Here we are.
Yale makes its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1962 Thursday at 2:45 p.m., a virtual home game for the No. 12 Bulldogs against the No. 5 Baylor Bears. The Bears will be attempting to gain revenge from a first-round upset at the hands of upstart Georgia Southern last year. The Bears have enjoyed success in the Big Dance under 13-year coach Scott Drew, going to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012. But then-No. 3 Baylor got upset by No. 14 Georgia State in Athens, Ga. in the Bears’ first NCAA contest last season, an eerily similar virtual road matchup with an underdog foe to the threat posed by Yale in Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center this season.
The game should be low-scoring, which will favor the Elis. Both teams turn the ball over too much (Yale ranks 296th in the country in turnover percentage, Baylor ranks 228th), but Yale has shot the ball better, especially from two-point range against high-major competition.
The best thing the Bulldogs have going for them is Makai Mason, who averaged 17.5 points per game while leading Yale’s offense in losses to SMU, Duke, Illinois and USC. Mason will need to shoot well to burn Baylor’s zone defense.
Baylor has two very tough and veteran rebounders, in rugged future NFL player Rico Gathers and forward Johnathan Motley. Justin Sears and especially Brandon Sherrod can match up with the Baylor bigs, but they must stay out of foul trouble, with Sam Downey as their only real backup. Sherrod must also find a way to be more efficient from the floor, having shot just a combined 11-for-32 in losses to SMU, Duke, Illinois and USC this season. Taurean Prince is a pure scorer for Baylor. So is Mason.
The X-factor could be Yale’s Nick Victor, a ferocious rebounder and underrated scorer as a senior. Baylor has more depth than Yale and plays a tough zone defense with some Syracuse 2-3 components. Yale needs to control tempo. James Jones is a better bench coach than Scott Drew, and in a defense-dominant matchup, look for the Elis to pull the 12 v. 5 upset. They always happen!