Yale provides capable challenge as LSU’s first round opponent

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Miye Oni, Yale Bulldogs

The third-seeded LSU Tigers collide with the 14th-seeded Yale Bulldogs late morning Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.

The favored SEC regular season champions hope March Madness doesn’t mean an upset against the capable Ivy League Tournament winner. The Purple and Gold are 9 1/2 point favorites. Favorites carry little credence in March Madness.

Don’t think that being an Ivy League team means Yale (22-7) will try to slow the Tigers down. Far from it.

The Bulldogs are going to be an interesting challenge for the Tigers. Both teams score over 80 points per game on average, and Yale can flat-out shoot (49.4% on the season).

LSU (26-6) shoots it well also (46.2%) but the Bulldogs are are an impressive 37% from three-point land. That means they can shoot their way back into any game. Yale also averages 17.3 assists per game, good for eighth best in the country.

Okay, I’m saying the underdog ‘Dogs are good. But LSU is very good.

Point guard Tremont Waters leads the Tigers averaging 15.1 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists and recording three steals. Naz Reid pulls down 7.2 rebounds each game. Kavell Bigby-Williams is averaging just under two blocks each game. These are just three of the extremely talented difference makers that have helped LSU thrive, particularly away from home.

The key for Yale is combo guard Miye Oni, a 6-6, 210 pound junior who averages 17.6 points, 3.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds while hitting 45.3 percent from long range. The former walk-on is NBA ready and often a matchup problem for opponents. A physical scorer who is extremely athletic, Oni will challenge LSU. Needing help defense on him opens up other Yale shooters.

Team captain Blake Reynolds chips 10.9 points per game, converting on 55.9 percent from the floor and 44.2 from behind the arc. Senior Alex Copland (6-7, 240) adds 15.7 points each game, shooting over 51 percent. Junior forward Jordan Bruner (6-9, 205) is a shot blocker, pulling down 8.3 boards and hitting 51.4 percent while averaging 8.9 points.

Providing more size, Paul Atkinson (6-10, 220) works his way down into the paint, hitting nearly 70 percent of his shots and averaging 7.6 points along with 5.1 rebounds.

An intriguing prospect is senior Trey Phills, (6-2, 185) a guard is averaging 7.1 points and hitting 47 percent from the floor. He is the son of former Southern University star Bobby Phills, who was killed in a car wreck following a morning shoot around while with the Charlotte Hornets in 2000. Trey was three at the time of his father’s death.

The last time the two teams met was December 30, 1969 in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. Yale prevailed 97-94.

LSU’s starting “5” looked like this:

G-Pete Maravich
G-Jeff Tribbett
C-Al “Apple” Sanders
F-Danny Hester
F-Bill “Fig” Newton

You may only recognize one of those names. Yale’s Jim Morgan was averaging 21 points per game while ‘Pistol Pete’ led the nation with a 44.5 point average. But on this night, Morgan outscored Maravich 35 to 34.

As for the present, Oni will be a key for Yale. Their proficiency on the offensive boards and the resulting second chance points will be needed in what should be a shootout. We’ll see if Big Dance nerves affect that.

Bulldogs head coach James Jones is in his 20th season while LSU moves forward with interim coach Tony Benford. Will that make a difference?

LSU will have to play smart for 40 minutes. Any lapse during the contest could allow the Bulldogs to get hot and gain some separation, requiring the Tigers to play catch-up. LSU is certainly capable of playing from behind but doing so against a good shooting team is never advised.

Let’s hope the results are different from the last time these teams met nearly 50 years ago.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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