Two days after upsetting No. 5 Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 12 Yale men’s basketball team gets a second crack at No. 4 Duke. The Blue Devils handed the Bulldogs an 80–61 defeat in Durham, North Carolina back in November, but with both teams’ seasons on the line, this March rematch appears to be a completely different game.
Here are a few things to know about the Bulldogs’ next opponent:
Coach K recruits some of the most talented players in the country.
As impressive as Duke’s current lineup is, the reigning national champion Blue Devils’ true star is head coach Mike Krzyzewski, a gifted recruiter who has turned his program into an undisputed powerhouse during his 36 years in Durham. Duke has been to the last 21 NCAA Tournaments, the second-longest active streak in the nation, and advanced to the Final Four a dozen times, winning five national championships under Coach K.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that the Blue Devils often feature some of the best talent in the nation. In recent years, this has increasingly meant a cadre of so-called “one-and-done players,” student-athletes who play for one year before electing to enter the NBA draft. Last year, three players from Duke’s championship squad — Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones — were selected in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft.
This year, small forward Brandon Ingram, a 2015 McDonald’s All-American, will look to join the ranks of Okafor, Jabari Parker and Kyrie Irving, all three of whom were top-three picks after a single season at Duke.
While Yale has put together strong recruiting classes in its own right, few programs nationally can match Duke’s basketball pedigree. On Saturday, Ingram will take the court alongside four other McDonald’s All-Americans: Marshall Plumlee (2011), Matt Jones (2013), Grayson Allen (2014) and Luke Kennard (2015).
Gaudy offensive statistics mask a less impressive Duke defense.
Currently 121st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, the Blue Devils have struggled on that end of the court. The team, which switches between man-to-man and a 1–3–1 zone defense, ceded an average of 72.1 points to its regular-season opponents, 11th-best in the 15-team ACC.
When the Bulldogs and Blue Devils faced off in November, Duke came out of halftime in that 1–3–1 defensive zone and turned a two-point advantage into a 19-point victory. Stymied by the new defensive style, Yale finished with 61 points on 25–63 shooting from the field, including just nine made shots on 30 attempts in the second period.
“We’re not going to kid ourselves into thinking they’re not getting ready for that 1–3–1 [zone defense] but at the same time, we’re a man-oriented team,” Duke guard and captain Matt Jones said. “Whatever Coach [Krzyzewski] sees fit throughout the game, we’ll make adjustments.”
However, neither team looks as it did in November. Since then, Duke has struggled to consistently contest opponents’ shots. Its opponents shot an average of 44.5 percent from the field, which puts the team’s overall field goal percentage against at 240th out of 351 Division I men’s basketball teams. Yale, conversely, has the 45th-best overall field goal percentage against, holding the opposition to a 40.7 percent shooting clip.
One of the few defensive statistics in which Duke ranks higher than Yale is in steals per possession. With a 0.092 steals per possession average, the Blue Devils are 114th in the nation, while Yale comes in at 217th with 0.082 steals per possession.
Statistics indicate Yale will win the battle on the boards, but that does not guarantee an upset.
With a plus-11.1 average rebounding margin, second-best in the country, the Bulldogs have consistently proven formidable on the glass.
“We work on rebounding every day,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “It’s what we do. It’s part of our DNA.”
That strength did not go unnoticed by Duke, a team that has not particularly distinguished itself on the boards. Despite an impressive frontcourt featuring seven-foot Plumlee and six-foot-nine swingman Ingram, the Blue Devils are 199th in the nation, having been outrebounded by 0.2 boards per game.
However, Duke has proven it can win even if the team loses the battle on the glass. The Blue Devils were outrebounded eleven times this season, nine times in conference play, but went 5–6 in those games. When Yale traveled down to Durham and sustained a 19-point loss, the two teams were even on the boards, tallying 37 rebounds each.
The biggest separation between the two teams comes on the defensive glass: while the Bulldogs’ defensive rebounding percentage is at 75.6, Duke’s is almost 10 full percentage points lower at 65.7 percent. Given Yale’s proficient offensive rebounding — the team is rated seventh in the nation in that area — the Bulldogs will look to exploit the Blue Devils’ defensive rebounding and potentially take advantage of second-chance opportunities.