At one point during a break in the action at tonight’s Yale-Seton Hall matchup at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, a 7-year old lined up against a 13-year old to compete in the classic put-on-these-oversized-clothes-and-run-down-the-court-and-score contest. A 7-year old really has no business competing with a 13-year old, but there were so few people in the stands, they may not have been able to find two kids of a similar age (kidding, but barely). After a few missed lay-up attempts by the older child, there was the 7-year old, shuffling to the elbow and launching a prayer.
The shot fell far short and the older child made his lay-up to win the prize.
I could use that as a tidy little metaphor for the game that played out between Seton Hall and Yale, but it wouldn’t really be accurate. The Bulldogs had every opportunity to win this game, and it certainly wasn’t because Seton Hall was bigger and more experienced. On the contrary, there were quite a few times tonight when you would have thought the Bulldogs were the 13-year old, forcing Seton Hall into bad decisions on defense and finishing on clever passes at the rim. Yale is still a work in progress, though, and they let a big opportunity slip away during a seven-minute scoreless stretch late in the game. As an Ivy fan, it was frustrating to watch because the Bulldogs were talented enough to win this game. Here’s what Yale needs to improve upon if they want to eventually challenge Harvard and Penn, who look like the class of the league right now.
Turnovers. For whatever reason, Coach Jones has been giving his young guys more minutes than I would have expected. Austin Morgan and Mike Grace were (and should continue to be) the main guards for the Bulldogs, but sophomore Isaiah Salafia and freshman Javier Duren each saw the court for extended spells tonight and neither contributed much. Salafia had four turnovers in ten minutes, while Duren had two turnovers and got completely bailed out on another play where he pushed the ball too quickly with no support and lost control, knocking into four Seton Hall defenders and drawing a questionable foul call. The guards all looked rattled under pressure, trying to dribble out of a tough spot instead of making the right pass.
Freshman forward Brandon Sherrod had four turnovers too. These young guys need to maintain their composure and start making better decisions because Yale is going to need the depth they can provide come January.
It wasn’t just the youth turning the ball over. The ‘Dogs tallied 22 total giveaways and Reggie Willhite managed to cough the ball up six times himself. The hustling captain, though, did a little bit of everything else well tonight with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
Second chances. The Bulldogs gave up thirteen offensive boards, and it felt like more. Kreisberg was the only guy hitting the glass on every play, and it showed in his stat line (13 rebounds). The guards need to start helping out the big guys on jump shots. I know they are undersized, but Morgan and Grace have got to come up with more than one rebound in 51 combined minutes. Coach Jones needs to make those long rebounds a priority for the backcourt. It’s not like the Bulldogs were breaking out in transition much anyway, so there’s really no excuse.
Fouls. So many fouls. The refs called it annoyingly tight, but it was pretty fair. The Bulldogs picked up a lot of dumb fouls on loose balls and after turnovers, and the difference in the game was a result of the margin on free throws (Y: 8-12, SHU: 21-31). It’s fine to make a hard play on a guy going towards the rim, but far too many of the infractions against the Elis were away from the basket or a result of poor positioning on rebounds.
A full 40 from the frontcourt. It’s hard to fault Kreisberg when you look at the stats he accumulated today, but it’s a credit to him that he can do better. The acclaimed Mid-Major Chillin author was caught out of position a few times on the defensive end, and he ended up fouling out late as a result. His cohort down low, Greg Mangano, had a curious performance. The 6’10” big man is clearly capable of dominance. He showed it during a remarkable four-minute stretch at the beginning of the second half when he got to the rim for a lay-in, nailed a jumper, grabbed a rebound, narrowly missed a step back three, then made a layup on a pass from Kreisberg. This run brought Yale back to within two at the 16 minute media timeout, but Mangano would not score again. Yale’s biggest interior threat attempted six threes (and hit two). He got to the free throw line zero times and only grabbed five rebounds. At times, he looked like he was just going through the motions. Coach Jones has to figure out how to get an intense, focused full game out of Mangano. It’s great that the big guys can shoot, but the inside-out game is necessary for Willhite, Morgan, and Grace to flourish.
Now, I will allow that this sort of review may seem overly critical for a team that just lost by only eleven on the road to a Big East team, but here’s the truth. That is not a very good Seton Hall basketball team. They’ll finish close to the bottom alongside eternal cellar-dwellar DePaul. But here’s the more important truth: this Yale team could be really good. The talent is clearly there for Coach Jones, who has done a nice job maintaining a consistently competitive squad in New Haven over this past decade, but never has taken his team all the way to the top. This Bulldogs team could be the one to do it.
Yale has the balanced attack that a contender needs to be successful. They have tall trees that will alter any shot in the paint. Those same big guys can even step back and consistently knock down an open jumper. The Elis have a quick backcourt of good shooters and passers, and a slashing captain on the wing who can do it all in Willhite. The young bench is coming along slowly and Brandon Sherrod will continue to develop as a change-of-pace weapon.
Yale just needs to play smarter and harder. It remains to be seen if they want it badly enough.