M. BASKETBALL | Strong defense buoys Bulldogs

James Jones is in his twelfth year as head coach of the Bulldogs. His record in Ivy League games is 69–57.
James Jones is in his twelfth year as head coach of the Bulldogs. His record in Ivy League games is 69–57. Photo by Charlie Croom.

The men’s basketball team has had an up and down season, but strong defensive performances have been a constant. The Bulldogs (12–12, 5–5 Ivy) are coming off of a weekend in which they lost 58–51 to Princeton (20–5, 8–1) but held the Tigers to a season-low 31.6 percent field goal shooting. On the season, Yale is second in the Ivy League in opponent’s field goal percentage and third in opponent’s points per game. On top of the Elis’ stellar defensive stats, center Greg Mangano ’12 claimed the Yale single-season blocks record last week and now has 71 with four games to play, surpassing Chris Dudley’s ’87 mark of 67.

The News spoke with head coach James Jones to discuss the team’s defensive schemes and personnel that have helped the team become one of the best defenses in the Ancient Eight.

The men’s basketball team is currently ranked second in the Ivy League in opponents’ field goal percentage.
The men’s basketball team is currently ranked second in the Ivy League in opponents’ field goal percentage.

Q What kind of preparation goes into getting your defense ready for a game?

A Well, we fundamentally break it down from one-on-one to two-on-two to four-on-four to five-on-five.

Q You play a man-to-man defense the majority of the time. Why do you prefer that scheme?

A Because I think that when you play man-to-man, you can hold everybody accountable to what their job is. A zone defense is a little bit less directive and it leaves a little bit up to the guys to try to figure out. For me, being able to hold the guys accountable and let them know what their jobs are makes it a lot easier for everyone.

Q Under what circumstances do you switch away from that and switch to a zone?

A Well, sometimes you try to take a team out of a rhythm. You’re being scored upon and can’t get a stop. You want to take a team out of rhythm. You do it to slow a team down. You can do it to try to speed a team up. Just to try to break a team’s rhythm is really why you would try to do that. Or if you have a lead and the other team’s not really good from the three point arc and you want to protect the basket. But everybody in our league has three point shooters, so that’s usually not the case.

Q Porter Braswell ’11 and Austin Morgan ’13 start your defense up front. What is their responsibility and what have you thought of their performance so far this season?

A Porter’s responsibility is to control the middle of the floor and the other team’s point guard, containing penetration and stopping the ball. The wings, which would be Reggie Willhite ’12 and Austin Morgan, are going to deny their players the ball and make it hard for them to have entry passes to their offense. That’s the basis of our guards who can do a lot to control another team’s offense.

Q You mentioned Reggie and it seems like every game he’s on the other team’s best player and does a great job at that. What does he bring to your defense?

A He’s just the strongest, most athletic player that we have. He has some natural attributes and some instincts that really enable him to be a really good defender.

Q Inside you have Mangano, Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14 and Rhett Anderson ’12. What exactly are their responsibilities? And Greg’s been so dominant this season. What does he bring to the table?

A Rhett and Jeremiah’s responsibility is to try to take charges on any kind of penetration from the guard spot. And Greg’s responsibility, because he’s so adept at it, is to try to block shots and try to deter people from scoring at the basket, and he does an unbelievable job at that.

Q Do you feel that defense is more important than offense?

A Well, you can’t have one without the other. One leads to the other. I guess you could ask a coach “would you rather be on defense up two or on offense down two?” … I’m not sure what most people would do, but I would rather be on defense up two points, and try to get a stop to preserve the win as opposed to having to score.

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