The numbers: 9-10 overall, 5-1 Ivy, 168th RPI, 186th Sagarin, 169th Pomeroy
The recent results: won 43-35 over Princeton (2/2), won 77-68 over Penn (2/3)
The upcoming schedule: at Columbia (2/9), at Cornell (2/10)
Depth, balance recall 2001-02
None of the current Yale undergrads were around for the 2001-02 season, but so far this year is playing out very similarly. Both seasons the Bulldogs split with Brown, then swept the Dartmouth-Harvard road weekend and Penn-Princeton homestand. And just like five years ago, James Jones is spreading minutes around a deep rotation and getting very balanced scoring. No fewer than 10 Yale players are averaging double-digit minutes per game, and seven different Bulldogs are scoring between 5.1 and 10.3 points per game.
Offensive improvement keys resurgence
Yale’s dramatic turnaround from the 2-8 start to winning seven of its last nine is largely the product of much better offense. Offensive efficiency has jumped from 0.96 to 1.03, but what’s interesting is that no particular aspect of the Bulldogs’ offense experienced a dramatic increase. Rather, everything seems to have improved across the board. After a disappointing start to the season from the three-point arc (32.0 percent in the first 10 games), Yale has shot 35.5 percent in the last nine. Two-point shooting also went up slightly from 49.6 percent to 51.6 percent. One number that stands out is the fact the Bulldogs are attempting significantly fewer three-pointers (30.9 percent of field goal attempts) than they were in the first 10 games (35.1 percent). Also helping matters is a drop in turnover rate from 24.3 percent to 22.1, an increase in free throw rate from 3.62 to 2.93 possessions per free throw attempt, and slightly better offensive rebounding (from 31.6 percent to 33.1 percent).
Defense holding steady
The Bulldogs have done an outstanding job on the defensive boards this season, ranking number one in all of Division I in defensive rebounding at an obscene 74.1 percent. The ability to deny second-chance opportunities is one of the reasons Yale boats one of the better defenses in the league at 0.98 points allowed per possession. What’s interesting it that the Bulldogs have been able to do this despite allowing opponents to shoot 36.1 percent from three and 50.1 percent from inside the arc, while boasting a mediocre defensive turnover rate of 22.2 percent. Yale’s secret is that it has sent opponents to the line an awful lot (3.19 possessions per free throw attempt) — where they are shooting an atrocious 60.1 percent — the worst opponent free throw shooting in the nation. While “free throw defense” is an old basketball joke, it does appear the Bulldogs at least are fouling the right people.
Making his point
His shooting numbers are down slightly from last season — from 40.9 percent to 37.1 percent on threes and from 42.1 percent to 40.2 percent overall — but Eric Flato is posting a much more impressive assist-turnover differential while running the offense this year. After finishing with 84 assists and 80 turnovers last season, the junior point guard has recorded 68 assists against just 43 turnovers so far in 2006-07. His play at the point has been one of the keys to Yale’s midseason turnaround. During Yale’s current 7-2 stretch, Flato is averaging just 1.9 turnovers per game.
Hughes enjoying solid senior season
It doesn’t look like Casey Hughes ever is going to shoot the ball like he did as a freshman, when he knocked down 13 of 25 (52.0 percent) from three-point range, but the athletic New Haven native is putting together a very decent final campaign at his hometown school. After seeing his field goal shooting sink all the way to 36.0 percent last season, Hughes is connecting on a career-best 50.7 percent of his attempts from the field on the year. Up until a recent 6-for-19 slide at the line, his free throw shooting also had shown improvement. He may never live up to the sky-high expectations that surrounded his recruitment to Yale, but with Hughes playing strong defense and grabbing 6.6 rebounds (2.6 offensive) per contest, Jones has to be very happy with the production he’s getting out of his senior wing.
Kyle trying to stay on court
Starting center Matt Kyle has been very efficient offensively (59.5-percent shooting) and has made his presence felt on the offensive glass (31 offensive rebounds) this season. However, his playing time has been limited to 17.8 minutes per game in no small part due to foul trouble. The 6-10 junior has picked up four or more personal fouls in 11 of his 19 games, and he has finished with three fouls in all but two of the other contests.
Team health report
After battling injuries throughout college, Sam Kaplan’s Yale career may have ended prematurely after re-breaking his nose in practice in late January. Kaplan originally had injured the nose in the American game on December 9, missing nearly a month before returning to play with a protective mask.
Odds & ends
– Over the first 10 games, Yale opponents attempted 254 free throws to just 198 for the Bulldogs, but that trend has reversed in the past nine games, as Yale owns a 202-163 edge in attempts from the line during that span.
– Caleb Holmes has made his last 24 consecutive free throws — a streak dating back more than a month.
– Travis Pinick shot 36.7 percent from three last season and began the season by hitting 4 of his first 10 attempts (40.0 percent), but the sophomore is just 3 of 15 (20.0 percent) from beyond the arc since then.
– Seven Yale players have more assists than turnovers on the season — second only to Penn among Ivy League teams.
– Freshman Paul Nelson saw just 54 minutes in Yale’s first 15 games, but beginning with the 27 minutes he logged at Harvard, Nelson nearly has equaled that playing time in the last four contests with 45 minutes.