The LSU Tigers were a special story this season. Two years removed from a 10-21 campaign in 2017, they won the SEC regular-season championship by a game over Kentucky. This earned them a No. 3 seed in the East Regional.
The only problem is with the man that guided them there. LSU (26-6) slapped head coach Will Wade with an indefinite suspension for his involvement in the FBI investigation into recruiting corruption. Associate athletic director Robert Munson put it bluntly last week.
“Coach Wade may very well have violated his contract with LSU,” Munson said in a statement, “as well as bylaws of the NCAA by refusing to be a part of this (investigatory) process.”
With an unstable coaching situation placing assistant Tony Benford in charge, LSU looks vulnerable entering its Round of 64 matchup with No. 14 Yale, the Ivy League champions. The Bulldogs beat rival Harvard in the tournament title game to improve to 22-7.
Before predicting and predicting Thursday’s game in Jacksonville (12:40 p.m. EST, TruTV), let’s review both squads’ seasons.
LSU NCAA Tournament Resume
Out of conference, the Tigers challenged themselves with a balance of strong and middling competition. Shootout victories over bubble teams in UNC-Greensboro, Saint Mary’s and Furman are solid, if unspectacular. Tilts against current No. 3 Houston and No. 4 Florida State ended with double-digit defeats, while the only “bad” loss was by 13 to 12-20 Oklahoma State.
LSU got an easy draw in the SEC, which allowed the Tigers to inflate their profile. Wade and company only met Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn once each, while losing 2 out of 3 to Florida, including in the opening game of the conference tourney.
While winning the nation’s fourth-best conference (per Ken Pomeroy) looks good on paper, the weakness of the actual schedule may have created a paper tiger.
Yale NCAA Tournament Resume
The Bulldogs flexed their muscles over Power Conference bottom-dwellers in California (76-59) and Miami (77-73). The only losses in the non-conference were to Memphis in a 109-102 overtime barnburner, a close loss to America East champ Vermont and a rout at the hands of No. 1 Duke.
Yale stubbed its toe a bit during Ivy League play, letting Harvard sweep during the regular-season. The Bulldogs also fell to Columbia and Penn, the latter a winner over defending national champion and No. 6 seed Villanova.
The 97-85 win over the Crimson on Sunday clinched the automatic bid, as senior guard Alex Copeland poured in 25 points.
LSU vs. Yale Predictions and Picks
Even with Wade, LSU is a team that boosted its profile by feasting on the mediocre middle of the SEC. Without him, the Tigers split games against Florida and shredded a bad Vanderbilt team. In short, if they might have been a tad overseeded before, they definitely are now.
With that said, the Bayou Bengals can score with the best of them. Guard Tremont Waters runs the show, scoring 15.1 points and dishing out 5.9 assists per game. He is complemented in the backcourt by Skylar Mars, he drives his way to 13.4 points on average.
Then there’s the major presence of 6-foot-10 Naz Reid in the middle. The potential first-rounder in this summer’s NBA Draft can score inside and out, boasting a 37 percent mark from 3 en route to 13.7 points a contest.
Yale counters with a pretty dreadful defense that ranks outside the No. 149 in efficiency per Pomeroy. What the Bulldogs can do is score, tossing out a unit that eclipsed 80 points on 13 different occasions.
The assault is led by fringe NBA hopeful Miye Oni out of Northridge (Calif.). He’s a 6-foot-6 guard that tallies 17.6 points a game off 39 percent from behind the arc. He also snares 6.4 rebounds and records over 3 assists a game.
5 different players can over 35 percent of their triple attempts, as Alex Copeland, Blake Reynolds and Jordan Bruner all average double figures. The Tigers don’t counter with a particularly strong defense (No. 62 nationally in points per possession allowed), so Yale will get some traction.
14-seed’s are just 21-115 in the Round of 64 all-time. The last time it happened was in 2016 when Stephen F. Austin dispatched West Virginia. Based on percentages, it’s past due for a shocker to happen again.
Bulldogs get it done in a game where both teams score at least 80.
OddsShark gives LSU +3300 odds to win it all, and doesn’t even list Yale.