2013 NIT Championship: #2 Baylor Bears vs. #3 BYU Cougars Preview

William Mancebo

Baylor plays today for a chance at the NIT Championship game against a BYU team it dispatched easily in Waco earlier this season. Tonight's game, which should be an entertaining up-and-down matchup, will not be nearly so easy.

vs.
No. 2 Baylor (21-14) vs. No. 3 BYU (24-11)
April 2, 2013 | 6:00 p.m. CT
New York, N.Y. | Madison Square Garden (19,763)

TV: ESPN2 & WatchESPN
Radio: ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM
Watch | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | TicketsTickets

I mentioned above that this is the second matchup between these two teams this season, the first being a 79-64 Baylor win in Waco in December. While somewhat illustrative for how the teams line match up on paper, that game is probably not all that useful for tonight's; Baylor is unlikely to hit 50% of their threes tonight (though that would be nice!), nor are we going to keep BYU's best player, Tyler Haws, to only 13 points. BYU's entire team, but especially Haws, has grown significantly since that game and should give the Bears their toughest contest in the NIT to date. I'm looking forward to a good game tonight, regardless of the outcome.

Conference: West Coast (3rd)
Record: 24-11 (10-6)
Game Previews: BaylorBears.com, Statsheet, SB Nation NYC
Providence KenPom: Rank-- 55, AdjO-- 43, AdjD-- 80, AdjTempo-- 7, Luck-- 195, SOS-- 104
Baylor KenPom: Rank-- 35, AdjO-- 20, AdjD-- 78, AdjTempo-- 84, Luck-- 337, SOS-- 56
Spread: Baylor -3.0
RPI: BYU-- 55, Baylor-- 62

4 Factors:

BYU Player Impact:

Analysis:

The first thing that jumped out at me when looking at BYU is how similar the two teams are in what they want to and have managed to do this season. Both prefer an up-tempo style of offense, BYU more than Baylor in that regard, and both excel within it. BYU is 9th in the country in field goal attempts, 12th in makes, 11th in offensive possessions, and 40th in offensive efficiency. They are also 8th in assists. The high number of shots leads to a lot of rebounds (17th in total rebounding), but the Cougars are not an especially good offensive rebounding team (144th in offensive rebounding percentage). Baylor "solved" this offense in December by blocking shots and forcing turnovers (6 and 14, respectively), though the fact that BYU made only 2 of 12 3-pointers also helped quite a bit.

On that note, BYU is not an especially good 3-point shooting team to begin with (163rd in percent made, 139th in attempts, 140th in makes), and their best shooter, Tyler Haws, has only made 43 3s all season. For comparison, Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip both have 82. Gary Franklin has 33. What that means is that a virtuoso shooting performance from downtown a la Bryce Cotton of Providence is likely not in the cards. It's still possible, see Baylor vs. Louisville on the women's side, but unlikely. If Baylor can get a lead and knuckle down on defense like they did in December, we should be able to keep it. BYU's turnover percentage is extremely high (334th in the country), so they are prone to mistakes.

Speaking of Mr. Haws, he, along with senior forward Brandon Davies, are undoubtedly BYU's best two players. Together, those two account for over 50% of BYU's points and 60% of their free throws. Davies is especially beastly in the latter regard and should be one Baylor fans remember well; all he did was torch us for 26 points, 11 of which came from the free throw line, and 17 rebounds. In that game, Davies dominated both of our freshmen bigs, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers, down low, racking up 4 fouls on each of them just from guarding him alone. With Austin playing less of a role these days and Rico improving defensively through the season, my hope is that situation won't repeat itself. Giving Cory Jefferson more responsibility against Davies may also help, as well. Defensively, Davies is by far BYU's most-active shot blocker, but that doesn't mean he's actually that good at it. Both Austin (5.2%) and Jefferson (7.0%) block more shots as a percentage than Davis (3.5%).

For his part, Haws is a bigger guard at 6'5" that may give our defenders some trouble. He takes about 30% of BYU's shots, slightly more than Pierre Jackson's 27.8% of our own, and plays almost exclusively on the wing for the Cougars. Their point guard is the much smaller Matt Carlino, who, along with Davies, turns the ball over far more than anybody else on the team. I can see A.J. Walton's aggressive defense taking advantage of that tendency just as easily as I can see Davies making Walton wish he were dead. Carlino has taken the most 3s of anybody on BYU's team but arguably shouldn't, his percentage is 5 points below Haws'.

Haws, Davies, and Carlino form only part of a BYU rotation that has, at times this season, gone 8 players deep. In their last game, a blowout of Southern Miss in the NIT Elite Eight, BYU's five starters all played 33 or more minutes, with the rest allocated sparingly to bench players who combined for zero points. Those five players are Haws, Davies, Carlino, Brock Zylstra, and Nate Austin. Austin is the biggest player BYU has on the roster at 6'11, and we should expect to see him start tonight. Zylstra, like Davies, is a taller guard at 6'6" that actually led the team in points against Southern Miss with 23, well above his season average of 7.7. If any of the starting five get in foul trouble, first off the bench should be 6'7" forward Josh Sharp and 6'2" guard Craig Cusick.

What it boils down to for Baylor is that we have to stop Davies from killing us inside and getting our bigs into foul trouble again like he did the first time. We also have to keep Haws from muscling around our smaller guards and forcing his way into the paint. The basketball maxim that you make fewer shots the future away from the basket you are holds true for BYU, and this may be the perfect time for the zone defense Drew seems to love to actually work well. One thing to watch from BYU defensively is that they led their conference in steals (39th in the country), so ball security is an absolute must. BYU will try to raise the tempo of the game and score in transition, nothing could be better for us than denying them than denying them the chance to do so by securing rebounds, limiting turnovers, and getting the ball inside when we have it (because long shots tend to mean long rebounds either way).

Baylor is a 3 point favorite as of right now and I think that fits. The two teams match up well on offense and defense, but Baylor has an edge in both according to KenPom. If Pierre Jackson can play like he has recently and Cory Jefferson can continue to build on what he's done in this Tournament, it should be a fun night. If not ... at least our guys got to have fun in NYC. The game starts at 6 PM CST on ESPN2.

Special request-- if anybody has a subscription to KenPom.com, I'd love to know where BYU ranks in 3-point defense. Just post it in the comments if you do. Thanks!

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