With the exception of a few high-profile bloviators, most people around college basketball (and everyone that regularly reads this blog, for that matter) knew that Yale had a solid shot against Baylor on Thursday.
We all know that the Bulldogs delivered — and have about as favorable a matchup as they could possibly get in the round of 32, getting a Duke team they’ve already faced.
Having had the opportunity to watch both teams play in the round of 64 on Thursday in Providence, I’ve come up with a bit of a game plan for Yale to become the first Ivy team to reach the Sweet Sixteen since Cornell made its magical run in 2010.
1. Methodically attack the 1-3-1
Duke pulled away the first time these two teams met thanks to a key adjustment from Mike Krzyzewski: He switched to a 1-3-1 in the second half, with possible No. 1 overall pick Brandon Ingram in the front. The difference this time around is that Coach K won’t have forward Amile Jefferson at his disposal — he’s been lost for the season with a broken foot for a long time.
Yale executed its offense against Baylor’s 1-3-1 nearly to perfection in the first half on Thursday, working the shot clock down and getting good looks from all spots on the floor. The presence of the 6-foot-9 Ingram in front adds a different wrinkle, though. The Bulldogs won’t have to speed the pace up against the Blue Devils, but they’ll need to be cognizant of Ingram’s length when they’re swinging the ball from side to side. Sloppy passing will lead to Duke runouts and easy baskets.
2. Shoot more threes
I say “nearly to perfection” because lost in the collective joy over the Bulldogs’ win was the fact that they really had a bad day from beyond the arc, shooting only 5-for-16. Makai Mason — as great as he was at the free throw line and at creating his own shot at the elbow — only went 2-for-8. Neither of those numbers will be acceptable Saturday.
As our own Mike Tony noted before the Baylor game, Yale attempted an average of 24.8 threes per game in its six matchups against teams that primarily play in a 1-3-1. A number in the 24, 25 attempt range would be ideal against Duke.
3. Contact the bigs early
Duke, frankly, would have gone down in the round of 64 to UNC-Wilmington had the Seahawks not gotten in serious foul trouble. Their two best big men both fouled out midway through the second half, leaving them with no one that could even attempt to body up Marshall Plumlee. As a result, the Blue Devils just threw up lob after lob to Plumlee — just enough to keep UNCW at bay.
Some of the fouls called on the Seahawks were ticky-tack, but most of them were a result of the fact that UNCW’s bigs simply weren’t strong enough, giving up position to Plumlee and Matt Jones in the post and hacking away out of desperation.
Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod will both be a bit undersized against Plumlee, Jones, Ingram and Chase Jeter, but they’re strong enough that they won’t be overwhelmed if they’re able to make contact with them on the outside and prevent them from getting into post position in the first place.
4. Exploit Duke’s thin bench.
Duke’s bench consists of two players: Jeter and Derryck Thornton. UNCW nearly pulled off an incredible late comeback in part due to the fact that it forced Plumlee and Jones to foul out. Any more serious foul trouble, and Coach K would have been forced to use walk-ons.
Mason, as previously mentioned, did a great job of getting to the free throw line on Thursday. If he can replicate that, Krzyzewski will be put in a bad spot as he tries to cycle between players with multiple fouls.