Another Saturday night, another surprise: James Jones’ squad brings a level of defensive intensity previously unseen, while putting together a shooting performance for the ages. Yale outplayed Harvard for 40 minutes at Lavietes and now brings a share of the Ivy League lead back to New Haven at 5-1.
Meanwhile, a fan base that was calling for Jerome’s head one week ago will be a little quieter this week, as the Quakers rode a huge performance from Fran Dougherty to a big win over Columbia.
Elsewhere, Princeton and Brown salvaged splits against two teams destined for the bottom half.
Last weekend’s Pizzitola Center reversal closed the book on yet another Yale-Brown split, the sixth in nine straight years of Bulldog-Bear back-to-back conference openers. The main man responsible for turning the previous week’s result around for the Bears: the unstoppable Sean McGonagill whose hot hand (29 points on 8-11 FG, 7-9 3PT) singlehandedly stopped a late Yale run and iced the game for Bruno. In what might have been their most complete effort of the year, the home team looked organized, prepared, and sharp– assisting on 19 of 27 field goals, including five impressive dimes from big man Rafael Maia.
The offense functioned exactly the way Brown fans had hoped it would entering this season with freshman Tavon Blackmon doing a solid job handling duties at the point (7 assists), while McGonagill was allowed to focus on pouring in shots from every corner of the floor. Dockery Walker provided an energetic spark off the bench with 10 points on 5-6 shooting, and Steve Spieth was all over the court with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
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?
After the first weekend of February 2013, it looked more likely that Yale would finish in last place in the Ivy League than 3rd place. The Bulldogs were coming off of a throttling in Hanover at the hands of lowly Dartmouth, and only had an overtime home victory over Brown to show through four league contests. At 1-3 and heading south to face the P’s, the Elis were staring 1-5 right in the face. But something special happened on that trip: Yale developed an identity as a physical, glass-crashing basketball team. Behind 32 offensive rebounds in two nights, the Bulldogs swept the Penn-Princeton road trip for the first time since 1987. That weekend propelled the young team, which was largely considered to be in a rebuilding year, back into the top half of the Ancient Eight for the 13th consecutive season. Freshman Justin Sears emerged as one of the league’s best rookies, crashing the offensive boards as well as anyone in the conference, and showing a knack for getting to the line and scoring. Sophomore Armani Cotton also made a splash, going for a career high 20 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Holy Cross, and earning a more central role as the season progressed. The Elis finished the year with three straight victories, including another sweep of Penn and Princeton, this time in New Haven–shaking up the title chase and sending old Blue into the offseason with some serious momentum for 2013-14.
While it may be tough to see in terms of results, especially after today”s eight point loss to New Hampshire, this young Yale Bulldogs team is making progress. So far, the biggest problem has been getting good shots and taking care of the ball. The Bulldogs rank near the bottom of Division I in shooting percentage and turnover rate. Today”s loss was a perfect example: 1-14 shooting from three (7%) and 18 turnovers.
The reason for the low shooting percentage has simply been a lack of dangerous offensive weapons. Opponents have keyed on Austin Morgan and have kept him mostly quiet. Other than Justin Sears, no one has demonstrated the ability to score. And Coach James Jones sure has given everyone a chance. Besides Morgan, there isn”t a player on this roster playing more than 60% of the team”s minutes. Yale has been going with the old 11 man rotation.