On Saturday night, the Macs will return to the Max Stern Athletic Center for only their fourth home game all year. They will face the United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners, a team which has proven to be a tough and formidable opponent in recent years. Last time these teams played, YU squeaked out a 75-72 win in King’s Point in a game which the Macs never led by more than four. Yeshiva also faced USMMA at home last season, and were only up by 6 at halftime, but pulled away in the second period en route to a comfortable victory.
The Macs are in the midst of the second-longest winning streak in program history, and by far the best start to a season since YU joined the NCAA in 1956. However, this doesn’t come without some downside. “We have a target on our back,” said Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz. “The conference will play us hard.”
USMMA has both big men and guards who are pretty talented. When the Mariners need to manufacture offense, they typically turn to James Walsh. Walsh has the potential to get hot at any moment, but is inconsistent; half of his shots come from behind the arc. While only 5’10”, Connor Green has the innate ability to find space and shoot off the dribble. He has taken barely more than half as many shot attempts as Walsh has this year, but is shooting over 45% from the field, and an astounding 51.5% from three. 6’6” forward Blaine McDonough is an absolute force inside, and he is shooting 61% on two-point attempts this season. McDonough also likes to try his luck from three, and while he has struggled so far this year from outside, he did make 37.5% of such attempts last season. Other players who could have a major impact on this game include Seth Barnes, who likes to drive to the basket, and Harlow Babb, a 6’7” freshman who joined the Mariners this month. Babb drew interest from some Division I schools, and has been impressive in the three games he has played in so far.
The most interesting aspect to this team is the variety of defensive looks they play throughout the game. Sometimes, USMMA will play a 2-3 matchup zone; other times, they will use a 3-2 trapping zone. They also like to settle into a man-to-man defense. However, the Macs play a motion offense and move well off the ball, so don’t expect this variation in looks to influence the game much. That said, USMMA actually defends—unlike some other teams YU has played this year—and it may be tough for even the Macs, one of the best offenses in DIII, to crack 75 points. Additionally, the Mariners play at the third slowest tempo (adjusted for opponent) in all of DIII. Essentially, expect this matchup to go in the exact opposite direction as the NJCU game in December.
A Once in a Leifer-time Opportunity
Coming into this game, forward Gabriel Leifer has accrued 984 points in his collegiate career, and is well within reach tonight of becoming the 30th player in YU men’s basketball history to reach the 1,000 mark. “He’s as good as we thought he would be,” said Coach Steinmetz, whose recruiting efforts paid off big time. “1,000 points is the least impressive stat—he’s naturally gifted with great court awareness, and is a tremendous player as a whole.”
I asked the star himself about how it feels to be on the heels of such an important milestone. His response? “I had no idea that I was 16 away from 1,000.” This may surprise you, but Coach Steinmetz wasn’t shocked. “Sim[cha Halpert] didn’t know that he was at 1,500 either. Their goal is to help the team in whatever way possible—to them, these stats are meaningless.”
Keys to the Game
1) Utilize Turell’s length
Officially standing at 6’7” (he’s really in the 6’5”-6’6” range), Ryan Turell is taller than practically every guard in the Skyline Conference, and most forwards, too
This means that Turell can act as a guard on offense, but defend well against a big man; Coach Steinmetz described him as a “swiss army knife”
Turell is also a great weapon to place against someone who lives on the perimeter
Expect Ryan to guard Walsh, with the goal of exposing the junior’s inconsistent side and avoiding his potential to get hot
In addition, don’t be surprised if the Macs go with a four-guard lineup, with the purpose of drawing the USMMA defense out and creating space for both shooters and Gabe Leifer
2) Don’t let Green get comfortable
Connor Green is on the small side, but his skillset may play into a YU weakness
The Macs typically will give opponents one dribble, and allow them to continue dribbling into YU’s help defense
Due to Green’s ability to shoot off the dribble, the Macs may need to take this away, even if it weakens up other parts of their defense; he isn’t much of a catch and shoot threat
He is a righty who loves to shoot while going to his left, so the key is for the Macs—and specifically, Simcha Halpert, who is expected to guard Green—to keep him on the right side
3) Control the tempo
USMMA is excellent at dictating the tempo, and slowing up the game
It would behoove the Macs to speed things up, as a game with more possessions typically favors the better offensive team (as the ‘data’ regresses to the mean over time)
In addition, working quickly disrupts a zone defense, and could help to confuse the Mariners
Expect the Macs to, once in a while, run a quick hitter with multiple cuts to take advantage
How to Watch/Follow
This Skyline Conference matchup will commence at 8:30 PM, and our broadcast will start a few minutes before tip-off. Click here to watch live; check back 15 minutes before gametime to access our updating, in-game scoreboard. After the game, make sure to check out MacsLive.com for our recap and game highlights. Let’s Go Macs!