Ivy League Tournament men’s semifinal preview: No. 4 Cornell vs. No. 1 Yale

Ivy League Tournament – at Jadwin Gymnasium (Princeton)

Saturday, March 11: Semifinals

No. 1 Yale (20-7, 10-4 Ivy) vs No. 4 Cornell (17-10, 7-7 Ivy) at 11:00 a.m. (available on ESPNU and ESPN+)

Game #1, 1/13/23: Cornell (home) over Yale, 94-82
Game #2, 2/25/23: Yale (home) over Cornell, 76-58

Head Coach:

James Jones (24th year at Yale; overall 372-299; Ivy 201-121; six regular season championships; two Ivy League Tournament championships; four-time Ivy Coach of the Year, including 2022-2023)

Starting Lineup:
Matt Knowling (junior forward; 28.0 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 61.2% FG, 57.1% FT, 5.4 rpg, 2.2 apg); Ivy League First Team
EJ Jarvis (senior forward; 25.8 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 51.9% FG, 66.7% FT, 6.5 rpg, 0.5 apg); Ivy League Second Team
Bez Mbeng (sophomore guard; 30.6 mpg, 12.8 ppg, 49.2% FG, 60.6% FT, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg); Ivy League Honorable Mention; Defensive Player of the Year
John Poulakidis (sophomore guard; 30.9 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 40.1% FG, 87.9% FT, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
August Mahoney (sophomore guard; 29.5 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 47.5% FG, 94.0% FT, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg); Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year

Key Reserves:
Isaiah Kelly (senior forward; 19.1 mpg, 6.9 ppg, 59.7% FG, 48.3% FT, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Yassine Gharram (sophomore guard; 18.1 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 38.9% FG, 65.4% FT, 3.4 rpg, 2.2 apg)

Offense (conference stats, courtesy of the Ivy League and KenPom)
Points Per Game: 76.5 (#2 in Ivy)
Effective FG%: 53.8% (#2)
2FG%: 52.8% (#4)
3FG%: 37.3% (#1)
3Pt Rate: 31.0% (#8)
FT% 68.4% (#8)
FT Rate: 37.4% (#1)
Assist Rate: 48.2% (#4)
Turnover Rate: 15.0% (#1)
Steal Rate: 8.0% (#1)
Block Rate: 7.4% (#2)
Offensive Rebounding Rate: 25.6% (#5)
Average Possession Length: 18.1 (#7)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.6 (#1)

Points Per Game: 68.4 (#1)
Effective FG%: 49.4% (#3)
2FG%: 47.5% (#3)
3FG%: 34.5% (#5)
3Pt Rate: 45.7% (#8)
FT% 73.5% (#6)
FT Rate: 33.5% (#5)
Assist Rate: 51.9% (#7)
Turnover Rate: 18.1% (#4)
Steal Rate: 8.9% (#4)
Block Rate: 12.1% (#1)
Defensive Rebounding Rate: 77.9% (#1)
Defensive Efficiency: 98.1 (#1)

Head Coach:
Brian Earl (7th year at Cornell; overall 74-94, 35-49 Ivy; one-time Ivy Coach of the Year)

Starting Lineup:
Nazir Williams (sophomore guard; 26.3 mpg, 13.6 ppg, 49.5% FG, 79.6% FT, 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg); Ivy League Honorable Mention
Greg Dolan (senior guard; 30.4 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 43.0% FG, 72.9% FT, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg); Ivy League Second Team; Academic All-Ivy
Isaiah Gray (junior guard; 22.4 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 51.5% FG, 69.8% FT, 2.9 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sean Hansen (junior forward; 20.9 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 45.1% FG, 60.9% FT, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Keller Boothby (junior guard; 17.5 mpg, 5.1 ppg, 46.2% FG, 100.0% (2-2) FT, 1.3 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Key Reserves:
Chris Manon (junior guard; 20.8 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 57.8% FG, 83.6% FT, 3.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Guy Ragland Jr. (sophomore forward; 20.6 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 37.4% FG, 83.8% FT, 4.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)

Offense (conference stats, courtesy of the Ivy League and KenPom)
Points Per Game: 80.4 (#1)
Effective FG%: 54.1% (#1)
2FG%: 56.8% (#1)
3FG%: 34.2% (#6)
3Pt Rate: 48.2% (#1, #6 nationally)
FT% 74.9% (#1)
FT Rate: 35.9% (#2)
Assist Rate: 53.7% (#1)
Turnover Rate: 17.1% (#3)
Steal Rate: 8.0% (#2)
Block Rate: 8.1% (#4)
Offensive Rebounding Rate: 25.6% (#4)
Average Possession Length: 15.0 (#1)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.0 (#2)

Points Per Game: 79.1 (#7)
Effective FG%: 57.6% (#8)
2FG%: 60.4% (#8)
3FG%: 35.9% (#7)
3Pt Rate: 42.9% (#6)
FT% 71.9% (#5)
FT Rate: 37.9% (#8)
Assist Rate: 59.8% (#8)
Turnover Rate: 22.7% (#1)
Steal Rate: 12.9% (#1)
Block Rate: 5.6% (#7)
Defensive Rebounding Rate: 71.9% (#7)
Defensive Efficiency: 108.4 (#7)

Yale is the model of consistency in the men’s division, being in the upper four spots for 22 straight years, and focusing their yearly performance on rebounding, strong shoot selection and defense.

While this year’s team suffered three loses in their first four league games, it managed to win nine of its last 10 games to finish the as co-champions and the top seed in this year’s tournament.  The Bulldogs also ended the year as the conference’s most efficient offensive and defensive squad.

All five starters averaged double digits in league play, and three different players (John Pouladkidis with 30 vs Princeton, EJ Jarvis with 34 vs Cornell, Bez Mbeng with 27 vs Brown) led the team when first team All-Ivy forward Matt Knowling when down with a high ankle sprain against Penn on February 17.  On the defensive side, Mbeng, whom coach James Jones said is the best on-ball defender he’s ever coached, was named the Defensive Player of the Year and the entire team is seventh in the nation in offensive rebounding rate.

While the coach said that Knowling is ready to play this weekend, it will not be disastrous if he cannot return at 100%.  Among the consistent ideas that the Yale staff preaches is a “next man up” mentality and there will definitely be someone ready to fill his shoes if their star is not at full strength.

The new version of the Big Red, which plays as many as twelve men and thrives in a high tempo environment, debuted to much success in 2021-2022.  They may be much more fluid than the disciplined Bulldogs, but they also can have any person take the lead on any given night.

Among the deep Red rotation, Nazir Williams, Greg Dolan and Isaiah Gray standout among the starters, and Chris Manon is arguably the top six man in the year.  When things are going right for Cornell, they want to push the pace, which is the fourth fastest in the country, and hit their three pointers.  There’s no doubt they’ll put up deep shots, owning the sixth highest three-point rate in the land, but the key will be actually hitting those shots (they are presently #135 in the country in three-point accuracy).

If the Red cannot succeed from the outside, which happened when they lost five of six toward the end of the season, then they may end up with their third consecutive first-round exit.

Game number one between these teams was played to Cornell’s game plan, while game number two was played in a more half-court defensive style that favored Yale.  While it’s possible the third game could be an average of the two, it is unlikely.  The team that can dictate tempo will certainly have the upper hand, but it may not be decisive.

If the Bulldogs can make this a more defensive battle, they will clearly have the advantage and it will be a challenge for the contained Red to grind it out arguably the league’s most physical team.  However, if the game turns into a track meet and the Red can hit threes in an arena which tends to be difficult for athletes not wearing orange and black, Yale will have to use all its weapons to keep up with the high-flying Cornellians.