As we move into January, there are so many things to be excited about– the NFL playoffs, bowl season, Burmese Independence Day, and for those who are strict adherents to the teachings of the National Association of Fruits and Vegetables, Dried Fruit and Tubers month.
And while for many Americans, football and dried prunes may be the main focus of the first month of the calendar year, the Brown/Yale series typically produces at least one great battle between the squads every January. We have seen splits in 3 of the last 5 years, and two of those have involved both road teams claiming victory. In the Ivy League season, a single loss can be damaging to a team’s title chase, and two losses can be fatal. When any Ivy school comes into the season with dreams of a title run, a good start is so pivotal. Two losses to your travel partner can kill a season mighty quickly. For Yale in this year’s deep league, even a split would be extremely damaging.
While both teams certainly entered the season with thoughts of competing for the top spot in the conference, at this point, that goal is realistically only alive for the Bulldogs. Brown lost standout recruit Rafael Maia for the season after he was ruled ineligible for the season by the NCAA for violating a newly instituted bylaw. Only weeks later, junior Tucker Halpern, ailing from a long bout of mononucleosis, was forced to medical redshirt. These two players were expected to make major contributions on both ends of the court.
In losing Maia, the Bears lost an asset who could assist Andrew McCarthy as a defender against some of the better big men in the league. For a Bears team whose defense has been their weakness over the past two seasons, this blow was particularly devastating. Halpern’s contributions on the offensive end have been sorely missed, as the Bears simply haven’t had the versatility to compete with many Top 200 teams this year. While the Bears posted a couple of nice wins against Rhode Island and Central Connecticut State, they have dropped their three most recent games to squads outside the top 200 in the Pomeroy ratings.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a two-game win streak at home after losing two down south. Yale dropped a 72-71 game at Wake Forest, before falling on Christmas Eve in Gainesville to the Gators, 90-70, only their second game against a Top 150 team (the other was a loss at Seton Hall), and it was clear that the Bulldogs weren’t able to match the athleticism and speed of that Florida squad. Still, this team remains fairly untested against the type of competition they’ll face in the Ivy League (Pomeroy #100 through #200 teams).
The Bulldogs have generally been able to take care of business against teams they should beat, but certainly don’t have any signature wins (best win is at home vs. Vermont, #162 Pomeroy). A January 27th date with Harvard in New Haven should quickly reveal how good this Yale team is. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Bulldogs need a sweep of the next two weekends to avoid losing pace with other top contenders in the Ancient Eight. Luckily, Greg Mangano is really hitting his stride for this team. He’s posted four consecutive double-doubles and taken home two straight Ivy League Player of the Week awards. Look for more of the same against undersized Brown.
Keys to the Game
The Bulldogs match up well with this Bears team, which doesn’t have much of an answer for the Bulldogs down low. Coach Jones will look to get this game into a half-court set and work it into Mangano as much as possible. When Brown collapses on the big man, it’s going to be up to Reggie Willhite and Austin Morgan to take advantage of their open looks. Also look for Jeremiah Kreisberg to have a big game in the high post if Mangano is commanding that extra attention on the block. Mike Grace will be relied upon to take care of the ball and make good interior passes to the big men. The Bulldogs are certainly the more talented team here. They just need to
Physically, it will be a nightmare for the Bears to compete with the Bulldog frontcourt, and the Bears lack the depth to allow for the foul trouble that Brown will likely find itself in trying to defend Yale. If Brown is to win, it will require an exceptional effort from Sean McGonagill at the point, as well as a remarkable shooting night for the Bears. Aside from the entire team catching fire from beyond the arc in the same time, Brown only has a chance if McGonagill is able to control the tempo and outplay Austin Morgan. Coach Agel will likely try to push the pace, as he did when the Bears upset a more talented Central Connecticut squad, and let the gunners fire away. Albrecht, Sullivan, and Harris will all need to be on target. The Bears are capable of an upset, but it’s a matter of the stars all aligning on the perimeter.
As far as predictions, I think Yale wins both, and I think one will be close and one won’t. Given that home court hasn't meant much in this series in the past, I'll guess that the Bears keep this first one within reach before Yale pulls it out late. Ultimately, the Bulldogs' size will simply be too much for Brown.