5-Things: Baylor Dives into the Bracket

Thursday afternoon, the NCAA tournament will begin for the Baylor Bears as they take on the Yale Bulldogs in first round action. What will Baylor see in the IVY league school and what do they need to do to get to the weekend?

1. The NCAA basketball tournament is one of my favorite things in this world.  I love march basketball. I watch way too many of the conference tournaments, especially for the 1-bid leagues where they are fighting for the only spot they could ever get.  It is exhilarating drama and some of the most intense basketball you will ever see.  It gets even more intense considering the small gyms they play in, especially when it is the home court of one of the two teams for those conferences without a neutral site venue to showcase their tournament.  

Funny that the Bears will be playing the only automatic bid team in the field that cannot claim a tournament victory. The Ivy League is the last holdout of a long gone era, where the regular season champ is given the bid. There is no postseason tournament, though that is changing in 2017 for the league.  Courtesy of its 13-1 record, Yale is the chosen team for the Ivy League, its first bid since 1962.  

2.The Yale Bulldogs are an interesting bunch, as you would likely guess considering the prestigious academic institute these players attend.  To say this is a smart team is cliche, and also accurate. 

There are a few things that I look for when picking upsets in the NCAA tournament.  Here is an article I wrote in 2014 about this very topic when looking at Nebraska.  How does Yale stack up in this?  Not well from a Baylor perspective. 

They are the 21st most experienced team in the nation, with 4 seniors receiving a good amount of playing time.  They have a tremendous guard in Makai Mason who can run the offense and hit big shots.  Their second best player is Justin Sears, who at 6-foot-8, gives them a low post monster.  They also are a very good 3-point shooting team, though they don't take a lot of them.  They are 59th in the nation at 3-point %, making 37.1% of their attempts.  

The lone aspect is the "it" factor.  Most wouldn't put the word swagger in the definition of an ivy league team, but this team will be playing in front of a home crowd for them, as they are just over 100 miles away from Providence.  They are also smart enough to know that they have nothing to lose.  That is a dangerous combination.  

3. The site of an Ivy League team might be welcome to some Baylor fans, but the Ivy League has done very well in the NCAA tournament the past 4 seasons.  Harvard, who at times received Top-25 votes over their 4-year stretch of dominance over their Ivy League brethren, advanced to the first weekend each of the last three seasons. They defeated North Carolina in 2015, Cincinnati in 2014, New Mexico in 2013, and lost to Vanderbilt in their first run in 2012.  Harvard was a 14, 12, and 13 seed each of those years.  Those are big-time upsets for anyone, and the Bulldogs are seeded 12th.  The Bulldogs 38th ranking in KenPom is also higher than all but one of Harvard's (ranked 32nd in 2014).  

4. If the Bears do make it out of the Thursday game alive, they will most likely face off against Duke.  It is the second step in a long line of familiar names to Baylor fans.  Next round against an Oregon team they played in November? Sure!  How about the other side of the bracket with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M lined up to battle?  Why not!  

When the West bracket was revealed as where Oregon was, I actually checked out and almost missed the Bears getting announced. I thought that they would try and put Baylor in a bracket without a #1 seed that they have played, especially in a 5-seed spot that would face Oregon in the Sweet 16.  

It is a little ridiculous that Texas and Texas A&M end up as a possible 2nd round matchup.  The Aggies being a 3-seed seems to be rather interesting, especially given that Kentucky was a 4-seed, and beat the Aggies on Sunday.  Normally, the champs get the bump, not the team that they beat. 

Besides, wouldn't it be so Texas for the Longhorns to lose to Northern Iowa and ruin that matchup? My bet is that happens, and one of the former rivals lose, thus avoiding the juicy matchup that the committee created. 

5. Will Baylor beat Yale?  Yes, I think so.  Even with all of the warning signs going off in my head about Yale and how they matchup with the Bears, I keep coming back to rebounding.  The Bulldogs have been sensational on the glass, ranking 7th in both offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency.  In Yale's four games against Power-Five teams (plus a ranked SMU squad), the Bulldogs were even against SMU, even against Duke, and -6 against USC. They did destroy a very bad Illinois team on the glass, 48-25.  The Bears will be the best rebounding team that the Bulldogs see, and should be able to hold their own.  

The biggest edge though should be the transition game, where Yale turns the ball over frequently, in fact over 20% of their possessions end in turnovers.  Hard to get an offensive rebound when you can't get a shot up. The Bears offensive should be able to get going off of those transition buckets, and as long as they don't turn the ball over 20+ times (like they did against Georgia State), this should be a game they win.  

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