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2016-17 Season Preview: Expectations Remain High

Anthony Dallier (Dave Silverman photo)
Anthony Dallier (Dave Silverman photo)

Bulldogs Seek Third Straight Ivy League Title, Return Trip To NCAA Tournament

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – 2015-16 was a dream season for the Yale men's basketball team. The Bulldogs won 23 games, the most at Yale since 1907, captured a second straight Ivy League title and earned the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history.

What will Yale do for an encore? Most of the preseason pundits have the Bulldogs taking a small step back, including the official Ivy League media poll which forecasts a third-place finish. The players and coaches, though, aren't buying it. To a man, each has said the goal is to return to the national spotlight come March.

The path there will be different in 2016-17. For the first time, the Ivy League will hold a post season tournament to determine the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The top four finishers in the regular season qualify, something Yale has consistently done in James Jones' tenure as the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach.

Before that, the Bulldogs have a challenging non-conference slate, which begins Sunday at the University of Washington.

While four significant contributors to last year's success have graduated, there is plenty of talent returning, led by junior guard Makai Mason. Mason, who spent part of the summer with the German national team, is coming off a breakout season. He earned first team All-Ivy recognition, only the fourth sophomore in school history to earn first team recognition, after finishing fifth in the Ivy League in scoring (16.0 ppg.), third in assists (3.8 per game), sixth in free throw percentage (.806) and third in minutes played (32.7 per game).

Mason earned national exposure by scoring 31 points in the NCAA Tournament victory over Baylor on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 11-of-11 shooting from the free throw line. The 31 points were the most ever by a Yale player in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 27 the legendary Tony Lavelli scored vs. Illinois in 1949.

Mason will have plenty of support in the backcourt. Senior Anthony Dallier, the team captain, started the final 10 games, including the two NCAA Tournament games, a year ago and scored in double figures in six of them, including a 12-point effort against Duke in the NCAA Tourney. He was one of only five players to appear in all 30 games and received the team's most improved player award following the season.

Sophomore Trey Phills began to show his vast potential toward the end of last season. He played in each of the final seven games and had a key bucket in the win over Baylor. Fellow sophomore Alex Copeland is a candidate for an increased role after appearing in 10 games off the bench a year ago.

Senior AJ Edwards provides added experience to the backcourt, and junior Landon Russell hopes to contribute after missing all of last season with an injury. Sophomore Thomas Ryan adds depth.

Two freshmen hope to earn playing time at guard as well. Miye Oni played at Suffield Academy last year and scored 52 points in one game, while Eric Monroe was a two-time first team All-CIF selection at St. Augustine High School in San Diego.

Yale's front court will have a different look but should still be formidable. Senior Sam Downey has played 60 games in his career, including appearing in all 30 last year when he posted career highs in points and rebounds and shot 61.7 percent from the field.

Junior Eric Anderson also saw the most playing time of his career a year ago, playing in 21 games, and should have a large role again this winter.

Sophomore Blake Reynolds was the recipient of the team's John C. Cobb Award to the outstanding freshman last year. He appeared in 23 games off the bench, the most of any newcomer, including playing 10 minutes and hitting an important three-pointer in the NCAA Tournament victory over Baylor.

Freshman Jordan Bruner is likely to have a big impact on the frontcourt. He was a three-time all-state and all-region selection at Spring Valley High School and was selected as a South Carolina Top 5 player in each of his four years. In his career he averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks.

Two other newcomers hope to contribute. Freshman Austin Williams scored more than 1,000 points during his career the The Bolles School in Florida, while junior Noah Yates has joined the team after playing two years of football at Yale.

The schedule this year will challenge the Bulldogs, who play nine games against teams that played in the postseason a year ago. There will be 13 games in the friendly confines of Lee Amphitheater where Yale has won 14 straight games dating back to the 2014-15 season. The Bulldogs were a perfect 12-0 at home a year ago for the first time since Payne Whitney Gym opened in 1932.

Report filed by Tim Bennett (timothy.bennett@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity