With just the program's third conference title in the last 50 years and its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962, the Yale Bulldogs are looking to make a big splash in the Big Dance starting with the Baylor Bears. Thursday's game in Providencr will be the first meeting between the two schools and will be the third season in a row that Baylor enters the Round of 64 as the favorite.
Since early December, the Bulldogs have been red hot, winning 17 of the team's last 18 games and compiling a 13-1 record in a tricky Ivy League. The team has largely relied on its consistent rebounding and interior game in route to that streak and ranks No. 6 in offensive rebounding rate and No. 7 in defensive rebounding rate.
Upfront, Yale is led by senior duo Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod. Both play around 70 percent of the team's minutes and are some of the Ivy League's best rebounders, ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference respectively in offensive rebounding rate. Both are also efficient on the offensive end with season offensive ratings over 110 and Sherrod has shown a real knack at getting to the free throw line.
In the backcourt, the primary option for Yale is guard Makai Mason. He's a bit on the smaller side, but is still one of the most used players on offense and is the most consistent passer on the rostwr with a 23.3 assist rate. He's also a decent outside shooter and hit 38.4 percent of his long range looks this year.
On the other side, Baylor is also a team led by an experienced frontcourt. The Bears rely on seniors Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince upfront and are one of the better rebounding teams in the country. In fact, Baylor ranks No. 3 nationally in offensive rebounding rate and Gathers leads the nation in that stat. Lester Medford also does a nice job of feeding the frontcourt and is one of the better passers in the Big 12 this season.
It's unusual to get a No. 5 vs No. 12 game where the opponents are so similar, but that will be the case for Baylor and Yale on Thursday afternoon. Both teams rely on their interior game offensively to get the job done and it's going to be a fierce battle to see who can be more effective on Thursday.
Baylor is certainly a great team, but there are plenty of reasons to think Yale comes out on top in this one. To start, the Bulldogs obviously have the tools to minimize Baylor's biggest strength, which is the team's frontcourt. It's unlikely Yale can shut Baylor down upfront, but the Bulldogs do have the tools to at least keep things close there.
Additionally, Baylor hasn't performed that well early in the NCAA Tournament over the last few years and with the game coming in Providence, it's likely going to feel like a home game for Yale, especially with neutral fans likely rooting for the underdog. There's no doubt that Baylor is the more talented and deeper team, but there is definitely a path for Yale to pull off the upset.
Thursday's match up should be a tight game between two teams that like to battle it out upfront. If you're looking for an early mid-major upset, this could easily be your choice.