When the Yale men’s basketball team takes on Texas Christian this Saturday, tipoff will be later than originally planned. To allow its fans to follow college football’s Big 12 Championship game — in which TCU will face Oklahoma in a battle of top-10 teams — the hosting Horned Frogs pushed back the start time of the game three hours, to 8 p.m. eastern.
This change was centered around football, which reigns supreme in Texas. However, it will allow the TCU basketball team (7–0, 0–0 Big 12), impressive in its own right on the national stage, to take the court during a prime-time slot.
The No. 23 Horned Frogs are the first nationally ranked team that Yale (5–4, 0–0 Ivy) will face this season and present a major test for a program riding a two-game win streak but beset with injuries. Thus far, the Bulldogs have feasted on lesser mid-major opponents, most recently in an 84–67 toppling of Bryant on Wednesday. Yet, they have lost to NCAA Tournament contenders Albany and Vermont, in addition to both their other opponents from premier national conferences, in Creighton and Wisconsin.
“Having the experience of going to a big arena, playing a big-time team like Wisconsin and Creighton, I think that experience is going to be really good for us going into TCU,” guard Alex Copeland ’19 said. “We know how intense we have to be, and now that we’ve actually won some games … and just played in some close games, we’re better prepared to do what it takes to win.”
After disappointing performances against top-flight competition in the Bluejays and Badgers, Yale will have a chance to show how much it has developed in the last two weeks when it takes the court in Fort Worth. However, the Horned Frogs — ranked the highest they have been in 18 seasons and owners of the longest win streak in country — will likely prove to be the Elis’ toughest competition of the season so far.
The winner of the National Invitational Tournament last March, TCU has yet to lose a game this season and has been especially dominant at home, with an average margin of victory of 19.2 points at Schollmaier Arena. Led by five players averaging at least 10.3 points per game, the Horned Frogs present a stark contrast to Yale’s most recent opponent, Bryant, which relied on just three players to score all but three of its 67 points.
The hosts’ most dangerous threat is 6-foot-7 senior guard Kenrich Williams, who is a swiss army knife for the Horned Frogs. The New Mexico Junior College transfer leads TCU in minutes played and averages a double-double in points and rebounds, along with 3.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Normally, head coach James Jones likes to use guard Trey Phills ’19 to defend the opponent’s top perimeter threat, but guard Miye Oni ’20 may prove to be a wiser choice given his length and size.
Oni, in an even increased role from his All-Ivy rookie season, has not shied away from taking on bigger defensive assignments. In one sequence against Vermont two games ago, the sophomore called on his own number against big man Anthony Lamb, who had been torching the Elis all game and forced foul trouble of the Eli forwards. A similar willingness to defend will be required of every Bulldog this weekend, as the Horned Frogs average just over 86 points on 19.9 assists per game.
Offensively, the Elis hope to get off to a third consecutive hot start after establishing early leads against Delaware and Bryant; in these games, success from beyond the arc sparked Yale’s scoring. However, the Bulldogs saw their opponents make big runs when they went cold from deep and were forced to find scoring elsewhere.
With nearly 46 percent of the Blue’s field goal attempts on the season coming from 3-point land, long-range shooting will likely figure prominently yet again in Saturday’s matchup. But Yale needs to be wise in how it sets up its deep looks. Against the zone in its most recent game, the team went cold from three for chunks at a time, as most of the action was focused on the perimeter. However, the Elis thrived when their deep looks came from the inside-out, as players found the open man against a collapsing defense.
Forward Blake Reynolds ’19 was a key beneficiary of this ball movement in the Bryant matchup, scoring 12 of his team best 18 points off threes.
“I was able to get two pretty open looks really early in the game,” Reynolds said. “Seeing those two go through the hoop, you feel good there the rest of the game shooting any kind of look you get from outside. [I got] good passes from my teammates hitting me on the money so I could knock those down.”
The Bulldogs’ bout against TCU launches a particularly challenging stretch of their nonconference campaign. After the road trip to Texas, Yale will travel to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania next Wednesday to face Lehigh, which just beat reigning Ivy League champion Princeton on the Tigers’ home court.
The Elis will then will battle St. Bonaventure, which upset Maryland earlier this season. Meanwhile, a meeting with the ACC’s Georgia Tech looms on the schedule in early January.
“Those are seven really tough games that we have left on our [nonconference] schedule,” Jones said on Wednesday. “We have to continue to work together to play, cut down on our bad possessions, take care of the ball and play better defense. [Bryant] shot 40 percent from the floor and scored 67 points on us — we need to do a better job.”
But help will be on the way for Jones’s squad. The coach said on Wednesday that he expects forward Austin Williams ’20 to start returning to practice “part time” on Friday and that guard and captain Makai Mason ’18 — who missed all of last year after earning first team All–Ivy recognition in 2015–16 — is aiming to return for the first Ivy League game in mid-January.
Fox Sports Southwest will televise the Yale-TCU contest at its rescheduled tipoff time of 8 p.m. eastern.
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