The Bruins were able to collectively answer several questions regarding their team against the Spartans. Yale will present them with a new set of questions, specifically one which needs specific attention: Will the Bruins play with the same heart and desire they showed against Michigan State or will the Bruins suffer a bit of an emotional letdown after the big win?
While the Ivy League isn't highly rated as a basketball conference outside of Penn and Princeton, Yale is actually a good team. They would finish in the middle of the pack in several of the BCS conferences. They come into Friday's game with a record of 1-2, but don't let that fool you. After beating Sacred Heart to open the season the Bulldogs suffered a close loss to UMass and then lost on Tuesday night in a relatively close game at Stanford. Both UMass and Stanford are NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
Yale is coached by James Jones, in his 8th season in New Haven, Connecticut. He has done a remarkable job for a program that languished near the bottom of the Ivy League on a regular basis for the last quarter of the 20th Century. His 2001-2003 team was his best in New Haven with the Elis going 21-11 and winning the Ivy along with Penn and Princeton. That team made it to the NIT where they beat a good Rutgers squad in the first round. Jones has made the Elis a tough opponent for BCS teams to play and now he has a senior-dominated team to make a run at the Big Dance.
Yale, like many Ivy schools, employs a pretty intricate offense that is predicated by a great many set plays. The one common denominator in their set pieces is that Yale runs almost all of their stuff out of motion sets, so the Bruins should be used to seeing how Yale initiates its offense. Jones preaches man-to-man defense but is smart enough to know when a zone is necessary, especially since Yale is going up against superior athletes in many of its non-conference games. Using a zone defense is how Yale is going to keep the game with the Bruins close.
The Bulldogs start two seniors in the backcourt, Eric Flato, (6'1", 185 lbs.) at the point, and Nick Holmes (6'6", 205 lbs.) at the off guard spot. Flato is the captain and leader of the team. He leads the team in scoring at 15. 3 PPG, but he only shoots 37% from the floor. His three-point shooting percentage is actually better, at 38%, than his overall percentage. He has the ball in his hands in virtually every Bulldog possession but he hasn't been too judicious with the ball having committed 12 turnovers this season compared to only 8 assists. Holmes actually leads the team with 9 assists but he only scores 6.7 PPG and his shooting has been woeful, averaging 26% from the floor while shooting it slightly better (31%) from behind the arc. Flato is an 86% free throw shooter while Holmes is only 1-4 from the line. Holmes does have 20 boards on the season. Despite their injuries, the Bruins have a distinct advantage in the backcourt with Russell Westbrook and Josh Shipp. Westbrook especially brings an athleticism that the Elis haven't yet seen. Although Flato, et al, held Stanford's three backcourt players to 8 total points on Tuesday, that can be attributed to the fact that Stanford was pounding the ball inside on almost every half-court possession. Flato is definitely the more dangerous of the two guards. Think of him as a poor man's Drew Neitzel as he plays the same way as the Michigan State floor leader and many of Yale's set plays are designed to get Flato an open shot.
Sophomore Alex Zampier (6'3", 185 lbs.) is the only guard that gets serious minutes off the bench. Zampier is averaging 8 PPG and is more of a penetrating player, having gotten to the charity stripe 13 times this season, hitting 10. He's only taken 5 threes and is shooting a respectable 46% from the floor.
Up front, Jones starts seniors Caleb Holmes (6'6" 205 lbs.), who is Nick's twin brother, and post Matt Kyle (6'11" 240 lbs.), as well as junior Ross Morin (6'7" 225 lbs.) at the ‘4'. Holmes is more productive than his brother Nick, averaging 14.7 PPG, but he was almost completely shut down by Stanford, scoring only 6. The Holmes brothers are interchangeable on the floor and Caleb's shooting is a marked improvement over Nick's; Caleb is shooting 70% from the floor and 73% from behind the arc (8-11). Trouble is, he doesn't take that many shots, preferring that the game come to him. He does have 10 rebounds on the season. He is also 8 of 9 from the free throw line.
Kyle is really the only post presence that Yale has on the roster. He, too, is averaging 14.7 PPG, but he was held to just 2 at Stanford. He is the second-leading rebounder on the team with 17 on the year. He is another plodding big man, much like a few of the Michigan State players, but not quite as skilled. He will play hard and set good screens but he was really shut down by Robin Lopez, and now he gets to face Kevin Love and Lorenzo Mata-Real.
Morin is a real bruiser, looking more like a tight end than a basketball player. He averages 6.3 PPG on 45% shooting, but his role is that of Alfred Aboya: set screens, play good defense and rebound. He did have 13 points against Stanford, the only Yale frontcourt player to have any effectiveness against the Cardinal.
Off the bench, Jones will bring junior Travis Pinick (6'7" 210 lbs.), but he is a perimeter player and not a real low-post threat. Pinick does average 7.7 PPG on 44% shooting and is an offensive spark off the bench. He is also the 3rd-leading rebounder on the team with 16 on the season.
Jones may also choose to bring sophomore post Paul Nelson (6'10" 230 lbs.) off the bench to spell Kyle without giving up size, but he didn't even shoot in his 11 minutes on the floor against Stanford.
Although Yale will play smart (they've only turned the ball over 47 times in 3 games, an average of 15+ per game), they are outclassed athletically. Really, the only challenge for Coach Ben Howland is to make sure that the Bruins are "up" for this game. It's only natural, especially with some young players, to come out flat the day after Thanksgiving and three days after an enormous win. Counting on the fact that Howland will have the players somewhat focused and the fact that Aboya, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Westbrook -- and even Josh Shipp -- are superior athletes to the Elis, this will be a win. But count on the fact that the Bruins will suffer a bit of a letdown. It will also be interesting to see how the Bruins handle the inevitable zone that Yale will throw at them. I haven't been quite as impressed as others with UCLA's zone offense up to this point so this will be a point of emphasis. Still, this shouldn't be quite as tense as Tuesday night.