The Hoos previous matchup was against St Francis, arguably one of the worst teams in the country. Looking ahead to Tuesday, Grambling State, may actually be worse. In between those two, though, the Hoos face Yale. This is a team that knocked off Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
That Yale team was led by sophomore guard Makai Mason. He averaged 16 points per game along with 4 assists and shot 35% from 3. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken foot during the preseason and is out for the season.
If you thought the Hoos lost a lot of production from last season, consider this. The next four leading scorers for Yale last year after Mason were all seniors. This means that they lost over 60 points per game, along with 28 rebounds per game and over 13 assists per game. (For comparison, the Hoos lost 41 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists.)
So, obviously Yale is struggling so far this season, right? Wrong. They are 2-0, including a win over Washington in Seattle. Washington isn’t great, but they do have one of the top players in the country in freshman Markelle Fultz, who had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the game. The Huskies are a run-and-gun team that finished second in the nation last year in adjusted tempo. Yale simply played a more controlled game than Washington, shot the ball well, rebounded it very well and came away with the upset.
In Yale’s last game, their home opener, they needed OT to knock off Lehigh. Lehigh isn’t nearly as fast-paced as Washington, but they also aren’t very good. Yale again shot the ball well, but did not rebound it quite as well and also had some foul trouble to deal with.
This year, the Bulldogs are, once again, led by seniors. A pair of them in 6’9” center Sam Downey and 6’6” guard Anthony Dallier. The heights of those two is telling, especially for an Ivy League team. Along with those two are 6’6” freshman Miye Oni and 6’7” sophomore Blake Reynolds. Both play on the wings, and both can shoot and defend.
Despite all that size, Yale doesn’t really play “big.” They’ll often have Downey surrounded by four perimeter players, with Reynolds essentially playing the four. They use a motion based offense, which results in a lot of pick-n-rolls and a lot of curls, which to be honest, isn’t all that dissimilar from Virginia’s offense. They have shooters, led by Oni (7-11 from deep) and Reynolds (6-12). Downey can step out and hit the 3 as well, but that’s not his strength. He’s 0-4 on the season, but shot 4-9 last year. He’s strong in the post, whether with his back to the basket, or facing up; He torched Washington for 22 points on 10-16 from the field.
It will be interesting to see how Tony Bennett decides to match up with Yale. Is Isaiah Wilkins quick enough to guard Reynolds on the perimeter? If Yale moves Dallier to PG, will London Perrantes be strong enough to cover him, or will Tony have to rotate Shayok or Hall? And if that happens, who does London guard?
Yale is a solid team. Easily the best team the Hoos have played this year. But the loss of Mason hurts them. He would be their go-to scorer, their best shooter and the one guy who can consistently draw fouls and get to the line. Without him, they’re forced to rely on Downey inside, who is going to have trouble against the Pack Line. And if he’s not scoring inside, the open 3s that they’ve gotten over the first two games will not be there.
The Hoos also have so much more depth than Yale. The two seniors are each averaging greater than 38 minutes per game, while the Hoos do not have anybody averaging more than 26. That depth, along with the home-court advantage should be enough for the Hoos to win this game comfortably.