Despite an entirely different starting lineup from a year ago, this season’s Yale men’s basketball team has thus far mirrored last year’s Ivy League champion Bulldog squad. The 2016–17 team went 8–5 in its nonconference schedule while last year’s Elis fared slightly better at 9–5. Both teams earned wins over Penn and suffered losses to Princeton on the road.
If this deja vu continues, the Bulldogs (9–6, 1–1 Ivy) have much to look forward to in the next two weeks against Brown (10–8, 1–1), a team Yale beat 90–66 and 77–68 last season. But the young Elis, who started two freshmen and two sophomores against Princeton last Saturday, will have to overcome a battle-tested Brown senior duo to emerge from Providence victorious on Friday.
“Brown’s strength is that they lead the nation in getting to the free-throw line [because] they drive the ball well,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “They also play fast.”
Brown’s two senior leaders, forward Steven Spieth and guard Tavon Blackmon, have carried the Bears through their first 18 games. Spieth, the younger brother of top professional golfer Jordan Spieth, leads Brown in points, rebounds and assists, and his 14.8 points per game rank fourth in the Ivy League.
Blackmon has also started hot this season, averaging 10.6 points per game to go along with 3.8 assists. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native scored a combined 27 points in his two meetings against Yale last season.
Yale also leaned on its seniors in its two victories over Brown last season. Forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 scored 24 points and made all nine of his field goals in Providence last year on the way to setting the NCAA Division I record for consecutive made field goals.
Friday’s contest will be between two teams evenly matched in terms of record. Yale and Brown both have gone 2–2 against their four mutual opponents this year: Penn, Princeton, Albany and Bryant. Both teams have also played well at home so far this season, as the Bears are 8–1 at the Pizzitola Sports Center while Yale is undefeated at John J. Lee Amphitheater.
In entering the bout with comparable starts to the season, the Bulldogs look to seize an advantage over Brown in the rebounding column. Yale sits atop the Ivy League with 37.9 boards per game, while the Bears register just 31.6, the worst mark in the Ancient Eight. Although Yale entered the season with the task of replacing rebounds from Sherrod, forward Justin Sears ’16 and guard Nick Victor ’16, the freshman class has stepped up tremendously in filling the void.
Guard Miye Oni ’20 leads Yale with 7.3 rebounds per game and ranks second in the conference behind Dartmouth’s sophomore forward Evan Boudreaux. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 is just a few ticks behind Oni with 6.7 boards per game, good for fifth place in the league. Yale will need to limit second-chance points against a Brown offense that leads the Ivy League with 77.3 points per game.
“Rebounding is definitely a huge priority for our team and will be a main concern for us as we take on Brown,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said.
Friday night’s contest may prove to be a high-scoring affair, as the Bears send out the second-worst defense in the Ivy League. Yale will rely on its well-balanced offense to exploit this weakness; through 15 games, five Bulldogs are averaging double-digit points per game.
Oni, who also ranks second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game, has bucketed in bunches this season. The freshman dropped 18 points in the second half of last weekend’s victory over Penn and has scored 20 or more points twice this year, against Washington and Central Connecticut State. Guard Alex Copeland ’19 most recently recorded his third career 20-point performance when he led all scorers in Saturday’s matchup with Princeton.
“My teammates always do a good job of finding me and most of my shots come within the flow of the offense,” Oni said. “We move the ball well in our motion offense.”
The Bulldog ball movement and offensive output will benefit from the return of captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17, who was sidelined against the Tigers with a 24-hour illness. The Wexford, Pennsylvania, native trails only Harvard guard Siyani Chambers atop the Ivy League leaders in assists and contributed 11 points in last Friday’s win over the Quakers.
The Bulldogs and the Bears tip off at 8 p.m. on Friday night in Providence.