William McCormack

The Yale men’s basketball team, for the second time in four years, has earned an NCAA tournament berth. After downing rival Harvard in the final of the Ivy League tournament on Sunday, the Elis earned a 14 seed in the East Regional of March Madness. Now, they head to Jacksonville to go toe-to-toe with the third-seeded LSU Tigers, who rank 12th in the country according to the AP Top-25 poll.

These are a few things to know about the Bulldogs’ first-round opponent:

The Tigers are without head coach Will Wade.

Wade, a young stud in the world of college coaches, elevated the Bayou Bengals to an SEC title in just his second season at the helm. However, FBI wiretaps between Wade and Christian Dawkins — a middle-man convicted last year of passing along money to potential college recruits — have revealed the possibility of illegal monetary offers presented to potential LSU players. With the NCAA rules prohibiting payments or other benefits to players or families, the program could face sanctions if the allegations are proven to be true.

In the midst of the investigation, the university has indefinitely suspended Wade, leaving a talented Tigers squad without its leader in the biggest moment of the year . Despite the suspension, Wade has kept in touch with interim head coach Tony Bedford, helping to plan for Thursday’s slate against the Elis using his experience coaching in the Ivy League. Wade was an assistant head coach under Tommy Amaker at Harvard from 2007 to 2009.

While there is no sure-fire way to predict how his absence will affect LSU’s performance at the tournament, not having his leadership on the sideline to rally and refocus his team could be detrimental in the first round or beyond for a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in four seasons.

The Tigers have some stars.

With guard Miye Oni ’20 drawing immense interest from NBA scouts, LSU also boasts some potential professional talent on its roster. 5-foot-11 guard Tremont Waters, a New Haven native who was recruited heavily by head coach James Jones and the rest of Yale’s staff, declared for the NBA draft last year before returning to Baton Rouge for his sophomore season. What he learned from talking to coaches and a handful of teams such as the Celtics and Rockets has been priceless for the former top-50 recruit. Looking to expand his leadership role and bulk up, Waters has the potential to to enter the league with impeccable shot-creating and playmaking ability.

Forward Naz Reid, who averages 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, is projected as a top-20 pick in this year’s NBA draft. The six-foot-ten freshman posted seven double-doubles this season, and his size inside could be a problem for the Bulldogs, as he consistently poses a threat of snagging an offensive board or blocking a shot attempt in the paint.

The Bulldogs are older and more experienced.

Yale, with a starting lineup consisting of three seniors and two juniors, ranks ninth in the country in minutes continuity — a statistic

 that measures the percentage of minutes that are being allocated to athletes that also played last year, according to KenPom. LSU’s starting lineup has been inconsistent all year, but a few talented first years — Reid and guard Javonte Smart — have started a combined 46 games for the Tigers.

Regardless of age, Yale’s current seniors — guards Alex Copeland ’19, Thomas Ryan ’19, Trey Phills ’19 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 — have all been to an NCAA tournament, although their playing time was limited. LSU’s last tournament appearance was in 2015, with only forward Kavell Bigby-Williams as a member of that team. The Bulldogs’ experience and veteran leadership could lead them to complete another March Madness upset, less than a week after the seniors carried Yale down the stretch to down the Crimson in the Ivy Tournament final.

Offensive rebounding is one of LSU’s strong-suits.

Ever since Yale’s iconic win against Baylor in 2016’s March Madness, the Elis’ rebounding prowess has been apparent to college basketball fans across the country. Yale, at the conclusion of the regular-season, ranked third in the country in defensive rebounds per game with 30.2. However, LSU matches up well with the Bulldogs, ranking eighth in offensive rebounds with 13.5 per contest. To keep the Tigers at bay, Yale needs to minimize second chance opportunities, especially after allowing Princeton center Richmond Aririguzoh to grab a few offensive boards and keep his team in the game early last weekend at the Ivy League tournament semifinal.

The Tigers can run too, especially after a steal.

With athletes extending from the top to the bottom of the roster, LSU is poised to keep up with Yale’s fast-paced offense. Cinderella teams have been known to slow down the game in efforts to limit offensive possessions of higher seeds.

This won’t be the case for the Elis, as they’re ranked 44th in tempo — 22 spots ahead of LSU. However, the Tigers rank top-10 nationally in steals and are an aggressive defensive team that wants to turn opponents over and convert takeaways into points. Yale does handle the ball well, though, and ranks ninth in the country  in assist-to-turnover ratio. Look for the Bulldogs to outpace the Tigers in Thursday’s match, which is shaping up to be a high-scoring affair, and avoid getting sped up even more by taking advantage of LSU’s over-aggressive defense.

LSU struggles from behind the arc.

With the three-point shot being an ever-important facet of modern basketball, the Tigers shoot a measly 32.3 percent from behind the arc, which places them 275th in all of Division I. Meanwhile, just 34.3 percent of their field-goal attempts are three-pointers, which ranks 287th. With a heavy reliance on two-point shots, LSU has the potential to be outshot by a Yale team boasting a rotation that can knock-down threes at a consistent rate using a bevy of shooters.

 

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu