Jan 25, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Tyler Haws (3) stretches before a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

WCC Tournament Team Preview: BYU

BYU COUGARS (21-10) (13-5 WCC)

RPI/BPI – 29/44
Ken Pomeroy – 48
Sagarin – 44
Bracketology – 12 seed, Last Four Byes
West Coast Convo Power Rankings – 1 (tie)

OVERVIEW

What a season. Up and down and all around! I’m not even sure what the overview should be. Maybe if I break it down into bullets, I can make some sense of the whole thing.

- Great promise with a strong showing against non-conference foes. Wins over Texas and Stanford hold water.  And who can forget the Eric Mika eye poke in that close one against Iowa State?  That neither holds water, nor shows great promise, but it’s a quite painful memorable.

- Moral victories faded from positive to negative after losing five of six in December. The games against Utah and LMU weren’t even competitive.

- Can I get an amen from the BYU fan congregation on this one?

 

- Skyler Halford busted out as a starter in relief of Matt Carlino. After a while, though, Halford started pressing, which was the same reason Carlino went to the bench. Enter Anson Winder. He’s provided a spark in relief of Halford, shooting 16-23 from the field overall, which has led 13.5 ppg in his four starts to end the season.  To be noted, the quality of Winder’s play was a huge reason the Cougars topped Gonzaga.

- As for Carlino, he settled down after his move to the bench. Sure, he’s still got a gunslinger streak to him but he’s just being flat out more efficient. Take the numbers before and after being sent to the bench. In 432 minutes, Carlino registered 68 assists against 44 turnovers. In 409 minutes since being named the super sub, he has 74 assists versus 21 turnovers. If you’re like me and you wondered about that brutal non-conference schedule while he was a starter, Matt turned a total of 13 times against North Texas and Prairie View A&M.

- Now the Cougars have a different rotation than they had at the beginning and middle of the year. But they’ve won eight of nine. But they have no seniors. But different players are stepping up big when it counts. And, hey, two wins against Saint Mary’s feels good. Especially after this unforgettable nightmare.  Bottom line, it’s easy to be skeptical of the Cougars, but it’s just as easy to be super hyped about them.

- Tyler Haws can definitely heat it up like a microwave, or as I have liked to say, a Ty-crowave. But if Matt Carlino can do this, forget about it.

- Overall, BYU has been playing in elimination games since losing to Pacific. Wins against SMC and Gonzaga were huge, and non-losses against Portland and USD were equally huge. They’ve come back from double digits, they’ve showed they can indeed shut down the perimeter on occasion, and they’ve shut down possible come backs. Essentially, they’ve been preparing for this tournament for the past three weeks.

It goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway: This is not the same team that dropped the ball, literally and figuratively, in December. They’ve responded well to Coach Rose and his rotation tweaking. They’ve come up big down the stretch with multiple players giving solid contributions beyond “The Maestro of the Mid-Range” Tyler Haws. Unlike last season, they’ve got momentum on their side going into the tournament. There’s hope and confidence. And for a team with no seniors, that could make all the difference this time around.

 

WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR

Tyler Haws can light it up. We’ve seen Kyle Collinsworth stuff the stat sheet. It’s not surprising to see Matt Carlino drop 20 or more with a few dimes and some steals to match. And even though he’s been struggling at times, nobody would bat an eyelash if Eric Mika got 20 and 10.

These are the two guys could provide that x-factor, that “je ne sais quoi” to push BYU over the top in Vegas: Anson Winder and Luke Worthington.

Winder has contributed greatly to the current 4-game winning streak. On offense, he is taking what the defense gives him and he’s hustling on defense. That’s all BYU needs from him. The star is Tyler Haws. The do it all guy is Kyle Collinsworth. The rebounder is Nate Austin. Winder is the “make ‘em pay” guy. If the opposing team doesn’t respect him, he will make ‘em pay.

Truthfully, Worthington’s stats aren’t good. If you haven’t seen his minutes live, then you really won’t know what he brings to the table. He brings five fouls and a physical attitude. He’s fundamentally awkward, but he’s got the intangibles that make a foul-out seem like a triple double. He’ll establish a high octane, physical presence down low with Austin to start the game, get a foul or two, then hand it off to Eric Mika. He’s like… the Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson of the BYU Cougars. Sure, those guys weren’t superlative QB’s with exorbitant stat lines, but they took care of business and let the playmakers take care of the rest.

 

KEY STORYLINE – SO YOU THINK YOU CAN “BIG DANCE”?

The Cougars find themselves squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble as they get ready for this week’s business trip to Vegas. Nearly all college basketball pundits have BYU either squeaking into the “Big Dance” or coming up just short. A solid non-conference schedule will surely be to the Cougars’ advantage when the committee starts to converse, but they cannot, and I do repeat cannot, afford another loss to a sub-150 RPI team. Interestingly enough, BYU’s opponent in the quarterfinal will either be LMU or Portland. Both of those teams defeated the Cougars during the regular season. Both of those teams own a sub-150 RPI. Storylines abound.  Maybe a couple storylines, at least. A gaggle, at best.

Truth be told, I just wanted to use the word gaggle.  I digress.

Overall, if the Cougars don’t want to sweat out Selection Sunday, they’ll win at least two games in the WCC Tournament. As I’m thinking about it, I’ve imagined a best case scenario for BYU fans everywhere. Or at least for the more rabid, vindictive, and vengeful ones. The Cougars win the WCC Tournament, knocking off Gonzaga in the finals. The Zags, who faced a hungry, yet RPI-inferior, Pepperdine squad in the semis fresh off a shocking win against Saint Mary’s, fall into the First Four against Arkansas and their 40 minutes of Hell. Meanwhile, Wichita State runs the MVC table. Texas and Stanford run deep into their tournaments as Weber State wins the Big Sky. BYU’s non-conference schedule, combined with some major conference bubbles popping, bumps the Cougars up to a much more manageable 10-seed.

 

PREDICTIONS

Not the scenario I described, that’s for sure.

Realistically, BYU should find themselves in the finals against Gonzaga. Any recent doubts about the Zags should have been put to rest with Saturday’s monster showing in Moraga. Meanwhile, the Cougars are repeatedly finding ways to get the job done down the stretch. A potential semifinal with San Francisco could be highly entertaining and highly competitive.

In the end, the ultra-seasoned duo of Sam Dower and Kevin Pangos should carry Gonzaga to the title in a raucous Orleans Arena against BYU. It’s always said strong leadership and solid guard play takes the cake when it comes to tournament time. I’ll pick the Zags to take the cake. It’s times like these when BYU needs a senior leader and emotional presence to galvanize the team.

The good news for Cougar fans is that if Carlino keeps rolling, he just might end up being that leader. And if that happens, well, then all bets are off.

Tags: Anson Winder Basketball BYU BYU Cougars BYU Men's Basketball Luke Worthington Matt Carlino Tyler Haws WCC

comments powered by Disqus