This Wednesday at 7 p.m. the Hokies host BYU in a long-awaited non-conference game that will conclude Tech's non-conference slate this season. For this occasion, we have a first this season as Brett Hein, Managing Editor of BYU's SB Nation site Vanquish The Foe has joined us to give a preview of the Cougars. This is a really great opportunity for both sites since it's an unconventional non-conference game as fans of both teams probably don't get to see very much of the other because of time zones and regional networks. You can also read MY answers to Brett's questions here. For the preview, prove all your English teachers wrong and keep reading.
1. Nationally, people equate the success of BYU basketball solely to Jimmer Fredette. But that's just not true. Since 2000, BYU has only had one losing season and two seasons in which they lost 10 games or more. So the program has been incredibly consistent. With respect to that, I have to ask about the loss of Fredette to the NBA. How has it changed this team? How will they look different to Hokie fans who haven't seen them play a game since last year's tournament?
Really, Jimmer's assassin-like qualities changed BYU for his senior year -- one thing that impresses me about Dave Rose is his ability to adjust schemes to fit his personnel. So what is different this year? Post play. Expect a lot of offense to go through Noah Hartsock
and Brandon Davies
. The two combine to score 31 PPG and have really been the glue for this team. Hartsock is 19-29 from the field over the last two games, and makes it tough on the opposing team because he makes 82% FT as well. Virginia Tech fans will tune in and see Hartsock and might chuckle at this analysis -- I've called him a "churchball all-star" in years past -- but Hartsock in the post and on the baseline is what VT fans should watch for. He's been beyond solid for the Cougars this year.2. Last year Brandon Davies was dismissed from the basketball team mid-season for admitting that he had sex with his girlfriend. The story became a national media circus act, drawing both criticism and support from different parties. What was the general feeling within the BYU community about Davies' dismissal from the basketball team? Likewise, what is the feeling now that he is back? What does it say about the character of this young man that he admitted that he had violated the honor code, paid his dues, stayed at the University and has now worked to get back in their good graces and re-join the basketball team?
Generally, BYU fans were extremely sad, but supportive. When you claim to stand for certain principles, you can't bend them, even if it is for an exceptional basketball player during an exceptional season. It sucked. But fans were generally supportive of both the school and Davies. Contrary to prevailing reports, Davies was never kept from attending one day of class. He was allowed to remain on the bench in street clothes, and when he took a turn cutting down the nets after the regular season MWC title, he got by far the loudest ovation. And just like the fans, Davies accepted what happened, owned up to it, and decided it was all about what happens moving forward. I give tons of credit to Davies. His violation was completely self-reported, he went to Coach Rose and AD Tom Holmoe himself and told them what happened. To his credit, instead of trying to hide it or hope nobody knew, he owned up to it. Regardless of whether you agree with BYU's standards regarding pre-marital sex, Davies signed the Honor Code saying he wouldn't do what he did, and when he violated it, he owned it.
As for the feeling now that he is back -- I don't think tons of BYU fans even think about it anymore. Davies did all that he was asked to do by the university to come back, he was supported by the community in general, he's back, and now it's all about basketball again.
3. In their last game, both Davies and Noah Hartsock put up monster games against Pepperdine. But the Waves post players Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore also had big numbers across the board and shot tremendously well from the field. Is that a case of the two best (statistically) players on their team just having good games, BYU playing down to their competition defensively or that Pepperdine is bad and just like in any other basketball game SOMEONE has to score? Going into the Virginia Tech game, how do you think that Coach Rose will try to exploit Virginia Tech's weakness down low?
I think Pepperdine's post players scoring had more to do with the flow of the game, and yes, that someone on Pepperdine had to score. BYU built a 13-point halftime lead, so I think it was more about keeping the Waves from getting back into it from behind the arc, and basically not letting other players hurt you. It won't be anything out of the ordinary, but BYU will look to the post often (when they are running the offense). Davies has evolved very well this season, and has a knack for sensing when he is physically better than his defender. BYU has shot very well from outside until the last two games, going a terrible 4-36 from deep. If I'm Seth Greenberg, I'd think about doubling the post and making BYU's wings like Zylstra, Abouo, and point guard Matt Carlino work their own way out of the shooting slump.
4. Against the Waves, Freshman guard Matt Carlino had an uncharacteristically poor game, failing to score and only dishing out two assists (far from his season averages of 12+ ppg. and 4+ apg.) What were the reasons for his struggles? Do you think he is up to the task of slowing down Virginia Tech's best player in Junior PG Erick Green? Is he what makes the offense go, and if so what would it take to win if he struggles?
The offense can (and has) survive(d) with Carlino struggling, but clearly it's better when he's on (like the loss to Loyola Marymount showed). But when he is on, it makes a world of difference. He was the reason BYU was so close to taking down Baylor. Carlino has had a rough few games of late, and I really think it just has to do with being a freshman. He came out on fire against Baylor and almost made people forget that was his first-ever college game. He's got some experience to gain, Virginia Tech will be his 13th college game. I would be surprised if Carlino has to do much man defending against Green. I'd expect BYU to use a lot of zone, and if they go man, they may put one of the wings on Green.
5. The bench didn't produce as well as their season averages against Pepperdine and yet the final margin was pretty comfortable. Do you attribute that to the lack of minutes/production they saw with the Cougars going down early and having a dog-fight for the first 15 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half? Are slow starts something that has plagued the Cougars, because if so we're in for an offensive blackout at the start of this one! For the Cougars to come away with a win in this one, what do you think the bench has to do?
BYU hasn't necessarily started slow often per se -- it seems BYU feels out the opponent and starts to exploit where they feel is a weakness late in the first half and in the second half. But the problem is that with at least a semi-talented team like Loyola Marymount, BYU got down and couldn't recover. The bench has been interesting for BYU. The sixth man and impact player Stephen Rogers has been out with a knee injury for the past few games. He may play in Blacksburg, but nothing is official on that. He's a wing with some height and ability to knock down outside shots, and the Cougars have really missed that. DeMarcus Harrison is a freshman who looked like he was going to make an impact, but he's seen very few minutes as of late. It seems coaches might not trust him. With Rogers hurt (and Chris Collinsworth continually hurt), BYU's bench is really young. Harrison, Anson Winder
, Nate Austin
, and Josh Sharp are all freshman. Backup PG Craig Cusick
is really the only bench player available over the last few weeks who isn't a freshman. For the bench to make an impact, and with Harrison seemingly not set to get playing time, Winder will have to show up. He's a 6'3" guard who can play the 1 at times, but usually plays the 2.
The kicker: What's your prediction for the final score?
With some injuries to deal with, BYU has really struggled with teams who are guard-dominant (like St Mary's, LMU, and teams like Virginia Tech). Maybe I'm a pessimist, but it feels like BYU is sliding. At the same time, I simply don't expect BYU's poor perimeter shooting to continue. Statistically, it just can't. With that, I'll say BYU wins by 2. Any result won't surprise me, but that's what I'll put down.
We want to thank Brett for joining us to participate in this preview. For more on the Cougars, visit Vanquish The Foe.
Also don't forget to read MY answers to Brett's questions here.