Earning a 14th seed after winning the 2019 Ivy League Tournament Championship, the Bulldogs (22–7, 10–4 Ivy) are set to take on the regular season SEC champions and third-seeded LSU Tigers (26–6, 16–2 SEC) in Jacksonville on Thursday. Last time the Bulldogs made an appearance in the tournament, they toppled a fifth-seeded Baylor squad and earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory. With head coach James Jones stating on Wednesday that the postseason will not alter the brand of basketball that Yale will play, there are some specific focuses that could be key in slaying the Bengals of Baton Rouge.
LOCK DOWN WATERS
LSU’s star guard Tremont Waters, a New Haven native, will surely look for his shot against the hometown team that recruited him so heavily in high school. A crafty 5-foot-11 scoring guard who leads the Tigers in scoring with just over 15 points per game, Waters can create scoring opportunities from nearly anywhere on the court. After allowing Harvard guard Bryce Aiken to score 38 points and single-handedly keep the contest close last weekend, guard Trey Phills ’19 will need to put forth his best defensive effort yet to force Waters to miss and make other players carry the offensive load.
LEAD THE WAY
Three starters — forward and captain Blake Reynolds ’19, guard Alex Copeland ’19 and Phills — have been to the NCAA tournament before. Reynolds saw playing time against Baylor, hitting two key threes in the four-point win over the Bears. Unsurprisingly, Yale’s veteran leadership has been key to the Bulldogs’ success all season. Down the stretch in Sunday’s championship contest, the senior core maintained composure when star guard and NBA prospect Miye Oni ’20 picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and carried the Elis to a 97–85 win. The experiences of the three veterans and their unbending leadership might just be Yale’s best advantage and what the Bulldogs need to pull off an upset in the first round. Nerves will be undoubtedly high at tip off, and LSU is a much younger team than Yale. Age and experience could allow the Elis to overcome initial anxiety and build an instant lead, one that could rattle the Tigers and dissolve any sense of confidence they had in themselves.
LET IT FLY
Although Yale boasts one of the most athletic lineups the Ivy League has ever seen, the Tigers are simply more athletic from top to bottom. The Bulldogs are one of the nation’s top defensive rebounding teams and will be put to the test against the eighth-best offensive rebounding team that boasts big men like forward Naz Reid, who is predicted to be a top-20 pick in this year’s NBA draft. Owning the paint early on will be a priority for Yale, but there is potential for the LSU bigs to overpower the Elis down low. Hitting mid-range and three-point jump shots will be essential to the Bulldogs’ success on Thursday as a low-shooting percentage would essentially doom them with little chance to force a turnover or grab an offensive board. LSU also ranks 275th in the country in three-point field goal percentage, making it unlikely that the Tigers will take — and make — many threes. With most of the regular rotation able to knock down shots from beyond the three-point arc and sharpshooting guard Azar Swain ’21 lurking on the bench, Yale can essentially outshoot the Bayou Bengals en route to its second March Madness win ever.
Cristofer Zillo | firstname.lastname@example.org