William McCormack, Contributing Photographer

Yale men’s basketball faces its first true tests of the 2021-22 season this weekend after opening nonconference play with a dominant 88–42 win over Division III opponent Vassar College on Tuesday night.

The contest with Vassar, who officially treated the game as an exhibition, represented a war up act, helping the Bulldogs ease back into competition after a 20-month gap since the team’s last game. Now the real show begins. Yale (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) hosts the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1–0, 0–0 Atlantic 10) on Friday night before visiting the Big East’s Seton Hall (1–0, 0–0 Big East) in New Jersey on Sunday afternoon. 

“A lot of guys came in and contributed, which was great,” Yale head coach James Jones said after his program’s season-opening win on Tuesday. “We always look for that. We got another one on Friday. We got two days of practice to get ourselves ready. Hopefully we continue on winning at home as we normally do.”

Yale, whose last home nonconference loss occurred in December 2017 against Monmouth, starts the weekend with UMass. Friday’s contest is the second leg of a two-game series that has now sandwiched the Ivy League’s cancellation of competition last year. According to a copy of the athletic contest agreement acquired through a University of Massachusetts Amherst public records request filed by the News, Yale and UMass signed the original series agreement in June 2019. The contract initially stipulated a return game in New Haven for the 2020-21 season. Per the initial terms of the agreement, Yale is providing the UMass program with 75 complimentary tickets.

Back in December 2019, during the first leg of the home-and-home series, the Elis traveled to Amherst, Massachusetts for a game with the Minutemen, winning in overtime by a score of 83–80. Guard Azar Swain ’22 shot 6-for-11 from beyond the 3-point line, scoring 24 points to pace the Bulldogs.

The Minutemen’s two leading scorers from that game, guard Carl Pierre and forward Tre Mitchell, are no longer with the UMass team that will venture down I-91 for Friday night’s contest. Pierre is starting his season as a graduate transfer at Rice University, while Mitchell transferred to the University of Texas earlier this year after two seasons with the Minutemen.

Despite the pair of departures, UMass still ranks above Yale in the 2022 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, or KenPom, as of Thursday afternoon. The Minutemen occupy the 107th spot, while Yale sits at 165th out of the nation’s 358 Division I men’s teams. Since the game marks the Blue and White’s first contest against a Division I opponent this winter, Yale fans should gain a clearer sense of the team’s rotation Friday night. All 18 players in uniform entered the game in the Elis’ opener.

“Practice is extremely competitive,” captain and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22 said. “On any given day, no matter what the rosters are on both [practice] teams, it can go either way. That’s really pushed the guys who are returning, and it’s also helped the young guys develop a lot faster.”

On Sunday, Yale’s game at Seton Hall will be the Bulldogs’ first match against the Pirates in nearly a decade. During the schools’ last meeting in November 2011, the Elis fell 73–62. Sunday’s game at the Prudential Center also marks Yale’s first game against a Power 6 opponent since visiting North Carolina at the end of 2019.

The Pirates’ roster features one of Yale’s former Harvard foes, Bryce Aiken, who is starting his second season as a graduate transfer student at Seton Hall. The 6-foot guard hit all three of his 3-point attempts in Seton Hall’s 93–49 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Wednesday night, scoring 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench. The Pirates are ranked 45th in KenPom as of Thursday afternoon.

“He opens up the game, and when you open the game up, then everybody gets better. It’s a guard’s game,” Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Greg Herenda said of Aiken postgame. “He really stepped up.”

Fox Sports 1 is set to nationally televise Sunday’s noon game in Newark.

Over the last eight seasons, Yale is 81–20 at home in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

William McCormack covered Yale men's basketball from 2018 to 2022. He served as Sports Editor and Digital Editor for the Managing Board of 2022 and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he was in Timothy Dwight College.