Alisia Pan (in-line by McCormack)

 

Two of the Ivy League’s most talented scorers visit New Haven this weekend.

Senior Columbia (6–12, 1–1 Ivy) point guard Mike Smith and junior Cornell (4–11, 1–1) forward Jimmy Boeheim lead their respective sides into the Elm City as Yale (14–4, 2–0) opens the brunt of conference play with its first Ivy League back-to-back of the men’s basketball season. Smith currently leads the Ancient Eight with 20.7 points a game, a mark that ranks 16th in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball as of Thursday afternoon, while Boeheim sits in third with 18.6 a contest. Columbia faces off with Yale Friday at 7 p.m., while the Big Red visit the John J. Lee Amphitheater 24 hours later.

The Lions run a similar offense to their New York conference foe Cornell, Eli captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 said. By negating Smith and Boeheim, the Bulldogs hope to slow their opponents’ offensive production throughout the weekend.

“We need to know everybody, [all] the personnel, but they each have super high volume scorers that kind of make them tick,” Monroe said. “We got to make sure with those guys specifically that we’re defending them as a team and making sure that we’re in our proper defensive positions, trapping gaps on those guys. If they can’t get going, it’s going to be hard for [Cornell and Columbia] to get going as a team.”

For defending Smith, the Bulldogs have a recent blueprint to follow. Brown guard Brandon Anderson, with whom Yale successfully dealt in two wins over the Bears to open conference play, sits between Smith and Boeheim on the Ancient Eight scoring ladder, ranking second with 19.2 a game. Monroe primarily guarded Anderson during both games with Brown, holding him to just six points in the first contest, and said he believes he will defend Smith to start Friday night’s game.

Smith plays like Anderson in many ways, Monroe said. He leads the Ancient Eight in free throw percentage and draws several fouls each game, thriving at the line with over 100 attempts this season. Anderson’s free throw percentage ranks second in the conference. Like Anderson, Smith is also confident shooting three-pointers off the dribble, meaning defenders like Monroe have to decide between going over and under ball screens — chasing him over the top prevents the three-pointer while opening up a lane for Smith to drive, while going under the screen potentially affords the Lion senior an open three-point attempt.

 

Yale has proven its ability to lock down opposing stars this season, eliminating Anderson in the Ivy opener after restricting Siena guard Jalen Pickett to six-for-21 shooting from the field in November and Vermont guard Anthony Lamb to an eight-for-23 mark in December. Guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 — this team’s best perimeter defender, according to head coach James Jones — defended NBA prospect Pickett.

“We’ve definitely had success slowing down opposing star players this year,” Gabbidon said. “By sticking to our defensive principles, we’ve been able to limit the production of talented playmakers throughout the season. What goes unseen, however, is the effort from our off-ball defense. Stopping ball-dominant players is not a one-man effort, and guys like Azar [Swain ’21], Eric, Paul [Atkinson ’21] and Matt [Cotton ’22] have done an excellent job of being able to play great help defense while still containing other players on the floor.”

Smith, who played eight games last season before suffering a season-ending torn meniscus in December, did not compete against an Ivy League opponent last year. Instead, Yale had to contend with second team All-Ivy guard Gabe Stefanini, guard Quinton Adlesh and forward Patrick Tape. Adlesh graduated last spring (and now plays for USC as a graduate transfer), the now senior Tape quit the team last fall in order to preserve a year of eligibility as a potential graduate transfer and Stefanini remains out after undergoing surgery on a left foot injury in October. Ivy Hoops Online reported the recovery as three to five months in the fall, but there is no official timetable for his return.

The Light Blue trio, with help from current junior forward Randy Brumant, stole a game from Yale at JLA last March. Columbia defeated the Bulldogs, 83–75, in one of the Ivy’s biggest upset wins of the season. Yale hasn’t lost a game in the Elm City since.

Although Columbia and Cornell currently register as the two worst teams in the Ancient Eight according to the 2020 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings (KenPom), checking in at 265th and 283rd nationally as of Thursday afternoon, Jones is avoiding complacency.

“That turns on a dime,” he said Tuesday afternoon, Columbia film paused on the laptop in his office. “I just watched the game. Columbia came here [last year] and they beat us, so that’s what’s striking me right now. They ran a really good offense, we didn’t defend well at all, and we were not very good offensively, so I’m just trying to make sure we prepare our team this week [and] that we can continue on our same path defensively because if you do that, it gives you a chance to win every game. We just didn’t give ourselves that chance in the game against Columbia. They came in here, they were ready to go, and we were not.”

Cornell, who is 0–9 on the road this season, defeated Binghamton by 20 to open the season before losing 10 straight games. However, the Big Red are 3–1 in the new decade. Alongside Boeheim — the son of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim — guard Terrance McBride and forward Josh Warren are major contributors, respectively averaging 10.7 and 8.2 points per game.

Cornell and Columbia split their home-and-away series to open Ivy League play. The Lions won 75–61 in Manhattan before the Big Red took the rematch in Ithaca, 62–50.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu