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Game Preview by @Randy Dunson (Duke vs. Yale – November 25, 2015)

By November 24, 2015No Comments

Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (4-1, 0-0] vs. Yale Bulldogs (3-1, 0-0]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 • 7:00 PM • ESPNU • Durham, NC • Cameron Indoor Stadium

By Randy Dunson

1. Team Overviews

DUKEFresh off of winning its eighth pre-conference tournament in the last nine years, No. 6/3 Duke will commence a five-game home stand on Wednesday when it hosts Yale. A win over the Bulldogs on Wednesday would be Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 950th victory with the Blue Devils.

Duke has the second-best winning percentage (.836) and second-most wins (189) in the NCAA since the start of the 2009-10 season. Duke has won 281 of its last 300 games at Cameron Indoor Stadium and is 97-4 (.960) at home this decade. The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 118 consecutive non-conference home games, a streak that started in November 2000. Ranked sixth by the Associated Press, the Blue Devils have been ranked in the AP poll an NCAA-best 158 consecutive weeks, the seventh-longest streak in NCAA history.

Led by Grayson Allen’s ACC-leading average of 24.4 points per game, four Duke players are averaging double figures and the Blue Devils lead the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (118.0). Amile Jefferson ranks sixth nationally in offensive rebounds per game (5.8) to lead a Duke squad that boasts a 40.2 offensive rebound percentage. In two games with freshman point guard Derryck Thornton in the starting lineup, Duke has averaged 82.5 points and 35.0 free throw attempts per game. Thornton is averaging 16.5 points on 58.8 percent shooting from the floor as a starter.

Probable Starters (The starting lineup has changed in each of the last three games so this is my best guess)

Guard – Sophomore Grayson Allen

Guard – Freshman Derryk Thornton

Forward – Freshman Brandon Ingram

Forward – Senior Amile Jefferson

Center – Grad Student Marshall Plumlee

yaleMakai Mason paced the Bulldogs with a career-high 24 points in their recent loss to SMU. Mason, a sophomore, has inherited the starting point guard job from Javier Duren, a first team All-Ivy selection last year who is currently playing professionally in Holland for Leeuwarden, and flourished. Mason is second in the Ivy League in scoring (20 PPG) and tied for fifth in assists (4.3 per game). He has scored at least 20 points in three of Yale’s four games.

Reining Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears also is off to another strong start. He was named the league’s player of the week on Monday after averaging 19.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in three games. One area where Sears has improved this year is distributing the ball. He shares the team lead in assists (47) with Mason.

Yale won its first three games of the season for the first time since 1950-51 and received a vote in the first two Associated Press national polls.

Expectations are high this year for the Bulldogs, who were selected first in the official Ivy League preseason media poll and have been picked as the league favorite by Dick Vitale and The Sporting News among others.

The Bulldogs got an early start on the 2015-16 season by taking a 10-day trip to Australia in August. Yale visited Melbourne and Sydney and played four games, winning three. They are coming off a memorable 2014-15 campaign. The Bulldogs won 22 games, the most since 1948-49, shared the Ivy League title. Yale finished 66th in the final NCAA RPI.

Probable Starters

Guard – Senior Nick Victor

Guard – Senior Jack Montague

Guard – Sophomore Makai Mason

Forward – Senior Justin Sears

Forward – Senior Brandon Sherrod

2. Last Time Out


Grayson Allen carried No. 5 Duke to the 2K Classic title. It was quite a turnaround from a shoddy performance against Kentucky. Allen scored a career-high 32 points, and the Blue Devils beat Georgetown 86-84 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Derryck Thornton had 14 points and Matt Jones scored 11 for the Blue Devils (4-1), who trailed by five at halftime.

Allen bounced back nicely after he scored six points on 2-for-11 shooting in Tuesday night’s 74-63 loss to the second-ranked Wildcats. The sophomore came off the bench and set a career high with 30 points in Friday night’s win over VCU and then returned to the starting lineup against the Hoyas and went 9 for 12 from the field in his fourth game with at least 25 points.

Allen went 5 for 6 from 3-point range and 9 for 9 at the free-throw line. He also had five rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Isaac Copeland scored 21 points for Georgetown (1-3), but was scoreless in the second half until hitting two late 3-pointers. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and freshman Kaleb Johnson added 14 points apiece. L.J. Peak’s dunk with 17:10 left gave the Hoyas a 54-53 lead, but the Blue Devils responded with a 10-0 run. Allen got the surge started with three free throws, and Jefferson finished it off with a layup off a pass from Jones.

Georgetown made a couple more charges at Duke, but the Blue Devils held on. Allen finished off a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer that made it 77-69 with 2:46 left. The Hoyas closed to 86-84 on a 3-pointer by Copeland with 7 seconds left. After Thornton missed two free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining, Copeland’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer was short.


  • Duke outrebounded Georgetown 31-27 and went 28 for 36 at the line, compared to 19 of 24 for the Hoyas.
  • The Blue Devils also won this event in 2008 when they beat Michigan State by 15 and Kyle Singler was named MVP
  • Duke is 9-0 when Allen scores in double figures
  • Before hitting two 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the first half, including the late heave from midcourt, Johnson had not attempted a 3-pointer in his brief college career
  • The Hoyas shot 55 percent (28 for 51) from the field
  • Georgetown’s only other meeting with Duke on a neutral site was at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in the 1989 East Regional final during Alonzo Mourning’s freshman season


Yale was one or two plays away from pulling off a big upset last Sunday at SMU. The Mustangs, though, overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and then withstood a late Bulldog rally to escape with a 71-69 victory before a very nervous crowd of 6,852 at Moody Coliseum. Yale, which suffered its first loss of the season, led for more than 26 minutes in the game, which was not decided until the final buzzer sounded.

Makai Mason paced the Bulldogs with a career-high 24 points. Justin Sears added 15, and Jack Montague scored 13. Nick Victor, a Dallas native who was playing in front of numerous family and friends, had two points and five rebounds.

SMU, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, was the preseason favorite in American Athletic Conference and was the highest vote getter of the teams also receiving votes in this week’s Associated Press national poll.

Jordan Tolbert scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half and was a force in the final minutes for the Mustangs, who improved to 36-3 at Moody since the start of the 2013-14 season.

The Bulldogs (3-1) played a near flawless first half. They shot 54.2 percent from the field and had assists on 10 of their 13 field goals in building a 40-32 lead. Mason had a lot to do with it. He scored 16 of his points in the opening 20 minutes and added five assists and a steal.

SMU, which was coming off a big win at Stanford, slowly chipped away at the lead and finally tied it 51 on a pair of Tolbert free throws with 9:02 left. The Mustangs scored the next six points and all of sudden Moody was rocking.

Still, Yale refused to go away. Montague’s three-pointer pulled the Bulldogs within 62-59. SMU got the lead back to seven, but Yale had one more run left. A Sears dunk brought the Bulldogs within two with nine seconds left. After Keith Frazier hit two free throws, Sears banked home a three-pointer to get Yale within one.

Mason was then curiously called for an intentional foul with one second left. Tolbert missed both free throws, but SMU maintained possession. Tolbert was fouled again immediately off the inbounds play. This time he sank the first free throw. The second shot missed but the rebound was batted away and the final horn sounded.

The Bulldogs were just 14-of-24 from the foul line, including 6-of-12 in the second half. The Mustangs (3-0) also dominated on the inside, outscoring Yale 46-18 in the paint.

Mason finished 7-of-14 from the field and added seven assists, which matched his career high, in 36 minutes.


  • Yale made nine three-pointers for the third straight game. SMU, on the other hand, was just 1-of-9 from beyond the arc
  • Landon Russell, who is out with an injury, also is the from the Metroplex area. He is a native of Fort Worth and had a number of family and friends at the game
  • The Mustangs had five players score in double figures
  • Both teams finished with 33 rebounds
  • SMU head coach Larry Brown served the third of his nine-game suspension for NCAA violations. Tim Jankovich ran the team in Brown’s absence

3. Head-to-Head

Yale and Duke are playing for the fourth time. The last meeting was a 105-80 Duke win in 1973. The Blue Devils lead the series 3-0. The first meeting came in 1936 in Durham and the teams also played in 1958 at the Dixie Classic in Raleigh.

In terms of a few key offensive and defensive statistical parameters, these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Duke is more efficient in shooting the ball whereas Yale has a better 3-point FG%. A couple of keys are that Yale has a better FT% and they force their opponents into making more turnovers per game. Based on stats alone, this game is a toss-up head-to-head.

Duke2015-16 Regular Season Key Stats ComparisonYale
86.6 (+11.0)PPG (Scoring Margin) 79.3(+11.3)
75.6Opponents PPG68.0
54.4Effective FG%50.6
46.9Opponent FG%45.0
38.13PT FG%40.5
41.4Opponent 3PT FG%32.2
35.6 (+6.2)RPG (Rebound Margin)40.8 (+12.0)
39.2Opponent RPG28.8
7.0SPG (%)10.2
10.6 (+3.0)Turnovers Per Game (Margin)13.2 (+1.3)
13.8Opponent TOPG14.0

4. Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here,] [Please note that the graphical depiction is forthcoming.]

Duke has the edge in three of the four factors. When it comes to shooting the ball more efficiently, the edge is 54.4% vs. 50.6%. The edge in handling the ball is 15.3% vs. 19.4%, and finally when it comes to getting to the free throw line, Duke is at 53.0% vs. 46.4%. Yale has the edge in offensive rebounding (45.6% vs. 40.2%).

5. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both team’s overall profile at this point:


  • Highly efficient attack
  • Defensively challenged
  • Has trouble stopping the 3


  • Highly efficient attack

Now, a few key points to consider (refer to the Endgame). These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • Offensive Rebounding
    • This game features two of the top offensive rebounders in the nation. Duke’s Amile Jefferson averages nearly six offensive rebounds per game, while Yale’s Justin Sears leads the Ivy League with 17 offensive rebounds. There is the potential for a lot of second chance points.
  • Three-Point Shooting
    • If there is one area where Duke has shown some vulnerability, it’s defending the three-point arc
    • Opponents are shooting 41.4 percent on treys against the Blue Devils
    • Yale has made nine three-pointers in three straight games and will likely need to at least match that to have a chance to pull the upset
  • Free Throw Shooting
    • Yale missed some key free throws in the second half Sunday against SMU
    • The Bulldogs cannot afford to squander those opportunities against the Blue Devils
    • Duke has shot 70 more free throws than its opponents, however it is shooting at a very low rate (69%; 141st in the nation
  • Duke Has to be Smarter
    • Foul trouble, bad possessions down in the final minutes and missed free throws prevented Duke from pulling away after a strong start to the second half against Georgetown
    • Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee fouled out, leaving three of Duke’s star-studded freshman on the court for the final minute of play
      • The inexperienced showed as Georgetown was able to hang around until the final horn
  • Grayson Allen is Better When Derryck Thornton is Playing Well
    • Grayson Allen’s offensive production alone is going to be enough to give Duke a decent chance to win in most of its games this year, but for the Blue Devils to be ACC title contenders there’s got to be another step forward offensively from where the team is at right now
    • Right now, it looks like that next step will come with the continued development of freshman point guard Derryck Thornton
      • Thornton finished w/14 points against Georgetown, mostly at the line, but most importantly when he was in the game Allen was able to play off the ball and the entire offense operated about a click (or two) faster with both players in the game
  • Tight Games Like Georgetown Early in the Season Will Help Duke in Conference Play and Beyond
    • When you’re recruiting at a high level like Coach K is right now and reloading every season, these early season contests against quality opponents feel like watching a chef toy in the kitchen
    • Krzyzewski is finding out how this particular Duke team reacts to different styles, and Georgetown is good enough so that the Blue Devils’ talent was not enough to win on Sunday
    • Duke had to get out of its comfort zone and make some in-game adjustments to win
      • The fact that this young team responded well is a great sign for the Blue Devils moving forward

6. Endgame

Since their disappointing loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils have strung together back-to-back victories over quality opponents, the VCU Rams and the Georgetown Hoyas. More impressive than their victories over these two teams, however, has been the play of Grayson Allen, who scored 30 and 32 points in each of these games, respectively. Duke looks to have shaken off their early-season defeat and come out stronger than ever.

Next up for the Blue Devils is sneaky difficult matchup with the Yale Bulldogs at home. Sure, Yale does not seem like the kind of team Duke should worry about, but the Bulldogs were picked to win the Ivy League in the preseason media poll. In the past, we have all seen what Ivy League winners can do to top teams in the NCAA tournament, so it will be extremely important for Duke to come out strong and avoid overlooking this talented team.

After shooting 40.7 percent in last Tuesday’s 74-63 loss to current No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago, the Blue Devils (4-1) shot 48.6 percent against VCU and the Hoyas to win the event. Despite Georgetown shooting 54.9 percent and owning a 34-24 advantage in the paint and forwards Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee fouling out, Duke went 28 of 36 from the free-throw line and received another stellar effort from Grayson Allen.

After going 2 of 11 for six points against Kentucky, the sophomore guard earned tournament MVP honors by scoring 30 on VCU and 32 against the Hoyas. Averaging 24.4 points after playing 9.2 minutes per game last season, Allen went 18 of 27 from the field and hit 9 of 14 3-point attempts in those two games.

With Allen and Plumlee beginning their first seasons as full-time starters and prized freshmen Brandon Ingram and Derryck Thornton also expected to provide major contributions, the Blue Devils have plenty to learn.

At least in the eyes of their coach. “All these guys have to be given an opportunity to grow,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re all adjusting … We’re a good team. We hope to be a really good team, but we’re not this juggernaut.” [Editorial Comment (My Opinion Only)]: I find it curious that Krzyzewski mentions “all” when Sean Obi has only averaged 3.0 MPG through five games. Many have questioned his talent. This is a fair observation. One might ask, given the other recruits in the bag for 2016 & 2017, just why did Krzyzewski offer him a scholarship. Krzyzewski does not offer scholarships to untalented players, with Justin Robinson being a possible exception. During Obi’s year at Rice, he averaged 26.4 MPG, 11.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1 APG, 1 BPG, & had a 60% FG%. So are these stats indicative of a player who has talent? I would argue in the positive. No one ever knows, except the coaching staff, as to why a player does not get PT. Like several players in the past, why should he stay at Duke? With the class of 2016 coming in and those forecasted to join the team in 2017, his chances of playing meaningful minutes dwindles day by day. One might ask why I did not address Vrankovic here. It was well known before he arrived at Duke that he would be a “work in progress”, whatever that means. There will always be speculation surrounding this young man, much of it coming from those who have little knowledge of the game. Oh well, we just keep moving forward regardless…].

Duke should be in control of this game. Allen is playing lights out, and lost in all of the Allen hype, Derryck Thornton is having quite the season. After struggling initially, Thornton has moved into the starting lineup and scored 23 points in his last two games. If Thornton continues to get better as the season progresses, which I think he will, then the Blue Devils should be able to shake off their early-season loss and compete with the first tier of the ACC. I think we get off to a slow start but dig down deep to come away with a 82-70 victory.

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