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No. 3 LSU holds off late charge to advance past No. 14 Yale

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LSU opened the game on a 9-0 run and held off a late charge as the No. 3 seed Tigers advanced with a 79-74 win over No. 14 seed Yale on Thursday in an NCAA tournament East Region first-round matchup in Jacksonville.

Thanks to the hot start, the Tigers (27-6) built a cushion that lasted the entire game as LSU never trailed. The Bulldogs cut the Tigers’ lead to three with under a minute left but LSU closed the game out from the free-throw line.

Point guard Tremont Waters (15 points, seven assists) was the catalyst for the LSU offense in the first half while the frontcourt of senior Kavell Bigby-Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) and freshman Naz Reid (14 points, 10 rebounds) both chipped in double-doubles. Guard Skylar Mays led the Tigers offense with 19 points as he was a big closer from the free-throw line late in the game while also picking up the scoring in the second half when Waters went cold.

The SEC-champion Tigers (27-6) entered the NCAA tournament with some question marks thanks to the recent controversy surrounding suspended head coach Will Wade — as a recent report alleged that he discussed paying for a recruit over a wiretap. LSU didn’t seem fazed without its head coach as they used athleticism and a balanced effort to advance to the second round.

Although LSU got past a tough No. 14 seed in this one, a cold second half on offense will be something to track in the next round. The Tigers were only 4-for-17 (23 percent) from three-point range as they struggled to find consistent second-half offense.

Yale (22-8) was led by the hot shooting of senior guard Alex Copeland (24 points) as he was aggressive hunting his own pull-ups and knocking down catch-and-shoot threes. Unfortunately for Copeland, and the Bulldogs, he didn’t have much help in terms of perimeter shooting. Yale finished an ugly 8-or-36 (22 percent) from three-point range on the afternoon as they couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter.

Jordan Bruner (16 points) and Azar Swaim (12 points) also finished in double-figures for the Bulldogs. Yale’s best NBA Draft prospect, junior wing Miye Oni, had a nightmare afternoon, finishing with only five points while going 2-for-16 from the field.

The Ivy League champions did a fine job of eventually adjusting to LSU’s length and athleticism, but the cold perimeter shooting and slow start ultimately was too much to overcome.

LSU advances to face the winner of No. 6 seed Maryland and No. 11 seed Belmont on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Bracketology: Kentucky returns to top line

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Kentucky began its bracket journey last October as the projected No. 1 seed in the South Region.  As March nears, the Wildcats return to the top line, holding the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.  For context, UK has lost just twice since the start of 2019, by a combined four points.

Duke continues as the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia and Gonzaga.  Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State and Michigan remain in the top-seed discussion.  All eight have a lot at stake these next three weeks.

The cutline is equally compelling.  Will some early contenders make late runs to regain a look?  Will teams like Texas, Minnesota, and Ohio State hold on?  Will this be the year we see an at-large bid or two granted to deserving mid-majors?  The Madness is about to begin.

BRACKET UPDATE: February 25, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Alabama
MIDWEST REGION UCF vs. Utah State
EAST REGION ST. FRANCIS (PA) vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION PRAIRIE VIEW vs. RIDER

EAST Washington, DC   SOUTH – Louisville                           
Columbia Columbus
1) DUKE 1) Virginia
16) ST. FRANCIS / NORFOLK ST 16) SAM HOUSTON ST
8) Ole Miss 8) St. John’s
9) Oklahoma 9) TCU
Salt Lake City San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Maryland
12) Temple / Alabama 12) BELMONT
4) Kansas 4) KANSAS STATE
13) OLD DOMINION 13) VERMONT
Jacksonville Hartford
6) Louisville 6) Virginia Tech
11) Arizona State 11) Texas
3) LSU 3) Purdue
14) YALE 14) TEXAS STATE
Des Moines Columbia
7) BUFFALO 7) Villanova
10) VCU 10) Ohio State
2) Michigan 2) Tennessee
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) WRIGHT STATE
MIDWEST – Kansas City WEST – Anaheim
Columbus Salt Lake City
1) KENTUCKY 1) GONZAGA
16) BUCKNELL 16) PR VIEW / RIDER
8) Baylor 8) WOFFORD
9) Syracuse 9) Auburn
San Jose Tulsa
5) Florida State 5) NEVADA
12) UCF / Utah State 12) LIPSCOMB
4) Wisconsin 4) Texas Tech
13) UC-IRVINE 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Hartford Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Mississippi State
11) Minnesota 11) Seton Hall
3) MARQUETTE 3) HOUSTON
14) HOFSTRA 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Jacksonville Des Moines
7) Cincinnati 7) WASHINGTON
10) Florida 10) NC State
2) North Carolina 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) RADFORD 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Texas Temple Butler Dayton
Minnesota Alabama Clemson UNC-Greensboro
Arizona State UCF Georgetown Davidson
Seton Hall Utah State Furman Murray State

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia, Gonzaga, and Kentucky

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): KANSAS STATE, Texas Tech, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas

SEC (8): KENTUCKY, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, Temple, UCF

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Yale’s Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor after next season

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Yale junior guard Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor … but not until the fall of 2018.

Sources confirmed to NBC Sports on Thursday evening that Mason will graduate from Yale next spring and will enroll at Baylor, eligible to play immediately for the 2018-19 season.

Andrew Slater of 247Sports first reported the news.

According to a source, he committed to Baylor after taking a visit in April.

Mason was the Ivy League Preseason Player of the Year but missed all of this past season due to a foot injury he suffered during a scrimmage. An archaic Ivy League rule prohibits student-athletes from redshirting due to athletic reasons. Student-athletes can apply for a fifth year but only if it’s based on academic reasons. It is the Ancient Eight’s way of emphasizing academics over athletics.

There’s a loophole, though. Withdrawing from the university and being readmitted for the following fall semester preserves that year of eligibility. Alex Rosenberg dropped out of Columbia in October 2014 when he suffered a fracture in his right foot only to return for his senior season next fall. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers did the same thing, leaving school after tearing his ACL two summers ago. However, both of those injuries were at least conveniently timed. By the time Mason suffered his season-ending injury he was more than halfway through the semester.

The plan of finishing out the school year — and his undergraduate at Yale — and becoming an eventual graduate transfer was in his best interest. Mason, who declared for the NBA Draft in 2016 without hiring an agent, gets to earn a degree from an Ivy League school and then can use his final season of eligibility to prepare for the 2019 NBA Draft at a high-major school.

I’m sure any talks about Mason’s inevitable departure weren’t some of the best conversations the Yale coaching staff had but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of strained relationship. Two weeks ago, he was named the captain of this year’s team.

For Baylor, this is obviously a tremendous addition, especially with Manu Lecomte exhausting his eligibility at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Scott Drew and the Bears are very familiar with the type of offensive firepower Mason will bring to the program. He did hang 31 points on Baylor back in 2016 when the Bulldogs upset the Bears, 79-75, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 4 Duke survives No. 12 Yale’s second-half rally

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After building a 27-point lead in the first half, West No. 4 Duke appeared well on its way to an appearance in the Sweet 16 in Anaheim next week. But Mike Krzyzweski’s team took its foot off the gas pedal during the latter stages of the first half, and just over four minutes into the second half No. 12 Yale began a run that saw them trim the Blue Devil lead to three points in the game’s final minute.

Luckily for Duke that was as close as the Bulldogs would get, as the combination of defensive stops and free throws sealed the 71-64 win for the defending national champions.

Defensively Duke, which struggled with defending Yale early in the second half, made the switch to a 1-3-1 zone with Brandon Ingram at the top and that move helped slow the Bulldogs somewhat. Makai Mason, who scored 31 points in the win over Baylor Thursday, was more of a distributor Saturday as he racked up seven assists. But he also shot just 2-for-12 from the field, and on this day Yale needed more from their sophomore point guard scoring-wise in order to advance.

Having the 6-foot-9 Ingram, with his incredible wingspan, at the top of the zone impacted the vision of the Yale guards and while there was some good ball movement down the stretch there wasn’t enough to completely close the gap. Forwards Brandon Sherrod (22 points) and Justin Sears combined for 34 points and 19 rebounds, taking advantage of the Duke front court especially when Marshall Plumlee had to sit due to foul trouble.

Ultimately James Jones’ team not having an answer for the tandem of Ingram and Grayson Allen early cost them dearly. Those two combined to score 21 of Duke’s 23 second-half points, and they finished with a total of 54 points (29 for Allen) on the afternoon.

Whether it’s No. 1 Oregon or No. 8 Saint Joseph’s in the Sweet 16, Duke will need more from the supporting cast if they’re to play any deeper into the NCAA tournament. After building a large lead, Duke was the basketball version of a boxer ahead on the cards who simply aimed to hang on for the win as opposed to landing the decisive blow. Luckily for them, that 27-point hole was a little too deep for a determined Yale squad to climb out of.

No. 12 Yale picks up first-ever NCAA tournament victory

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West region No. 5 Baylor entered the NCAA tournament looking to erase the memory of last season’s early NCAA tournament exit, with a veteran group having designs on playing deep into this season’s event. Unfortunately for Scott Drew’s Bears they drew ran into Ivy League champion No. 12 Yale, and throughout most of the contest James Jones’ Bulldogs outplayed Baylor.

And despite some nerve-wracking moments late the Bulldogs pulled out the 79-75 victory, picking up the first NCAA tournament win in program history.

Makai Mason was the star for the Bulldogs, scoring 31 points (a school NCAA tournament record) as he managed to go just about wherever he wanted against the Baylor defense. Baylor’s standard matchup zone was no match for what Yale threw at them offensively, as the Bulldogs were able get through for quality looks inside the arc. The game reached a point to where Baylor had to come out of the zone and play man, and that didn’t work all that well either.

Normally in upsets the underdog gets hot from three, but that wasn’t the case in Providence. Yale shot 5-for-16 from three but made 63.6 percent of their two-point attempts. And to be fair to the Bulldogs, they looked nothing like an underdog for most of this game.

There were moments of frustration for Baylor, most notably an argument between Rico Gathers Sr. and Taurean Prince (28 points) during a second half timeout, and Yale had a lot to do with that. The Bears made a late run thanks in large part to Prince, and defensively they forced turnovers with full-court pressure to close the gap to one in the game’s final minute.

But they were unable to get any closer than that, and down two with 6.8 seconds remaining a Lester Medford turnover resulted in Baylor not getting off a shot to either tie the game or take the lead.

Baylor’s ability to control the glass has been key for them throughout the season, and they did managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds Thursday. But Yale is a good rebounding team in its own right, as they entered the game ranked in the top ten nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Thanks to the presence of players such as Justin Sears, Nick Victor, Sam Downey and Brandon Sherrod (in total seven Bulldogs average at least 2.5 rebounds per game), won the battle on the boards Thursday afternoon. Add in Yale’s superior offensive execution, and Jones’ Bulldogs were able to advance.

Next up for Yale is No. 4 Duke, which beat No. 13 UNCW in the first game of the day in Providence.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.