BYU/Baylor Recap and Breaking Down the West Coast Conference

Did you watch the BYU basketball game on Saturday against Baylor?  If you didn’t, you missed out.  What a game!  The Cougars took the #7 Bears to the wire.  In fact, they led for most of the game.  The Bears are a long, athletic, and are of such a shot blocking mentality that it makes you double think your shot sometimes.  However, it also causes the defense to give up a lot of offensive rebounds and BYU, an underwhelming offensive rebounding team, astounded with 19 offensive boards of 40 misses on Saturday.  BYU grabbed the first 14 rebounds of the game.  That’s right, a 14-0 advantage.  Just Incredible.  Were it not for the uncharacteristically hot shooting from the three by the Bears, the Cougars may have blown this way out to a huge lead.

The highlight for me though had to be Matt Carlino’s long-awaited debut as a Cougar.  He’s been touted as many things and I can’t think of a one where he disappointed.  Fearless, competitive, and driven.  I know it’s too early, but he really reminded me of you know who.  He’s been practicing against Jimmer Fredette for nearly a year now and it shows.  He’s got a wicked cross-over.  He’s got a somewhat unconventional jump shot.  He drives to the basket without regard to who is in front of him and he can nail the long-range three.  However, he’s still a freshman, playing his first competitive game in over a year and it showed.  He got into foul trouble.  He made terrible passes that ended up in the hands of the Baylor players.  But he was very impressive and hit a huge three when we needed one down the stretch.  Now, if only Charles Abouo had only looked to his right on that last play instead of handing it to Brandon Davies for a three that got blocked . . . .

So now that football is all but over, I imagine that most of you readers are becoming more fully invested in basketball down in Provo.  The West Coast Conference season play is about to get underway soon at St. Mary’s on December 29.  So before that fun gets started, I wanted to spend a few minutes and give you a quick “what to expect” in the WCC.  The WCC is very to the MWC similar in terms make up, power teams, and RPI – one of the biggest factors in determining those teams that get to the dance in March.  Looking over the RPI, the MWC is ranked 4th in the average RPI while the WCC is 10th – right between the Pac 12 and Conference USA.  Average strength of schedule is almost even.  Overall, the competition won’t be much different than last year.  The big differences will be the opponents themselves, and the venues that are much smaller than anything BYU is used to playing in.  The remaining king of the MWC is UNLV with San Diego State and New Mexico the other players in the conference.  In the WCC, the kings of the league have been Gonzaga and to a lesser degree, the Gaels of St Mary’s.  BYU was picked to finish 3rd this season, but after a really strong showing the past few games against Weber State, Utah, Oregon, and Baylor, those projections might be conservative.

  PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT% 3P%

KP

SOS RPI
St Mary’s

75.9

40.7

18.0

7.2

4.3

48%

71%

37%

26

302

28

Gonzaga

74.4

36.9

13.8

7.1

3.2

45%

70%

36%

29

61

37

San Francisco

72.2

37.1

13.2

8.1

2.0

46%

68%

34%

158

299

149

Brigham Young

77.5

39.9

17.8

7.1

5.5

48%

69%

39%

21

182

81

Santa Clara

72.5

36.3

14.0

5.5

2.7

41%

70%

36%

188

121

107

Pepperdine

61.2

37.3

12.9

5.1

3.1

39%

71%

38%

222

304

254

Loyola/Mary

70.4

35.1

13.0

7.2

2.7

43%

71%

36%

185

184

190

San Diego

65.9

32.7

12.5

6.0

3.3

45%

64%

35%

262

187

292

Portland

65.6

35.0

11.2

3.3

2.0

42%

71%

31%

206

4

167

The top three teams don’t offer much separation in the statistical arena, but BYU holds a small edge in the 4 top stats according to ESPN (PPG, RPG, APG, and FG%).  BYU holds the edge in points per game and field goal percentage and St. Mary’s holds the edge in the other two – rebounds and assists per game, though the edge to either team in any of the four categories is near negligible.  The big difference this year in the WCC will be in who can win on the road and in the big games.  BYU has been tested several times this year but really only won once against Oregon while losing to Utah State, Wisconsin, and Baylor.  In each of the three losses, major lapses in scoring and sloppy ball handling have been the fault.  Once Carlino is settled into the position (he’s currently scheduled to start this week against Buffalo) the passes should become more crisp and intentional and turnovers should drop a bit.  Hopefully, he can keep the Cougars interested in the game for 40 full minutes.  St. Marys’ has not really played anyone of note this season, but did lose to Sun Belt member, Denver.  They do have one big test before they host the Cougars though, at Baylor on Thursday.  It will provide a good measuring stick for both teams.  For Gonzaga’s part, they have been not been strangers to the big games this season, playing Notre Dame (a win), at Illinois and home to Michigan State (both losses.)  They started the season in the top 25 but currently find themselves outside the polls.  They have one more tough matchup before getting into conference play at #9 Xavier (by the way, Carl wrote a great piece around the Xavier program, read it here.)

I think the big difference this season will be how Gonzaga and St Mary’s play when they come to Provo.  These teams play in small gyms in their conference and it will be a big stage with both games on the ESPN networks.  If any of these three teams can hold serve at home and at least split the two roadies, they will find themselves WCC champion going into the tournament in Vegas end of February.

I’m excited for it to get started.  I’ve never watched much college basketball prior to mid-February before, but these Cougars are getting me excited early.  I’ve watched a good part of several games already and enjoy the product they put on the floor.  I truly feel Matt Carlino will bring this team the stability at point guard that it has been missing and this team will be poised to make a deep run into March.

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