Courtesy of David Schamis

According to a recent poll, 10 of 40 Yale Daily News readers — just 25 percent — said that they would call themselves “fans” of Yale’s men’s basketball team. 

This season could change that. 

The Bulldogs have been an Ivy League powerhouse over the last decade, and last season was no exception. The team finished with 21 wins and shared the regular season Ivy League title — but they fell just short of the NCAA tournament, losing to Princeton in the finals of the Ivy tournament.

Now, as James Jones gears up for his 24th season coaching, this might be Yale’s best team in recent history.

What’s so special about this year’s team?

The start of a new college basketball season often revolves around the players who are out rather than in as teams look to fill the void left by last year’s seniors. 

At this time last year, the Elis were left wondering how to fill the shoes of Azar Swain ’22, Jalen Gabiddon ’22 and Matthue Cotton ’23, three of their four top scorers from the previous season.

But ahead of this season, the Bulldogs may have gained more than they’ve lost.

Yale returns four of its five starters from last season, including first-team All-Ivy forward Matt Knowling ’24 and Defensive Player of the Year guard Bez Mbeng ’25. Between these four, the Bulldogs return 46.9 points from last season, the most points any team in the Ivy League is returning among their five leading scorers from 2022-2023.

Two new additions, swing-forward Casey Simmons ’25 and center Samson Aletan ’27 will bolster Yale’s defense. Simmons, a transfer from Northwestern, is an athletic, defensive-minded player who was ranked as the No. 92 player in the country by ESPN and 247Sports coming out of high school. Aletan, a 6-foot-10 big man, is the highest-rated recruit in Yale history

Two sophomores, Danny Wolf ’26 and Nick Townsend ’26, both seem poised for breakout seasons. Wolf, last season’s “Yale Rookie of the Year,” averaged 17.7 points and 12 rebounds for team Israel at the Under-20 European Championship this summer. Townsend led the Bulldogs in scoring in its three exhibition games in August.

With role players such as guard Yassine Gharram ’25 and forward Jack Molloy ’25 also returning, Jones, who favors a seven to eight-man rotation, will have a tough decision to make as he decides who to pick from his 17-man roster.

What should you be watching for?

The Bulldogs are a well-rounded team with several key contributors and no true “star player.” Each of Yale’s five starters from last season averaged over 10 points per game.

But Knowling, who led the team in scoring a season ago, will once again be the focal point of Yale’s offense. Slightly undersized for his position, the 6-foot-5 forward likes to get the ball near the basket, where he uses his athleticism and “soft touch” to score around the rim. 

Yale runs a “motion offense,” a scheme that uses lots of player movement and quick passing to create spacing and open shots. On the perimeter, the Elis will look to get the ball to sharpshooting guards August Mahoney ’24 and John Poulakidas ’25, who shot a combined 41.8 percent from three-point range last season.

Facilitating this offensive production will be Bez Mbeng, the team’s point guard. Yale’s leader in assists last season, he plays with a high basketball IQ and has good vision as a passer. He also shot 39 percent from beyond the arc since the start of conference play and will look to take strides as a scorer this season.

Mbeng will also be the Bulldogs’ anchor on defense, using his athleticism and 6-foot-4 frame to guard the opposing team’s top scorer on most nights. Yale ranked as a top-50 defense in the country last season and may improve on that mark with the addition of Simmons and Aletan. 

What’s the competition like?

Yale’s schedule is divided into two main parts: non-conference and conference.

The non-conference schedule, a 15-game stretch that lasts until Jan. 3, features teams outside the Ivy League. This gives Yale an opportunity to go against stronger competition than it might face in its own conference.

Matchups include No. 11 Gonzaga University on Nov. 10 and the University of Kansas, which ranked No. 1 nationally in preseason polling, on Dec. 22.

The conference schedule begins Jan. 9 against Brown and will see the Elis play each team in the Ivy League twice, once at home and once away. The top four teams advance to the Ivy Tournament, the winner of which receives a bid to “March Madness,” a single elimination tournament comprising the nation’s top 64 teams to determine the college basketball champion.

For Yale, this is a unique opportunity to showcase its athletics on a national stage. March Madness is one of America’s most-watched sporting events, typically commanding 10 million viewers per game. Last year, Princeton made national headlines during its Cinderella run to the tournament’s Sweet 16.

This year, Yale seems well-positioned to be the tournament’s Ivy representative. Princeton will once again provide stiff competition, but the Tigers are left without their two top stars from last season, forward Tosan Ebvoumwan and guard Ryan Langborg. Penn, which finished third last regular season, lost its two leading scorers, Jordan Dingle and Max Martz, in the offseason. 

Armed with a strong core of players and entering a weakened Ivy League battlefield, Yale seems poised for a promising season. The team was selected first in the league’s preseason media poll and ranked ninth in’s mid-major top 25 poll. Now, it’s just a matter of putting pieces together on the court.

Yale fans can get their first look at this season’s team tonight at 7:00 pm in Payne Whitney Gymnasium, as the Bulldogs face off against Vassar.

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.