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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Yale 69 Princeton 65 at Jadwin Gymnasium (Subtitle: Yale's Head Coach, James Jones, is a Coaching Genius)

I was sitting in the stands before the game, digesting an undistinguished meatball sub from the Backcourt Bistro, when Yale coach James Jones walked by.  I got his attention and said to him, "Coach, I'm a Princeton fan, but I love the way you coach."  He was gracious, thanked me and kept going -- after all, he had a game to coach.  (Here's the recap from ESPN).

The reason I love the way that Coach Jones coaches is that he always tries to outwit his opponent and frequently does.  He might not get the "stars" that other Ivies do, but he does the best with who he gets, plays about 8 guys 25 minutes a game (I'm exaggerating a bit), and is big on strategy.  Tonight, 7 Yalies scored more than 6 points, and someone forgot to tell them that the were playing about .350 basketball for the season and should have lost to Princeton.

Instead, Jones outcoached Mitch Henderson, the Bulldogs were better prepared, and they wanted it more.  (Okay, there was some horrible officiating at times from the youngest ref on the floor, who blew several travel calls and a goaltending), but. . .

1.  Jones showed his acumen early by having the Bulldogs come out in a full-court zone trap.  The reason for this was simple -- the Tigers play only a single guard (Yale had as many as four on the floor at once).  So, they made the Tigers work to get the ball up the floor, and typically Princeton took 8-9 seconds to cross the time line.  Edge:  Jones.

2.  Princeton looked somewhat lost against the Yale zone.  Instead of crisp passing constantly and bounce passes to get the ball inside, they looked lost at times, throwing the ball away, forcing it in and dribbling against it too much.

3.  Jones also showed his acumen against the Princeton zone.  Yale was a perpetual motion machine, using their quickness to throw passes over and behind the Princeton zone.  How many points inside the paint did the smaller Yale team get?  How many rebounds and second chances?  Jones made the bigger Princeton team look like their feet were stuck in molasses and leaden.  It's hard to make a lack of height work to your advantage, but Jones did so for Yale tonight.

4.  Yale had the "gottawannahaveit" much more than Princeton tonight.  Sorry, Tigers, but they rebounded better, defended better, and Princeton's inside help defense was sporadic at best and sieve-like at worst.  They should have been an iron dome against the Yale offense, and they were not.  To Princeton's credit, Yale shot the lights out in the first half and the Tigers came out of halftime and ultimately took the lead, but Yale held in there, stuck to its game plan and executed better than Princeton.

5.  Among Princeton's problems tonight -- 1) only T.J. Bray is a bona fide ball handler and no one else really could help him against the Yale trap.  2) The Princeton bigs did a bad job on the boards and overall defensively (as to the latter, their help defense was not good all night and they looked slow).  3)   While Ian Hummer put up good numbers and helped lead the rally early in the second half, he made numerous mistakes with less than 7 minutes to go that resulted in turnovers.  Perhaps he was selfish, but the better explanation was that no one else really was stepping up outside him and soph Denton Koon at that time.  4) None of Brandon Connelly, Will Barrett, Mack Darrow or Hans Brase did much memorable on defense.  5)  Barrett shot the lights out so to speak and helped keep the Tigers in the game, and soph Denton Koon is a potential future Ivy Player of the Year.  6) The Tigers need more guard play.  Other Ivies will see the Yale film and use their entire bench to trap and pressure Bray and the Tigers.  7) The Tigers didn't seem to have any answers for Yale's strategy.  The culmination of the frustration was when Princeton had the ball with about 30 seconds to go down 2 and passed the ball around the perimeter and turned it over with three seconds left without getting a shot off.       That's a tribute to Yale's defense, but it's also testimony to Princeton's confusion tonight.

James Jones did what I thought/feared he would do tonight.  He came up with a strategy to beat Princeton.  It took everything he had, but he did it -- on offense, on defense, and with the energy his team showed tonight.

Someone forgot to tell the Yale Bulldogs they weren't supposed to win tonight.

James Jones told them that they were.


Anonymous George Clark said...

Hard to avoid the appearance of pandering here, but this is one of your more astute efforts. And, as you know, for me this was a most painful game to endure. Jones' game plan was spot on, particularly the shot-clock-eating pressure, but it was the Elis' knack for creating and making shots that carried the day, at the same time dealing a frightful blow to the Tigers' title chances. For all of Jones' genius the Tigers had the ball 2 down with 25 seconds to play. To come away without even a half-decent look is the most bitter pill. Henderson has shown the ability to make adjustments (Connolly and Clement were starters this year!) and he will recover from this one. But, I must say, Sportsprof, the game I watched is the one you have chronicled. Nice job.....

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Full credit to James Jones for leading the upset, but his strategy was hardly novel. Since the beginning of the season, the Tigers have had difficulty with full court pressure and zone defenses. For a stretch of several late non-conference games, Princeton was successful looking for the long pass upcourt to break the press. Not sure why the Tigers were not able to do the same last night, but Henderson knows what his team needs to work on in practice. The other Ivies didn't need to watch the Yale film to know that this is one effective way to attack Princeton. The question is who has the personnel to pull it off. Harvard is quick enough to try it, although a couple of reach-in fouls called against Chambers and Saunders would bring that strategy to a halt quickly.

3:12 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comment. I figured as much, although I confess this was my first time watching the Tigers. Is the guard play after Bray that much of a drop-off that the major option is having Koon help bring up the ball?

There are a few solutions. The first is going with a second guard. The second is working on a much more rapid-fire passing game that some teams deploy successfully to break the trap. The Tigers, though, played right into it by slowing down.

All that said, Princeton played poorly and only lost by two. And the youngest official was awful, missing travels on 42 and 50 and moving picks at least twice on 50, as well as the awful missed goaltending call that changed the game.

And yet. . . Princeton needed to solve for Yale's strategy better than it did. Barrett, Brase and Darrow looked one-dimensional out there. To Yale's credit, they moved great on offense, but the Princeton bigs offered little in the way of solutions. That perhaps was more disturbing than the frustration with trying to solve Yale's defense. Had the Tigers' played a "reasonable" game on defense, they would have won by ten.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henderson doesn't want a second guard on the floor because the drop-off in offensive capability to Clement or Wilson is huge. Clement is actually an asset on the defensive end but, once the ball is brought into the front court, he's a non-factor on offense.

The Tigers had two primary methods of breaking the press earlier in the season: (1) having Bray and another player in the back court look for the long pass into the front court; and (2) have Darrow bring the ball up court by himself. Yes, as odd as that sounds, Mack has very credible ball-handling skills for a big man and often the opposing team would not want to assign a bigger, slower forward or center to guard Darrow that far away from its own basket. Princeton can break full-court pressure but it apparently requires constant concentration because the Tigers just don't seem to naturally think that way.

The zone defense can be solved but it requires Hummer recognizing that he can't do it all by himself. The ball needs to leave his hands the moment that he senses pressure. Of course, he's the best-passing forward in the League so that's a natural fit for him, but sometimes he just gets it into his head that he's got to score. Against a man-to-man defense, he can usually do exactly that. Against a zone, he can't think that way.

Princeton caught a major, major break today when Harvard lost. There may not be any more freebies the rest of the way. In my opinion, the Tigers are a slightly better team than Harvard missing Curry and Casey, but Princeton has got to play smart every trip down the floor because the margin between the two teams is razor thin.

12:06 AM  
Anonymous George Clark said...

Darrow brought the ball up vs. man-to-man pressure when he was not closely defended.. I doubt he would be effective against the Yale-type of zone press. This press was not employed to create turnovers, but to shorten the clock. In that regard it was a factor in putting the Tigers off balance. But, Princeton did shoot 51%, good enough to win on most nights, and enabled the Tigers to outscore Yale from the field. Yale shot a remarkable 55%, a noteworthy stat anywhere on the road but particularly so at Jadwin! The key stat is at the free throw line, where the Bulldogs outscored the Tigers by 9 in a 4 point game. If Henderson felt he needed to "solve" the press he would have, but his reluctance to attack it in a different way did not cost him the game. Yale's shooting did and the Tigers' freeze-up in the last half minute.

9:32 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

George: The only thing that I would add that cost Princeton the game was Princeton's interior and help defense. Yale moved constantly against the Princeton zone and found weaknesses for easier shots than they should have against a team with Princeton's height advantage. All bigs save Hummer did not play good defense. And Yale did shoot great.

2:57 PM  

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