Each weekend of the NCAA tournament is really a mini-tournament. It is a 4-team mini-pod with a single elimination. That simple and that easy. Up first is Yale, the champions of the Ivy League. Just around 100 miles away from New Haven, CT and over 1,000 miles away from Waco, TX, the Bears will be an absolute road team in this one. If the Bears can defeat the Bulldogs, they will face the winner of Duke and UNC-Wilmington.
A Look at Yale
The Bears are saying the right things, especially in light of last years upset loss to Georgia State. You can't take anyone lightly. This can be over in a flash of a light, as soon as you get going, it can be gone. Baylor felt that pain last year, and the hope is will use that to avoid a similar mishap this tournament.
Yale presents a different type of challenge than Georgia State did. As I spoke about in my 5-Things Column, they are a well-rounded team that checks off a lot of the "upset pick" boxes. They have a good post player with size. They have a ball dominant guard who can control the tempo and hit big shots. They are a senior led team that is good at shooting 3-pointers. Yale also happens to be one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, though some of that might be derived from the level of competition they face.
The Bulldogs have built their offense similarly to Baylor. They take open 3s, try and move the ball, and get a staggering amount of their misses for second chance points. The question is, can they do that against Baylor, an elite rebounding team as well, and one that has superior size and depth?
Baylor's zone defense will give up offensive rebounds, but if the Bears switch to a man defense, will the Bulldogs be able to out-athlete the Bears? Not likely. With Yale's propsensity to turn the ball over (more than 20% of their possessions end in a turnover), which fuels the Bears transition game and shields some of their defensive weaknesses, Baylor has one big edge that might be too much to overcome.
If Yale turns the ball over 14 or more times, and the Bears don't have another awful turnover game like last year (21 against Georgia State), this should be a win for Baylor. If Yale can protect the ball, hit a good amount of their shots, and rebound at least 1/3rd of their misses, they have a good chance of pulling off the upset.
- 92nd ranked offense according to KenPom and 22nd ranked defense
- Ranked 7th in both offensive (39.2%) and defensive (76%) rebounding percentage
- 294th in the nation in turnover %, mostly from steals (308th at 10%)
- Average experience is 2.21 years, 21st most in the NCAA
- Good shooting 3-point team (60th at 37.1%) but takes very few of them (just 30.8% of their shots are 3-pointers 274th in the nation)
Player to Watch
Makai Mason, Sophomore Point Guard
Mason plays a ton of minutes and is a steady point guard for Yale. He does everything for them. A team high 15.8 points per game, as well as chipping in 2.6 rebounds and a team best 3.7 assists. He has a very good assist rate, does well at drawing contact and getting to the line, where he shoots 78.8%. He is a good long-range shooter, making over 38% of his threes as well.
A Look at Duke
This is not the Duke from last year. This is a team with little to no depth, and maybe even less ability to play lock-down defense. THey rank just 111th in defense this year according to KenPom, after finishing 12th last year when they won the national championship. Their offense though is still elite. Led by Grayson Allen (21 points) and possible top NBA draft pick Brandon INgram (17 points per game), this is one of the best offenses in the nation.
However, a lack of experience and depth have hurt the Blue Devils. They are just 327th in experience in the NCAA, so the polar opposite of Yale. They also get just 21.2% of their available minutes from the bench, 346th in the nation. They have four players playing over 70% of the minutes available, with half of those players being sophomores or freshmen. Their top-6 players include 3 freshmen, a junior, a sophomore to go along with senior Marshall Plumlee.
Honestly, this is a slightly stranger version of Iowa State. A team that relies heavily on their starters, plays little defense, and can score at will.
- The Blue Devils have an effective field goal % of 53.7%, 35th best in the nation
- Duke rarely turns it over, with the 5th lowest rate in the nation (14.3%)
- They allow an awful 34.4% of their opponents misses to be offensive rebounds
- Duke took and made the most 3-pointers of any team this year, hitting 38.7% of them
Player to Watch
Brandon Ingram, Freshman forward
There is a growing chance that Ingram, not LSU freshmen Ben Simmons, will be the first pick in the draft in a few months. Ingram is a scorer, pure and simple. If you squint, you can see Kevin Durant in Longhorn burnt orange. Ingram has excellent range, making over 41% of his 3-pointers. With the ball in his hand in the middle of the paint or on the baseline against the Bears zone, he is a nightmare.
A Look at UNC-Wilmington
The least likely team for the Bears to face, the 13th seeded Seahawks will have to get past Duke to have the opportunity to play Baylor. The regular season and tournament champions of the CAA, UNCW went 25-7 on the year, including a 14-4 run in conference. They needed overtime to defeat Hofstra in the conference finals, in another example of an excellent small conference tournament.
The Seahawks are a familiar small conference team. They played their one power conference opponent tough, suffering only a 5-point loss to Georgetgown.They only had 4 top-100 wins on the season, all coming in conference play.
- Average 79.2 points per game, 39th most in the nation
- They play the fastest tempo of any team out of these four, finishing 88th in adjusted tempo
- Turnovers are their friends. They force a lot, and give up few, ranking top-61 in both
- This team fouls a TON. Only West Virginia had more free throw attempts per field goal attempt
Player to Watch
Chris Flemmings, junior wing
Scoring a team high 16.1 points per game, Flemmings plays both forward spots. He is better on the wing though, where he can shoot from deep (37% on 3-pointers) and facilitate (1.6 assists). He is a good rebounder for his size of 6-foot-5 with a team high 5.9 rebounds per game. But Flemmings is best known as a scorer and shooter. He is top-100 in effective field goal percentage and even top-50 in true shooting percentage.