Yale To Let It Ride In Showdown With Duke

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Most economists and game theorists are adamant that “house money” is a fallacy. No matter how much of a run you’re on or how much you have exceeded what you started with, it makes no sense to risk what you have blindly with little hope of increasing your lot.

Of course, “house money” is a little different phenomenon in sports lingo. Yale has exceeded the expectations of all except the wildest of even the players’ dreams. But even if it wanted to, the Bulldogs can’t cash in their winnings and go home at the moment. There’s nothing to do but press on to Saturday’s NCAA Tournament second round game against defending national champions Duke.

With the most wins since the good old days of Teddy Roosevelt in the White House (1906-07), the first NCAA Tournament berth since 1962, and now the first NCAA Tournament victory in 120 years of Yale basketball, they will be talking about the 2015-16 Bulldogs forever (or until the planet is taken over by non-basketball playing aliens).

“It was awesome having responses from the alums, family members, friends, people that you haven’t talked to in a while, got a few Twitter followers,” Justin Sears said. “I’m starting a Twitter for Makai Mason actually, so be on the lookout for that. It was really awesome. It was nice to see that Yale was the top trending thing on Twitter for a while, too. You don’t see that happening, Yale basketball.”

And so with almost literally nothing to lose, Yale will walk into the Dunkin’ Donuts Center with a rowdy pro-Yale crowd and against a somewhat familiar opponent, the Bulldogs played Duke back in November (the whole game is online if you have an hour or so), and while they lost, scored the first nine points of the game and led until a barrage of live-ball turnovers and transition points buried them.


So there’s good reason to believe that Yale will be competitive against Duke and Vegas agrees, installing the Blue Devils a 5.5-point favorite, the exact same number that a team from Texas wearing fluorescent yellow was on Thursday.

Yale’s luck has to run out at some point, though, you say? Who says so? Let it ride.

What are we looking for in the 2:40 p.m. tip that will be broadcast to the entire nation on CBS? (how awesome is that?) We’ll try:



  1. Fouls and more fouls

Duke’s KenPom numbers as far as fouling are quite absurd, and a big reason why they’ve been able to be so successful even with a pretty mediocre defense (more on that later). The Blue Devils (24-10) are 67th in drawing fouls (led by Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee) and 10th in not fouling, which some will surely attribute to Duke getting all the calls, but over a large sample size like an entire season, you have to give them some credit.

Yale should actually have an advantage in the paint (Sears was especially effective in the first meeting), but although the Bulldogs were somehow able to thrive with Sears, Brandon Sherrod, and Nick Victor on the bench, trying to duplicate that Saturday may be impossible. Of course, trying to defend the likes of Allen and Brandon Ingram without fouling won’t be much fun.

2) Duke’s shooting

Yale actually showed some zone to try to slow Duke down, but it’s highly doubtful they’ll do it Saturday. UNC Wilmington was able to keep the lead into the second half Thursday because the Blue Devils were cold from the outside, and Yale has to hope that continues because it will be tough to guard the trip of Ingram, Allen, and Matt Jones from behind the arc.

Duke is fourth in KenPom offensive efficiency and posted 1.47 points per possession in the second half against the Seahawks. Of course, that was shooting 14-17 on two-point shots (a lot of dunks) and attempting 30 (?!?) free throws. Yale probably doesn’t have to worry about the former, but they might the latter if the Blue Devils commit to attacking the rim.

And if you’ve seen Brandon Ingram attack the rim, he’s not easy to stop. So good luck, Nick Victor.

Of course, Baylor entered 13th in offensive efficiency, too….

3) Live-ball turnovers

Yale has done a remarkable job improving in this area, and you could argue it was perhaps the biggest reason for its victory Thursday, with just 12 turnovers (17.9% rate), with 7 of them being live (including a big one in the final minute). That was not UNC Wilmington’s problem Thursday, either, and the fact that they had just 9 turnover allowed them to finish at 1.16 ppp.

The Bulldogs torched Baylor’s zone so much that Scott Drew abandoned it, which was quite shocking actually. With Mike Krzyzewski open in man? Probably not. Yale must not get careless and do the same because their game at Cameron Indoor back in November turned when the Blue Devils started to get easy points, finishing with 16 points off 13 Yale turnovers.

But these are much different teams, both missing a senior, Jack Montague (expelled) for Yale and Amile Jefferson (injury) for Duke.


1) Dominance in the paint

Jefferson had 9 points and 12 rebounds in that November game, which pretty much finished a wash in the paint. But Duke is actually a dreadful defensive rebounding team (326th, 65.7%) and Yale (7th in offensive rebounding, 38.9%) might just be foaming at the mouth by tip to exploit that. Jefferson was Duke’s best defensive rebounder and if Yale can get Plumlee out of there somehow, they might have free reign in the paint.

“A big thing for us all the time is rebounding,” Krzyzewski said. “And Yale is a terrific rebounding team on both ends, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. We’ve got to be able to hold our own.”

Duke also allows 48.8% shooting on two-pointers (171st), which is poor enough where Sears and Sherrod have to feel they have an advantage they can exploit, both on their own shots and rebounding their teammates’. But they have to stay on the floor.


2) More passive zone

While I said turnovers could be a huge issue, Duke – unlike Baylor – doesn’t go around chasing things. It is just 216th in forcing turnovers (17.5%), although the fact it is much higher in steal % (9.1%, 114th) is slightly concerning, especially with their length.

But the only two things the Duke defense does really well is not fouling people and chasing three-point shooters off the arc (16th nationally in % of three-pointers as total points allowed) and neither of those should scare Yale, who isn’t huge on shooting threes (especially without Montague) anyway. The Bulldogs were only at 0.91 ppp in the teams’ first meeting, but Mason shot 5-15 from the field. Obviously, they’ll need him to do better, but are you wagering against him?

3) Intangibles again

Just as I said in the first round, there is no tangible way to say how much the crowd will boost Yale. But they have proven multiple times this season that they won’t wilt in big spots, and should come out as loose as a team can possibly be against a very young (4 of the 7 players that Duke put on the floor Thursday were freshmen) Duke squad.

“As a coach, I don’t know that there have been four games this year that we’ve used all our timeouts,” Jones said. “And the reason for that is because I have great confidence in the men on the floor and the leadership that we have. They’re great outstanding young men and young leaders. They know exactly what we need to do, and most often they get to that point. So having that kind of leadership on the floor, in a guy like Makai Mason, who’s really built himself into that role where the upperclassmen trust him and he trusts the upperclassmen, that’s been a huge change for us over the course of this year — his growth within that group — and it’s been wonderful for us, and one of the reasons we’re successful.”

Picture Yale leading in the final minutes as most of America and the entire crowd in Providence stands behind them. Going to be tough for the Blue Devils to come back at that point, no?



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