Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 8 Yale (Men)
Yale has established itself as the most consistent team in the dog-eat-dog Ivy League. It might be time for the Bulldogs to raise their expectations.
Yale at a Glance
2015 Record: 11-5
3 Big Things
1. Yale sticks to its identity.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
A major part of Yale’s recipe for success in recent years was maintaining possession, but the Bulldogs demonstrated last season they could thrive even with more middle-of-the-road faceoff results. Jonathan Reese won 51.7 percent of his draws last year as a junior in his first extensive playing time, and figures to be more settled thanks to that experience.
The Bulldogs know who they are, and that (combined with probably a little more talent than they get credit for) goes a long way toward their success. "We don't want to be arrogant and say, 'We're this team.' We kind of let it bear itself out. We want to out-ground-ball teams, we want to outhustle teams and we want to play smart in big moments," Shay said. "We have kids that get that. They realize that we have to play as a team." It's a formula that's worked well of late, and Yale has reached the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years.
2. Eric Scott is an exceptional anchor in the midfield.
Scott is coming off a 22-goal season as a sophomore, and that's impressive enough for any sophomore. But he did it shrewdly, shooting 40 percent rather than spraying attempts all over the place. "He's a very smart and skilled player," Shay said. "He's very quick and he's a very good shooter and he's very opportunistic. There are games he might not get that many shots, but he'll finish the game with a couple assists. He's definitely one of our smarter players. He works hard and listens and is tough." Scott will again play a crucial role on the Yale offense this spring.
3. Last year's postseason loss might help in the long run.
Yale was up three at Maryland early in the fourth quarter in the NCAA tournament's first round. Then the Terps surged back for an 8-7 victory that Yale nearly tied in the closing seconds on a shot that hit the post — and might have been a goal, depending on whom you ask. "Certainly losing to Maryland the way it was handled was difficult to take," Shay said. "Them going to the final was one of those things that as it went on, it became harder and maybe more reassuring that we should be setting our goals a little bit higher maybe. It's something I think drove them all summer and fall, but we'll know maybe by April."
Phil Huffard (So.)
* returning starters
Quite simply, he's one of the top defensemen in the country and a vital figure in the Yale locker room. "He's our best defenseman, he's been there for four years as a starter and he's a guy we lean on quite a bit," coach Andy Shay said. "He covers the other team's best guy and he's our captain and leader."
Shay was encouraged by his entire freshman class in the fall and indicated plenty could have a shot to contribute immediately. Tigh, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Brendan Mackie are among those who could find their way into playing time in the midfield.
Yale played the second half of last season without Bonacci, but he had two goals and 10 assists in the Bulldogs' first seven games before suffering a knee injury. "He's very quick and explosive and he's trying to make it back right now," Shay said of the senior midfielder. "He's done a good job of rehabbing. I would expect he's going to be the same player."
Biggest Question Mark
Who takes over for Eric Natale in goal?
Who takes over for the graduated Eric Natale? "It's still wide open," Shay said. Dylan Meyer played fewer than 16 minutes and Huffard appeared in only one game (for fewer than 14 minutes) as freshmen last year. Another contender for playing time could be freshman Hoyt Crance, who missed part of the fall with mononucleosis.
Yale attackman Ben Reeves is a "star in the making," according to one rival coach. (Kevin P. Tucker)
What rival coaches say about the Bulldogs
"Can they find someone to backstop what looks like will be a top-10 defense? Quinn is one of the best defensemen in the country. Reeves is a star in the making and has All-American potential."
"Another heartbreaking finish to a NCAA tournament game but Andy Shay and company have done an incredible job keeping this program rolling along no matter the personnel. Most people don't associate toughness a lot of times with the Ivy League for some reason but this team is as tough as they come. They play physical and confident and that has helped to carry them to the top of the Ivy League."
"May be the most complete team in the Ivy League. Boringly solid. Could be a team that plays in to final four."
"Andy Shay has built the most consistent program in the Ivy League this decade. His Bulldogs have not missed the Ivy tournament, as they are 6-for-6. Only Cornell has matched this. His team defenses are always some of the best in the nation despite not having incredible stoppers. Conrad Oberbeck's graduation will be felt, but not for too long as Ben Reeves, only a sophomore, has already proven he is ready to step into the role of alpha male on the Yale attack. Yale is the team to beat in the Ivy League again this year, and with Cornell and Princeton not quite as strong as usual, the Eli should be able to avoid another slow Ivy start (have started 0-2 in league three of the last four years, though interestingly Yale won the Ivy League tournament in all three of those years.)"
Yale has won at least nine games in six consecutive seasons. The seven other Division I teams who have matched that streak are Cornell, Denver, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
20 @ UMass Lowell
April 16 at Brown
On paper, these might be the top two teams in the Ivy League, and a game that late in the regular season could determine who winds up hosting the conference tournament. Granted, the Ivy has a way of producing surprises along the way, but this has the makings of a fun strength (Brown's offense) vs. strength (Yale's defense) matchup.
The leading scorer. Gone is Conrad Oberbeck, who graduated after leading the Bulldogs in scoring the last two years, rattling off three 35-goal seasons in a row and capping his career with 133 goals (second in school history behind Jon Reese). The offensive identity might not change, but the centerpiece certainly will.
Yale rarely is flashy, but it does nearly everything well and rarely does itself in with miscues. It will remain in the mix in the Ivy League, and it has the potential to do some postseason damage if it finds stability in goal and can replace Oberbeck's considerable scoring.
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