Basketball Scouting Report: Yale

Now that Vanderbilt has bagged a solid road win, the Commodores can't let down their guard. The Yale Bulldogs won on the road against Connecticut earlier this season. If Vanderbilt's energy is lacking and if the team is caught looking ahead to the start of the SEC season, the Commodores will be distinctly vulnerable against their opponent from the Ivy League.

The Vanderbilt Commodores needed to rebound well against Saint Louis, and that’s exactly what they did. A 30-16 advantage in defensive rebounding and a generally focused defensive performance enabled the Dores to thrive on the road, as did a highly efficient offensive outing. Vanderbilt forced only eight Saint Louis turnovers, but because VU’s initial defense was so good and the backboard was substantially protected, coach Kevin Stallings notched a road win of at least some significance. No, Saint Louis isn’t what it once was, but after losing to Georgia Tech – another team that isn’t going anywhere – Vanderbilt had to show that it was made of sterner stuff away from Nashville.


Now that the Commodores are returning home for their final non-conference fling of the regular season, they can’t relax. They don’t want to overextend themselves against Yale if they can help it, but they do need to follow up the Saint Louis win with a basketball demonstration that’s similarly urgent and vigilant. Vanderbilt might not shoot as well as it did against Saint Louis, but if the effort level is there in terms of set defense and defensive rebounding, the Dores should have nothing to fear against their guests from New Haven, Connecticut.

YALE AT-A-GLANCE

Coach James Jones has made the Bulldogs a very respectable team in the Ivy League. Yale has accumulated a 10-4 record, with two of its losses coming against Florida and Providence. The Bulldogs also have a solid win on the road against defending national champion Connecticut. Sure, the Huskies aren’t what they were last season, but Yale’s ability to beat Connecticut was still a huge feat, one the Bulldogs should be very proud of. This team is fearless, and if that seems like a cliché or a generalization, it’s rooted in how this team competes.

There are two supremely fascinating statistics to mention about Yale. First, the Bulldogs have allowed more than 60 points in only one of their 10 wins – 64 points against Sacred Heart in their most recent game on Dec. 30. On the flip side, the Bulldogs have allowed more than 64 points in three of their four losses… and allowed 64 in the fourth one. The number 64 has been a bellwether of sorts for this team, and that’s why one can confidently say that Yale never stops working at the defensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs are not afraid to get in opponents’ faces and force them to make high-level plays. This is the fundamental characteristic Vanderbilt must be ready to cope with on Saturday afternoon.

Some statistics to flesh out Yale’s defensive prowess (keeping in mind that the Bulldogs have mostly been playing smaller, less powerful teams through 14 games): First, the Bulldogs are first or second in the Ivy League in six different metrics: turnovers forced, opponents’ turnover rate, rebounds per game, rebounding percentage, blocks per game, and fouls per game. Of particular note are this team’s blocks per game average of 4.6 and its rebounding percentage of 57.2. Vanderbilt might have a real tough time getting second-chance points against the Bulldogs, given their proven ability to box out.

If this game is close late, Vanderbilt could be in trouble, so the Dores need to take care of business from the start. Yale is in the top 60 in the nation in free throw shooting percentage at 72.5. Yale is also first in the Ivy League in assists per game at 14.2, so if VU has to get the ball back in the final minutes of a close game, Yale probably won’t hand Vanderbilt the rock. VU will have to defend and rebound over the course of 35 seconds.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Matt Townsend –
Senior, 6-7, 240 2014-15: 8.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game

Townsend doesn’t look to score, but he is not a wasteful player. What stands out about Townsend is that even though he’s only 6-7, meaning that he doesn’t have the height to play over the top of opposing players, he shoots with the efficiency of someone who gets mostly dunks and layups. Townsend hits 53.6 percent of his shots. He’s an intelligent player… and that’s always worthy of both respect and attention from the opposition.

Forward – Justin Sears – Junior, 6-8, 205; 2014-15: 13.8 ppg, 8 rpg

Sears is Yale’s leading scorer, but he doesn’t shoot any threes. He’s good at getting at least four to five free throws per game, and his average of eight rebounds per game gives him putback chances near the rim. Vanderbilt’s defensive rebounding skills will be supremely tested by Sears. It’s good for the Dores to be challenged in the paint by a savvy forward who, at 205 pounds, wins battles not because of muscle or bulk, but because of positioning and an awareness of how to get the ball.

Guard – Jack Montague – Junior, 6-0, 170; 2014-15: 9.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg

Montague averages just under five 3-point attempts per game, and he hits 51.5 percent of them. This is primarily how he scores. Vanderbilt’s defensive assignment against Montague is rather clear.

Guard – Armani Cotton – Senior, 6-7, 215; 2014-15: 5.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg

Cotton his three-eighths of his threes, but he doesn’t take very many of them. Threes constitute most of Cotton’s per-game shot attempts, but he doesn’t have Montague’s accuracy. Cotton’s value is at the defensive end, where his height and length make him a bothersome presence. Four of Yale’s starting five go at least 6-4, and three of them are at least 6-7. You can see why this team defends well.

Guard – Javier Duren – Senior, 6-4, 185; 2014-15: 13.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.3 apg

Duren is Yale’s volume shooter – a decent 39-percent 3-point shooter, but he scores in part because he demands the rock and is willing to shoot it. He’s attempted at least 10 shots in six of his last nine games.

Bench

Jones gave three bench players double-figure minutes against Sacred Heart on Dec. 30: Forward Sam Downey and guards Makai Mason and Anthony Dallier. Downey averages 4.1 points per game. Mason averages 4 points per game, and Dallier averages 2.7 per game. Another reserve, forward Greg Kelley, also averages 4.1 points per game.

Keys to the Game

1) Offensive awareness.
This is a vague term, so it demands an explanation. “Offensive awareness” can generally be referred to as a collective knowledge of when to take a shot, when to make an extra pass, when to reset a possession to the top of the key, when to perform various actions on offense. It’s not just about protecting the ball or taking good shots. It’s about the whole package, making intelligent decisions so that VU has proper floor balance when it takes perimeter jumpers… or is at least able to commit dead-ball turnovers (that Yale can’t run off) instead of the live-ball turnovers that lead to fast-break baskets the other way. If Vanderbilt displays “offensive awareness,” Yale’s defense – its core strength – will carry a limited impact on this game.

2) Sears on the boards, Montague near the arc. Yale has a beast of a rebounder in Sears and a dead-eye 3-point shooter in Montague. Very simply, Vanderbilt cannot let these players beat the Dores in their respective areas of expertise.

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