Some late nights, when you’re already soundly asleep, the CHIEF is awake into the wee hours of the morning watching hours of college basketball and corresponding with beat writers across the country to bring you the best scouting reports and game predictions on the Memphis Tigers’ opponents. Consequently, the CHIEF’s FILM ROOM series is born, only at The BarnBurner.
Yale @ Memphis | ESPN 3 | 7pm CST| KenPom No. 106
Saturday night, your Memphis Tigers are playing host to James Jones and his Yale Bulldogs at the FedEx Forum. I reached out to WILLIAM MCCORMACK — Yale Men’s Basketball beat writer for Yale Daily News — for his thoughts on the match-up.
The Skinny on the Bulldogs of YALE:
Head Coach James Jones is in his 20th season and often finishes 3rd in conference with one NCAA birth. What do the fans think of Coach Jones and his trajectory for the Yale program?
Fans love Coach Jones, especially given Yale’s success in recent years. Jones became the winningest coach in school history in 2014 and went on to win Ivy League Coach of the Year honors in 2015 and 2016. During the 2015-16 season, Jones led Yale to a 23-win season and the school’s first-ever win in the NCAA tournament, and the Bulldogs own a 42-14 Ivy record with two league titles in the past four seasons. Under his leadership, Yale has finished in the top half of the Ivy League for 18 consecutive seasons.
Who’s the best Yale player we may know about?
Junior guard Miye Oni has been the team’s MVP in his first two years at Yale. Oni led the Elis in scoring (15.1 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg) and assists (3.6 apg) during his sophomore year, and he earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week recognition five times as a sophomore. Because of Yale’s trip to Shanghai for the Pac-12 China Game and extra recovery time that was built into their schedule this week, the Bulldogs will have played only one real game heading into Memphis, but Oni continues to impress. He’s attracted about a half-dozen NBA scouts to New Haven in the past month. Despite foul trouble that forced him to sit for much of Yale’s season opener against Cal, the 6-foot-6 California native managed to score 16 points in a career-low 16 minutes.
Who’s the unsung hero of the squad?
This year’s Yale team is deep—Coach Jones told me he plans to play 9 or 10 guys each game earlier this season—and players have repeatedly said they think anyone can step up on any given night. But I think sophomore guard Azar Swain will play an especially key role off the bench this season. After last year’s captain and senior guard Makai Mason missed nearly all of the season with a foot injury, Swain stepped up and played significant time off the bench. He ended last season with the team’s best three-point percentage, and he looked great in Yale’s opener against Cal, hitting a pair of threes to ignite a 15-0 Bulldog run in the first half and finishing the game with 16 points, six rebounds, and four assists. As a senior at The Rivers School, Swain was named co-MVP of the Independent School League and the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year, and he played AAU with the Mass Rivals, a program that has produced lots of talent in the past half-decade (Noah Vonleh, Zach Auguste, Jalen Adams, and more). He has the tools to make a big impact for the Elis and not just as a sharpshooter.
Does Yale run, excuse the pun, the slower Princeton offense like much of the Ivy League?
For the past six or seven years, Coach Jones and his staff have run a motion, screen-based offense with different types of action. As Ivy League basketball has gained more exposure with some success in the NCAA tournament and a big contract with ESPN, I think programs are finding it easier to fight the misconception that Ivy teams are all about a slow offense full of backdoor cuts. Yale has some serious athletes, and they’ll also look to get out in transition and convert on good, open looks there.
What does Yale need to do to come steal a win in Memphis?
The Cal opener made it clear that Yale needs to stay out of foul trouble — though no one fouled out, the Elis suffered 29 personal fouls in 40 minutes of play, and key players like Oni were restrained to the bench for much of the game. Yale needs to maintain its composure against a Memphis team that likes to play fast-paced and with lots of pressure. Like Memphis, the Bulldogs are a veteran group. They return last year’s full starting lineup — and 6-foot-9 junior forward Jordan Bruner, who missed last season with a torn meniscus — and over 95% of their offensive production. If Yale can draw on this experience to play at their pace, they can compete with nearly anyone.
Conversely, how would Memphis best control the game and get the W?
Yale also turned over the ball 19 times against Cal, including 14 in the first half. The Bulldogs scored only eight points in the first ten minutes of the game, and if it wasn’t for solid defense, they would’ve found themselves in a big hole. If Memphis frustrates the Elis’ sense of rhythm early and manages to cause and capitalize on unforced turnovers, the Tigers can control this game from its outset.
As has been routinely written, the LSU game was a tough loss, but there were encouraging signs (as well as discouraging deficiencies).
Thoughts on MEMPHIS @ LSU after sleeping on it:
-Team plays HARD for Penny, no lack of effort
-3s and D (strengths) kept us in the game
-40-min press works & kept LSU off balance
-Roster deficiencies (front court rebounding) evident
-Run more plays for Tyler when he's hooping
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) November 14, 2018
About 5 minutes into the second half, Tyler hit another three to put us up 52-50. After that, he took only one more with the game tied at 54. Gotta run more plays for him in that second half. Was the only player that was consistently scoring. #GTG
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) November 14, 2018
Admittedly, the LSU game was one we were expected to lose, but it’s about how Memphis and Penny respond and bounce-back that is more important. This Yale team is no slouch, having already beaten the bag out of a Pac-12 team in U. Cal overseas in China (Google it) and being ranked 4 KenPom spots ahead of your Memphis Tigers. In sum, underestimating the Bulldogs and their long-tenured and experienced head coach would be a fool’s error.
Yale cruises to an impressive 76-59 victory over Cal at the Pac-12 China Game, starting off their season with a win over a power-conference team and a trip to remember! #Pac12ChinaGame #BulldogsinShanghai pic.twitter.com/37eA0dRtyu
— Yale Alumni Magazine (@yalealumnimag) November 10, 2018
Tigers fans should pay particular attention to junior guard and team leader Miye Oni. Standing at 6-6, he’s the exact sort of match-up challenge that presents a concern when Memphis starts two shorter guards at 5-11 and 5-9. Add in the other two heads to Yale’s three-headed guard monster: 6-0 Azar Swain (16 PPG) and 6-3 Alex Copeland (11PPG), and this spells mis-match issues all over the court. As per usual, Memphis hopes that its speed will compensate for its size disadvantage. I would draw comparisons to David and Goliath, but I’m not sure we have the underdog slingshot in this particular tussle.
Updated Team Stats:
Tyler “First 48” Harris — I’ll just leave this here:
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) November 14, 2018
As I indicated while watching the LSU game Tuesday, Tyler is giving me flashbacks to Ole Miss guard and three-jacking extraordinaire Marshall Henderson. Not in the way of Lil Wyte prescription pill abuse, of course, but more in the way that Tyler has the ultimate green light. Like Henderson, Tyler seems to have no conscious — the 5-9 embodiment of “shooter’s shoot.” He would follow a 32-foot airball with a 35-foot off-balance swish, often in back-to-back offensive sequences.
There’s two schools of thought on this level of player empowerment. Most traditional basketball enthusiasts would frown on this sort of “AAU ball,” instead preferring that the team pass the ball around and look for a “better” shot. Others, however, may subscribe to the “shoot that hoe” mantra. To me, the best college basketball coaches allow their players to play their individual games for better or worse. So far, Penny seems to be allowing players to take their shots, build their confidence, and generate offense, all while learning on the fly, rather than micromanaging or overcoaching. This method often results in players playing as hard as they did against LSU — with implicit knowledge that they won’t be automatically chastised for taking a “bad” shot. Regardless, I would proposition that any Tyler off the dribble deep ball, particularly when he’s cooking, is a “good” shot just because of who he is — a poor man’s Steph Curry. There are quite a few dead bodies in the Cordova High School gym that would agree.
— Tyler Harris®️ (@iamyoungty1) November 14, 2018
Keys to the Game and Random Observations/Trends:
- KYVON CONSISTENCY. Davenport had 30-10 in his first game. In the second? 10-4 with five turnovers. Kyvon must string together consistent performances if this team is to have sustained success. We need him to rebound and impose his will down low, all while playing much bigger than his actual stature. Someone needs to take him to see CREED II before the Tennessee game.
- CREATE CHAOS EARLY. Don’t allow Yale to get any confidence or rhythm from the get go and never take your foot off the gas. Much of our offense is generated from defensive turnovers. Let’s hit ’em in the mouth from the get-go.
- GAMBLE, BUT ONLY THE AMOUNT YOU CAN AFFORD. Multiple possessions in the LSU game, both Tyler and ALo gambled for a steal on the perimeter, which led to Waters blowing by them, the Memphis big man appropriately helping up to stop Waters’ drive into the paint, and a resulting dump off pass for an LSU dunk or layup. I understand our defensive scheme relies on this sort of gambling, but when they’re getting routinely beat by their man and its leading to automatic points, they would prioritize staying in front. The young fellas need to understand that a gamble outside leads to scrambling in the paint — often leaving their big men high and dry defensively.
- ALO NEEDS TO STOP SHOOTING DAMN JUMPERS. You know what I think of when I ruminate on Alex Lomax’s basketball skills? Bulldog defense, floor general, passing, getting to the rim, and team leadership. IT AIN’T SHOOTING JUMPSHOTS, I DON’T CARE HOW OPEN THEY ARE.
Love Alex Lomax, but there's a reason he gets those open jumpers.
— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) November 14, 2018
- TRANSITION SCORING NO MATTER WHAT. Memphis knows all about this and does it well. One trend I’d like to see continue is transition buckets on MADE baskets. The LSU commentators were impressed that Memphis could score in transition even when having to inbound after an LSU bucket -—a micro representation of the macro speed and athleticism this team possesses.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF BUNNIES. Memphis shot a pretty poor team 40% from the field against LSU, which included several missed layups, short floaters, and other shots with 3-feet of the rim. If our guards manage to get the ball down there, the post-player has to capitalize and score the bucket.
- GUARD POST-UP. A play I found intriguing that has seemed to become Memphis’ signature move is — assuming the opponent shows man-to-man defense — to bring four players up to the high-post, have one of the three guards on the floor dive to the rim, and feed that guard the ball for a one-on-one post-up. I like the 6-5 and bullishly-built Antwann Jones for this play. The posting guard’s defender is usually not used to defending these sort of actions, and Memphis can usually take advantage of this inexperience.