The stats don’t tell the story. The record (6-4) doesn’t tell the story. The team improvement speaks volumes.
Yale lost Ivy Player of the Year Justin Sears, rebounding star Brandon Sherrod and all-around intangible leader Nick Victor to both graduation and European play.
The good news was that preseason Ivy Player of the Year Makai Mason and a superstar freshman class, headed by South Carolina’s Jordan Bruner, would be donning Yale uniforms.
And then it happened. In the second scrimmage of the year, against BU, Mason went down with a broken foot and Bruner injured his leg. Mason had an operation about a week later and is out for the season. Bruner missed the first five games.
Yale pulled off a huge road upset of Washington of the Pac-12 to start the season and beat heralded Lehigh at home. Frosh sensation Miye Oni, unheralded sophomore Alex Copeland and senior center Sam Downey led the way.
Yale narrowly fell to a solid Pitt team of the ACC on the road and then suffered a disappointing loss at Bryant.
Which Yale team would enter the Ivy wars in January? Probably the one which defeated a very good Lehigh and Albany teams at home.
Yale is on a four-game winning streak and has done such with an eight-man rotation, which gives Yale more depth in the Ivies than perhaps any team other than Princeton, and certainly more depth than last year’s NCAA team.
There is no superstar like Sears or Mason, but a bunch of lunchpail guys who perform as a team and know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
Credit veteran and Yale winningest head coach James Jones for putting the pieces together quickly.
Anthony Dallier has played out of position at the point and is second in the Ivy in assists. Blake Reynolds has shot lights out from three, when needed. Oni has been steady. Bruner is back and has demonstrated incredible athleticism, plus a deft touch, with his high arching shot from 3 point land. Downey is one of the top rebounders in the Ivy and is the steadiest player on the team.
Copeland, a Los Angeles native, is perhaps the biggest surprise. Thrust into a starting role at guard with the injury to Mason, he has flourished. His defense was suspect early on, but it was vastly improved against Albany and Delaware. He can shoot from three and penetrate with the best of the Ivy guards. And his confidence level is more evident after each game.
Last season, Copeland only appeared in 13 games and did not play in either NCAA game. His season high in scoring was 10 points against Division III Daniel Webster. Few could have predicted his emergence this season, especially to the tune of seven games of 14 points or more and six games of three assists or more.
Right now Yale looks like the best Ivy team, ahead of Princeton and somewhat improved Harvard.
Normally, Yale opens with two games in January, on successive weekends. This year, due to the Princeton exam schedule, the Elis will be tested right out of the gate at Penn and Princeton, on the weekend of January 13-14. Count on Jones to have his team ready. He always does.