The Yale men’s basketball team has won five of its first six Ivy League games despite missing all of its starters from the beginning of last season. With six of their final eight conference games to be played in the friendly confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs seem destined for another magical March.
Two victories this weekend would bring the Yale (13–6, 5–1 Ivy) home-win streak to 23 straight games and, more importantly, put the Bulldogs two steps closer to cutting down the nets at the conclusion of the inaugural Ivy League tournament at the Palestra. Dartmouth (4–15, 1–5) challenges Yale on Friday with forward Evan Boudreaux, the Ivy League’s second leading scorer and top rebounder, while a young Harvard (12–7, 4–2) team will visit the following day sporting a defense that has allowed a conference-low 63.7 points per game.
“Home court gives us familiarity, which gives us confidence,” head coach James Jones said. “You get to sleep in your own bed the night before. That helps every home team. … We’d like to exceed the energy we got from the students against Brown.”
The Bulldogs boast a league-best five players averaging double-digit points per game during the 2016–17 campaign. Princeton has four players in double figures, but no other Ancient Eight school has more than three. The Elis’ balanced offensive attack has forced opponents to pick their poison throughout the season, with a number of players capable of making big plays at any moment.
Last week, for example, forward Blake Reynolds ’19 had an 18-point breakout against Columbia despite scoring just 17 points in the previous three games. The sophomore went 7-of-11 from the field, including 3–5 from three-point range, in the eventual 87–78 win over the Lions.
“It was good to hit some shots,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been having some bad games recently so it was good to get back in the groove. I had been getting a lot of extra shots up [last] week and I thought it really paid off.”
The five Elis in double figures do not include forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who is just a hair shy of double-digit scoring with an average of 9.8 points per game. Bruner had 13 in the first half against Cornell last Sunday and continues to lead the league with 2.6 blocks per game.
While guard Trey Phills ’19 admitted he began the season as a solely defensive-minded player, he has also dominated recently on the offensive end. He averaged 13.7 points per game over the last three games and set career highs in scoring in back-to-back games. The sophomore has gone 22-of-22 from the free throw line during this three-game streak.
Phills credited his success from the line to the demands of associate head coach Matt Kingsley. As a team, the Bulldogs have shot 74.5 percent from the line this year, markedly better than their 66.9 mark from a year ago.
“Kingsley has us shooting a lot of free throws every day after practice and I think that has made the difference and helped us out down the stretch,” Phills said.
Dartmouth has won just one Ivy League game this season, a 74–71 home victory over Penn last weekend. The Big Green has struggled offensively all season, as turnovers and poor shooting have doomed its scoring effort, which ranks second to last in the conference in turnovers and last in field goal percentage.
Boudreaux has been a rare highlight for the weak Big Green squad. The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year is averaging 16.5 points per game and leads the Ivy League in rebounding with 9.4 boards per game. Despite Boudreaux’s dominance on the glass, Dartmouth ranks just sixth in the league in rebounds; Yale leads the Ancient Eight with 37.3 boards per game, with guard Miye Oni ’20 averaging 7.2 — second only to Boudreaux.
Dartmouth does have some other weapons to keep defenses honest, however. Guards Guilien Smith and Miles Wright have provided some assistance to Boudreaux, scoring 11.9 and 10.9 points per game, respectively.
While the Big Green won just one away game in conference last year, the Elis cannot afford to underestimate the squad for a second time. Dartmouth derailed Yale’s title ambitions two years ago with a last-second victory over the Bulldogs in the final game of the regular season. Yale would have clinched the Ivy League title outright with a victory in that contest, but lost to Harvard the following weekend in a playoff game, sending the Crimson to its fourth straight NCAA tournament.
Harvard will also visit New Haven this weekend, though sporting a much different roster than the championship roster of two years ago. The Crimson’s 2016–17 starting unit is comprised of three freshmen, a sophomore and a lone senior, and is led by guard Siyani Chambers, who leads the Ivy League with 5.8 assists per game — the only total that tops that of Yale captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17.
Before missing all of last season due to injury, the senior floor general was a three-time first-team All-Ivy selection. Chambers is averaging 9.1 points per game and is coming off a 17-point performance against Princeton last weekend. The Harvard captain has led his team to a Ivy-best 63.7 points allowed on defense, though the team has fallen thus far to Columbia and Princeton.
Aside from Chambers, the Crimson boasts a deadly outside shooter in guard Corey Johnson, who shoots 44.4 percent from beyond the arc, and guard Bryce Aiken, who currently averages 13.1 points per game as a sixth man.
Yale will take on Dartmouth on Friday at 7 p.m. at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, while the weekend-headlining bout with the Crimson will take place on Saturday at 7 p.m.