Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

A trio of men’s basketball teams have separated themselves above the rest of the Ivy League this season, and all three play in New Haven this weekend.

Atop that tight, three-team contingent is Yale (14–9, 8–1 Ivy), which hosts second-place Penn (11–12, 8–2) and third-place Princeton (17–5, 7–2) Friday and Saturday at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. 

Models created by Luke Benz ’19, a former president of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group who continues to analyze and publish Ivy League men’s basketball playoff odds, make it clear that all three squads have practically already secured spots in Ivy Madness — the league’s postseason basketball tournament, whose winner receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. According to his model, which runs 5,000 simulations of the rest of the regular season, Yale and Penn each currently have a 99.9 percent chance to make Ivy Madness. Princeton has a 98.6 percent chance. But Yale’s games this weekend might carry major implications for tournament seeding and the league’s regular-season championship. 

“A weekend sweep would mean the Ivy regular season title, and along with it the top seed at Ivy Madness, would be firmly Yale’s to lose down the home stretch of the season,” Benz said. “Any result other than a weekend sweep and we’re looking at [a] messier picture with the title race likely going undecided into the final weekend.”

The back-to-back, the conference’s last until Ivy Madness next month, occurs as the end of the regular season is fast approaching. Yale and Princeton each play three more games after this weekend, while Penn, which has not had any league games postponed due to COVID-19, faces just two more teams before the top half of the Ancient Eight travels to Boston for Ivy Madness on Mar. 12 and 13.

According to projections Benz shared with the News, a Yale win over Penn on Friday would increase the Blue and White’s chances of finishing first in the Ancient Eight to over 70 percent from his model’s current estimate of 57.8 percent. A Bulldog win over Princeton Saturday, not fixed to any outcome in the Yale-Penn game, would increase that first-seed percentage chance above 80.

Penn presents the Elis’ first challenge of the weekend, giving Yale an opportunity to avenge its only loss to an Ivy League opponent this season. Penn beat Yale, 76–68, when the two teams played in Philadelphia last month.

Yale’s defense is holding opposing offenses to a league-best 41.6 percent shooting from the field this season. Above, guard Matthue Cotton ’23 dribbles against Harvard on Feb. 5. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

“If Yale is to split the pair, a win against Penn is a little more important, given Yale already beat Princeton and lost to the Quakers,” Benz added.

During that January meeting at the Palestra, Penn outplayed Yale in the first half and led by a dozen points at halftime. Looking back on the lone Ivy loss, forward EJ Jarvis ’23 said he thought Yale “came out flat” in the first half, digging themselves into a hole that the Bulldogs could not recover from after the break. 

“Even though they beat us, we’re still #1 and Penn is #2,” Jarvis said. “So if I’m on Penn’s team, I’m coming into JLA looking to make a statement. With the top three spots being so close in the rankings, this game is definitely going to be intense. And if we want to win, we have to be ready to play the moment the ball is tipped.”

The Bulldogs, Quakers and Tigers all enter the weekend with momentum. Penn has won five consecutive games, while Princeton is coming off an 85–40 takedown of Dartmouth. Following last weekend’s 25-point victory at Columbia, Yale’s win streak stands at six. That stretch includes its 80–74 win at Princeton on Jan. 29, when the Bulldogs started with a dominant first half before losing distance from the Tigers in the final minutes.

Penn guard Jordan Dingle — whose 20.1 points per game now surpasses Yale guard Azar Swain’s ’22 average of 19.1 this season — leads the Ivy League in scoring. He dropped 31 points to lead Penn past Yale last month, recorded a new career-high last weekend with 33 points in a win over Harvard and is averaging 27.4 points per game during the Quakers’ current five-game streak. 

While Yale leads the Ancient Eight in field-goal and three-point percentage defense, the Tigers lead the conference in both of those offensive categories.

“[With] players like Dingle and teams like Princeton, we know the coaches have a plan, and we just try to go out there and execute and give our best effort,” Yale guard Bez Mbeng ’25, who played a key role locking down Harvard star Noah Kirkwood last week said.

Yale defeated Harvard last Wednesday as part of its six-game win streak. Above, Yale guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 celebrates the 62–59 win after Harvard’s Luka Sakota, crouching, missed what would have been a game-tying three-pointer at the final buzzer. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Yale forward Matt Knowling ’24 earned the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Week award on Monday after scoring a career-high 19 points against the Lions. The honor is his third of the season.

The Yale campus has experienced an uptick in undergraduate COVID-19 cases over the last week and a half, with 253 undergraduate students in isolation as of Wednesday afternoon. Because of COVID-19 protocols, several Yale players wore masks throughout the course of last Saturday’s win in New York City. Starting forward Isaiah Kelly ’23 did not play the game or appear on the bench. 

Tim Bennett, the athletic department’s assistant director for strategic communications and sports contact for men’s basketball, said he was not aware of anyone being ruled out for this weekend’s games due to COVID-19 protocols in a Wednesday afternoon email to the News.

Given updated fan attendance policies that permitted fully-vaccinated fans from outside the Yale community to return to indoor arenas at 75 percent capacity starting Feb. 11, this weekend’s slate will also mark the first set of Ivy League men’s basketball games that the general public can attend at Yale since the Bulldogs’ last PennPrinceton weekend in February 2020.

Both games this weekend tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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.