Steven Pierce of Vanquish the Foe was kind enough to answer a few of our questions surrounding tonight's NIT game versus the BYU Cougars. Thanks Steven!
The West Coast Conference as a whole was very efficient offensively. Was that more due to defensive problems or offensive prowess, and how does BYU hold up offensively? Defensively?The WCC is an interesting beast. It's almost a European-style game — it's very finesse-oriented, which leads to a lot of beautiful, high-scoring games. However, the defense is probably not at quite the same level as some other conferences. BYU tends to be the most physical team in the conference, which is why they've constantly struggled with foul trouble. WCC refs just seem to call a tighter game and let less go. Offensively, BYU has taken a step back from the past few years, due primarily to inconsistent outside shooting. Then again, "a step back" is all relative — they still score 76 points per game, among the highest in the country. That's mostly driven by transition opportunities. Defensively, BYU simply doesn't have the athletes to match up man-to-man, so they end up playing a lot of zone. The zone can be very effective, especially if the opponent's outside shots aren't falling. But if somebody gets hot, there's not much the Cougars can do to disrupt that rhythm, other than maybe trying out their 1-3-1 halfcourt trap.
Davies isn't known for being a particularly physical player. He relies mostly on good footwork and his athleticism to create opportunities. It's not that he can't bang, but he usually just picks up fouls while doing it, so I think there's some hesitance there. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brandon try to draw N'Diaye away from the basket — he has range out to the three-point line — and then use his superior speed to get around him or pass to cutting teammates who would then have a shotblocker-free path to the rim. Davies is (with the exception of his tendency to pick up dumb fouls) a very smart, versatile player with a nice feel for the game, and he should be able to figure out how to exploit some kind of advantage against the larger N'Diaye. It might take a half for him to do it, but I think he'll get there.
Matt Carlino. The Cougar point guard has been somewhat inconsistent this season (which has drawn some fans' ire), but he is much improved from a season ago. The surefire way to predict whether or not BYU won a game is to look at how Carlino played — he is the key to their success. You pretty much know what you'll get from Davies and Haws on any given night, but Matt is the guy who has the ability to really make the team go, both with his offensive scoring and facilitating and with his active perimeter defense. Admittedly, some nights he just doesn't have the stroke and, as a result, he can be prone to force things too much out of frustration with himself. But when he's on, there are few better point guards in the West.
This is a tough game for me. As a Washington native with die-hard BYU alumni parents, I grew up rooting for both the Cougars and Huskies from birth, so I'm always conflicted when these two teams line up against each other in any sport. However, from a non-emotional perspective, I'd have to give the slight edge to BYU in this one. With so little time for both teams to prepare (and with UW having to travel yesterday), I think the raucous atmosphere of the Marriott Center and the effects of altitude on the sea level-conditioned Huskies will have a larger effect than they otherwise would in a normal game. To be sure, Washington has the types of athletes that BYU has struggled to contain in the past, but they also don't shoot particularly well from outside, which should bode well for the Cougars' zone defense. Nevertheless, if somebody comes out hot, makes a few shots early, and takes the crowd out of the game, the Dawgs could certainly leave Provo with a victory. After all, this is still the NIT, so everything is kind of a crapshoot anyway