As part of its preview of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense statistics are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All other advanced stats are also from kenpom.com (unless noted otherwise), and are through March 14.
Record: 22–6, 13–1 Ivy League
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 108.0 (92nd)/95.0 (21st)
Seed: West No. 12
Impact Player: Justin Sears, senior, forward. 15.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg.
The Case For: The Bulldogs are already riding high after ending their school’s 54-year NCAA tournament drought via a nearly perfect run through the Ivy League. After dropping to 5–5 in mid-December, Yale went 17–1 the rest of the way and will likely head into the tourney brimming with confidence. The Bulldogs have two players who average more than 15 points per game—senior forward Justin Sears and sophomore guard Makai Mason, with senior forward Brandon Sherrod joining them in double figure scoring at 12.5.
Yale has built quite the defense over the course of the year, ranking No. 21 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. It is equally good at grabbing offensive rebounds and keeping opponents off the offensive boards, ranking top 10 in both categories. A team like that can change the fortunes of a game through second-chance points, and the Bulldogs play at a fairly slow pace that could minimize opponents’ possessions. On defense the 6'8" Sears is a force in the paint, averaging 1.8 blocks per game and ranking in the top 100 in bock percentage. This is a veteran-led team in a historically dangerous seed for upsets, and the Bulldogs will be playing with house money.
The Case Against: Yale’s slower pace could be a double-edged sword, as it turns the ball over on 20.1% of its possessions, the second-worst mark in the tournament’s entire field. If the Bulldogs get out to an early deficit, it may be hard to dig themselves out of that hole, especially if they don’t take care of the ball. As good as Sears is, he’s the team’s tallest main contributor, and Yale’s offensive rebounding advantage could be limited against a bigger team.
The Bulldogs lost all of their marquee nonconference games, including a 19-point loss to Duke, and their lone RPI top-100 win was over Princeton. To get out of the first round, it’s going to have to beat a physical Baylor team that’s been through the ruggedness of the Big 12, and Yale’s comparatively soft strength of schedule could hurt it. Fellow Ivy League school Harvard has had some success as a low seed in recent years, but this one could be a tall order for the Bulldogs.
SI Prediction: Lose Baylor in the first round