After beating the University of Miami on the road and getting the Ivy League’s signature win of the season thus far, the Yale men’s basketball team faces another ACC opponent on the road when it travels to Durham, North Carolina, to take on No. 3 Duke. This Blue Devils team, ranked number one in the nation by the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group model, is not only the most formidable opponent the Bulldogs will face all season — it is also likely the toughest team the Elis have faced in the last decade. Duke boasts the top three first years in the country, and likely the top three picks in next year’s NBA draft in RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and human highlight reel Zion Williamson. We turn to the numbers for a deep dive into how Yale might blueprint a game plan to face Duke.
Over the last several years, head coach James Jones has emphasized to his team the importance of rebounding. Saturday will be no different: Duke has been ruthless on the glass so far this season, controlling 43.7 percent of potential offensive rebounding opportunities. Yale, on the other hand, has controlled just 25 percent of available offensive boards. Persistence on the defensive glass in Durham could help the Elis equalize offensive rebounding totals and neutralize one of Duke’s strengths.
So far this season, a big weakness of Yale’s has been its opponent free throw rate — the ratio of opponent free throw attempts to opponent field goal attempts. Yale checks in at 326th in the country with a staggering opponent free throw rate of 45.9 percent. This number is inflated because the Elis surrendered 57 free throw attempts in a double-overtime loss to Memphis earlier this season. Nonetheless, the Elis cannot afford to get into foul trouble and send Duke to the line frequently, though Duke is not an outstanding free throw shooting team (64.8 percent, 285th in country).
On the offensive end, Yale has consistently shown good shot selection as a team and has excelled from beyond the arc. The Elis sport the nation’s sixth-highest effective field goal percentage (eFG%, field goal percentage that counts threes as more valuable). Yale also ranks 16th in the country in three-point percentage.
In order for David to topple Goliath on Saturday, a lot needs to go right. To give themselves the best chance to win, the Elis will need to slow down the tempo of the game, stop Duke from getting out in transition and take (and make) a lot of threes.
In order to upset Duke, Yale will need to play a nearly perfect game. The Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group model favors the Blue Devils by 23 points and gives Yale just a 2 percent chance to pull an upset.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, Bulldog fans have a lot to be excited about this year. With the Ancient Eight postseason tournament in New Haven this year, Yale is the favorite to clinch the Ivy League automatic berth to Ivy Madness, winning Ivy Madness in 50 percent of 5,000 simulations of the remainder of the season.
Authors’ note: All statistics are courtesy of barttorvik.com.
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