| Baylor (22-11, 10-8) vs.  Yale (22-6, 13-1)
March 17, 2016 | 1:40 p.m. CT
Providence, R.I. | Dunkin' Donuts Center (12,400)
Radio: ESPN Central Texas
Scott Drew has been widely lauded for his accomplishments at Baylor. The men's basketball program was beneath rock bottom. Thirteen years later, Baylor is a consistent top-25 program appearing in its third straight NCAA Tournament for the first time in the school's history. In 2016, Baylor is a veteran, experience team with an NBA prospect and a solid supporting cast full of potential stars. Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers have tasted the Sweet Sixteen and the bitterness of a first round exit. Ten of Baylor's fourteen players have experience in the Tourney. Baylor is an experienced NCAA Tournament team. That's an edge this program has never had before, and it could become a big advantage in its opening matchup.
The Yale Bulldogs last made an appearance in the Tournament in 1962. That's seven years before the moon landing, in case you needed a reference point. Yale is not a school traditionally associated with athletics (unless you get on the way way back machine), so it's cool, in some respect, to see this Bulldogs team achieve program history. You have to wonder, could the Tournament lights be a little bright?
Yale is not a team lacking in experience. Coach James Jones has been at the school since 1999 with a 253-238 record. Four seniors play 69%+ of the team's minutes, and only one freshman ever sees the floor for a meager 4.2 minutes per game. Per KenPom, Yale ranks 21st in experience, making them one of the older teams in the country. In terms of playing time, Yale has plenty of experience, and they played against some quality opponents in the non-conference. They faced SMU, Duke, and USC. That would make for three Tournament teams had the NCAA not imposed a postseason ban on the Ponies just before the start of the season. Yale lost those games by an average of 11 points, but just having faced teams with superior athletes is helpful.
Even if Yale isn't exactly an inexperienced team, though, the NCAA Tournament provides a kind of pressure unlike anything these players have experienced. Not only have these Bulldogs never experienced the NCAA Tournament, but not until next season will the Ivy League even have a conference tournament. The closest Yale has come to NCAA Tourney competition was the 2014 CIT Tournament, in which the Bulldogs lost in the final to Murray State. Otherwise, this is a new experience for one of the oldest universities in the country.
Yale's leader on the floor is sophomore guard Makai Mason. Averaging 15.8 points per game, he is shooting 38% from deep and assists on 23% of his team's scores when on the floor. He is balanced by his front court teammate Justin Sears, a senior forward who is shooting nearly 67% from two-point range for 15.8 points while averaging 1.8 blocks per game. Senior 6-6 wing Brandon Sherrod joins those two in double-digit scoring with 12.5 points while also averaging over 7 rebounds. Sherrod is essentially, however, and undersized power forward. He has attempted (and missed) only one three point shot this season.
Even so, Yale is a dangerous squad. The Bulldogs are the 21st defense in the country by adjusted efficiency, in large part because of how they control the glass on both ends. Opponents rebound just 24% of their misses against Yale, well below Baylor's offensive rebounding rate of 40%. Of course, Yale also has not seen the likes of NFL hopeful Rico Gathers, who possesses the highest offensive rebounding rate in the country at 18.7%. Add to Gathers the tenacity of Taurean Prince and Ish Wainright crashing in from the wings, plus Johnathan Motley, who is second on the team in offensive rebounding rate. This game will absolutely be decided on the glass, and Baylor's athletes should have the edge.
If Yale is to complete the upset, however, it will need outside shooting. As a team, it has averaged 37% from deep, a good clip. As a component of the offense, the three provides fewer points than the talk around Yale might suggest. Less than a third of the Bulldogs' shots are from deep. That does open up space around the floor for the inside players, but don't presume that Yale is looking for the outside shot first.
After the collapse to end last season, Baylor should come in laser-focused. Taurean Prince will use every ounce of his strength to drive to the rim, and as long as Lester Medford can stay in distributor mode, Baylor's inside game should be strong to push Yale under the basket. If Al Freeman and King McClure hit their three attempts, the Bears should be in a good position to advance to the next round.
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