Please note: this article has been updated to reflect the injury statuses of two Yeshiva players.
On Tuesday night, the 24-1, nationally and regionally-ranked Yeshiva University Maccabees will face off against the 10-15 United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners in a Skyline Conference Quarterfinals matchup. The Macs are the top seed in the eight-team field, while Merchant Marine was the last one in. USMMA’s record is arguably not indicative of the talent which they boast, as the Mariners defeated both Purchase and archrival Maritime in must-win games to close out the regular season. This will be Merchant Marine’s first taste of postseason play since 2014; coincidentally, that year marks the last time that the Macs did not participate in the Skyline Conference Championships.
These teams played each other once this year, exactly one month ago. Yeshiva won that game by a 24-point margin, and Gabriel Leifer broke 1000 points on the historic night. USMMA shot just 31.1% from the field and 23.8% from three, well below their season averages. Leifer’s practically impeccable performance and Ryan Turell’s excellent shooting carried the Macs to victory on a night when the rest of the team made under 27% of their attempts from the floor. If YU expects to extend their winning streak to 25 tonight, they will likely need a full team effort.
USMMA has a few guards who are extremely talented and can take over a game. When the Mariners need to manufacture offense, they typically turn to James Walsh. He has the potential to get hot at any moment, but is wildly inconsistent; nearly half of his shots come from behind the arc. When the Macs took on Merchant Marine in January, Turell held Walsh to just one field goal on nine attempts. While only 5’10”, Connor Green has the innate ability to find space and shoot off the dribble. He has taken fewer than half as many shot attempts as Walsh has this season, but is shooting an astounding 47.9% from three, and hitting nearly 95% of his free throw attempts. However, YU silenced Green last time out, as the senior guard was 0-3 from the floor. The last starting guard for USMMA is Seth Barnes, who is a threat when driving to the basket and from behind the arc.
Merchant Marine also features a loaded frontcourt. 6’6” forward Blaine McDonough is an absolute force inside, and the Mariners’ second leading scorer and top rebounder is shooting 59.4% on two-point attempts this season. Harlow Babb, a 6’7” freshman who joined the Mariners last month, drew interest from some Division I schools, and has been impressive in his short tenure in Nassau County. Jack Bucher and Kevin Doty both put up 10 points on the Macs in January. Yeshiva fans may remember Doty for his punishing dunks, as the Macs’ help defense struggled to stop the tough, athletic freshman from getting to the hoop.
The most interesting aspect of this team is the variety of defensive looks they play throughout the game. Sometimes, USMMA will go with 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, and this variability can confuse opponents. Additionally, the Mariners play at the third slowest tempo (adjusted for opponent) in all of DIII. Merchant Marine prides itself on their ability to defend, and even the Macs’ prolific offense may have difficulty cracking 75 points.
On Saturday night, both Ryan Turell and Dani Katz suffered apparent ankle injuries. Katz stepped on an opponent’s foot, and fell to the ground; Turell hit the back wall awkwardly, and needed assistance to walk off. Whether or not these players are available tonight could have a major impact on the game’s result. Both Ryan and Dani have made it clear that, if they feel ready to go, they will play; Yeshiva fans can only hope that this is the case.
If Katz is unable to take the court, the Macs will be missing a veteran presence with experience in big games. Dani is one of YU’s best hedgers, and his extraordinary court vision creates scoring opportunities out of thin air. Turell is not just the Macs’ leading scorer; he is a Swiss Army Knife whose versatility is unmatched. Ryan’s biggest impact may come on the defensive end, as his length and talent creates difficult shots for opponents. Turell would presumably guard Walsh again if he were to play; if he doesn’t, I would expect Ofek Reef to get the nod.
Keys to the Game:
1) Control the glass
In the Macs’ last five games, they have conceded 62 offensive rebounds
The Mariners had 11 offensive boards when these teams faced off in January, directly resulting in 9 second chance points
Boxing out has been a primary focus in practice as of late, as it is essentially impossible to win a championship without controlling the glass
USMMA has plenty of size, and the Macs will be in trouble if they do not box out
2) Dictate the tempo
USMMA is excellent at controlling 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)
When Yeshiva struggled to get things going against SJC-LI, it was Ofek Reef’s energy off the bench which created fast break opportunities for the Macs, and kept the Golden Eagles from capturing momentum
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
3) Protect against middle penetration
Stopping middle drive has been a key to Yeshiva’s success all season
Most USMMA players have a strong preference for shooting jumpers in the paint and driving middle than going baseline or taking shots from the wing
Walsh and Green like to create pull up and midrange jumpers out of dribble penetration
If the Macs are able to stop this, then the Mariners will likely need to have an excellent shooting night in order to come away victorious
This Skyline Conference Quarterfinals matchup will commence at 8 PM, and veterans Rami Pinchot and Sammy Katz will be on the call. Click here to watch live; check back half an hour before tip off to access our updating, in-game scoreboard. After the final buzzer sounds, be sure to check out MacsLive.com for our recap and game highlights. Let’s Go Macs!