Before this season, followers of the Ivy expected a lot out of Yale in ’13-14. This was a team that won seven of its last ten games last season, sweeping both Princeton and Penn twice.
So far though, the Bulldogs have been a disappointment. At 6-8, Yale’s best win is on the road at Hartford, a five point victory against the country’s 263rd best team according to Pomeroy. Opportunities for BCS wins were squandered at Rutgers and at Providence; stinkers were laid against average squads such as Bryant and Albany. So what’s going on? What’s keeping this Yale team from being as good as it should be?
1. Lack of speed on defense
The Bulldogs are getting shredded by opponents shooting the three. On the season, Yale is giving up 42% shooting from distance– 65% vs. UConn, 63% vs. Vermont, 52% vs. Mercer… it goes on. From a tactical standpoint, the Dawgs simply can’t recover from drive-and-dishes, court reversals, and quick ball movement. Players are consistently late getting to the corner and the wing to contest shooters. It appears to be a combination of defensive over-helping inside and a lack of quickness and athleticism, and it’s going to be exploited in Ivy play by teams like Princeton and Columbia that love to shoot the three.
2. No replacement for Austin Morgan’s and Sam Martin’s shooting
While their opponents are teeing off, the Bulldogs are struggling to shoot the rock. Last year, seniors Austin Morgan and Sam Martin carried the offense with their pinpoint shooting. This year, Jesse Pritchard (42% 3PT) is the only rotation player shooting over 34% from deep.
3. No playmakers besides Sears and Duren
Justin Sears is Yale’s go-to scorer. The sophomore finds a way to put the ball in the basket, simple as that. Against Providence, Sears lit up Ed Cooley’s team to the tune of a career-high 31 points on 13-16 shooting. He scored in double figures in the first ten games of the season. But Sears has been mired in a slump since mid-December, failing to reach double figures in four straight games now. When Sears doesn’t bring his A-game, Javier Duren is forced to carry a heavy load. The junior point guard has done a nice job pushing the pace and guiding the offense. For a team that really struggles to create scoring chances, Duren’s aggressive play has been critical during Sears’ recent struggles. Though the losses continue to mount, solid point guard play is essential to success when you get into the conference slate, and with Duren, Yale is in good hands.
But who is going to make the big plays behind these two? Townsend and Sherrod have logged some solid big man minutes, but can’t be described as dangerous offensive weapons. Armani Cotton’s shooting and rebounding have dropped off considerably since last season. Nick Victor has looked good at times, but he’s shooting 8-24 from the line on the season. Jesse Pritchard has shot it well, but has been getting only fringe rotation minutes. Anthony Dallier, the heralded freshman, came in with high expectations, but simply isn’t ready yet.
Now, Jones always seems to stray from an established rotation (especially early in the season), which helps make Yale a tough team to scout in Ivy play. So there’s reason for mild optimism there. But if Sears can’t snap out of it and the Bulldogs’ role players fail to step up when their names are called, it could be a long season in New Haven.
If I were a betting man, I’d expect Yale to be competitive in the top half but nothing more, hovering unthreateningly around .500 yet again.