loss against Harvard on Saturday, the Bulldogs scored a season-low 11 points in the first half and finished the game shooting a season-worst 31.5 percent from the field.
The team will have an opportunity to rediscover its offensive flow against two of the league’s worst defenses. Princeton has allowed 65.6 points per game, a total aided in large part by deadly perimeter shooting; opponents have shot 37.5 percent from behind the arc against the Tigers. Penn has featured an even worse defense, giving up 67.3 points per game.
“We just didn’t trust our stuff enough [against Harvard],” Jones said, referring to the team’s first conference loss of the season. “We were trying to hit a home run on every play as opposed to moving the ball side-to-side. If we get Justin [Sears ’16] in the post off of one pass, it’s very difficult to score down there … so we have to make sure we move it before getting him the ball.”
One bright spot last weekend was the Elis’ defensive efforts, which forced Harvard into 14 turnovers and limited the Crimson to just 52 points.
The Bulldogs look to duplicate those efforts this weekend, as the Elis head to face two of the top three shooting teams in the conference. The Tigers lead all schools with a 44.7 percent mark from the field and an impressive 38.6 percent from behind the arc. The Quakers trail by less than a percentage point, shooting 44.0 percent from the floor.
“Defense is a big part of our team identity, so it’s something we need to do every night, especially against these two teams that can get hot really quick,” forward Matt Townsend ’15 said. “If we can hold the Killer P’s each to scoring in the low 50s, we’ll have a great chance to be successful.”
In the team’s only conference loss this season, the Elis were outrebounded heavily on the boards, which occurs rarely.
The Bulldogs, in fact, have the best rebounding margin in the league at +5.7. Princeton, on the other hand, posts a –3.0 margin while Penn has a slimmer, but positive, +2.7 margin.
“[Rebounding’s] really been one of our strengths this year and when we’ve outrebounded our opponent, our record has been very good,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “Being able to generate more shots off rebounds on the offensive end as well as holding the other team to one chance per trip will be a big key this weekend and the rest of the year.”
The stats back up Downey’s claim, as the Elis are 13–1 in contests this season in which they have outrebounded their opponents.
Yale will need to look out for a trio of Tigers, guard Spencer Weisz and forwards Hans Brase and Steven Cook, who all average double digits in points per game. For the Quakers, guard Tony Hicks leads the way, averaging 13.4 points per game.
Both of Yale’s foes this weekend rely on underclassmen, while the Elis’ lineup is heavy on experienced upperclassmen. Guards Javier Duren ’15 and Armani Cotton ’15 and forwards Townsend and Sears all started extensively last season and play a huge role for Yale this year, combining for 42.6 points per contest, or 61.6 percent of Yale’s offensive output.
The Bulldogs travel south to Penn on Friday night for a 7 p.m. tip before their pivotal matchup against third-place Princeton on Saturday night at 6 p.m. Both games are available on the Ivy League Digital Network.