Thursday Preview: BYU at Saint Mary's

    
December 29th, 2011

It can be argued that Vanderbilt's trip to #13 Marquette is the big game of the day on Thursday, especially when considering a Commodore resume that could use some added bulk. But there's also the first-ever conference game as a member of the West Coast Conference for BYU (11-3), and they're jumping directly into the fire thanks to the league schedule-makers. Dave Rose's Cougars visit Saint Mary's (11-2) in the league opener for both teams, and there are some very good individual battles to keep track of in Moraga. The Gaels are 9-0 at home on the season thanks to both a tough environment for visitors at McKeon Pavilion and the talented players at Randy Bennett's disposal. The one who "stirs the drink": junior point guard Matthew Dellavedova. 

Dellavedova (13.9 ppg, 6.3 apg), who was inexplicably left off of the first Cousy Award candidate list, is called upon to score as well as set up the Gaels' other options. The Australian shoots at a good clip from both the floor (44.3%) and from three (36.5%), with Steven Holt (8.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Jorden Page (7.7 ppg) also factoring into things on the perimeter. Senior forward Clint Steindl (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is shooting 44.9% from beyond the arc, and he can be a matchup problem for teams given his comfort on the perimeter. Thanks in large part to this perimeter rotation the Gaels average 17.0 assists and 11.5 turnovers per game, and their efficiency (114.1) is tops in the WCC.

BYU ranks third in the conference in offensive efficiency (111.3), and the addition of UCLA transfer Matt Carlino at the end of the fall semester has paid dividend for the Cougars. Carlino (17.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who some have envisioned as possibly become a southpaw guard in the mold of Jimmer Fredette, has hit the ground running in shooting 54.5% from both the field and from three. Wings Charles Abouo (11.9 ppg, 7.0 ppg) and Brock Zylstra (9.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg) were BYU's best perimeter scorers before Carlino became eligible, and they're both clearly going to remain key options offensively. But what Carlino's arrival has done is make opponents account for the point guard spot supplying credible scoring, something that wasn't happening when he wasn't available.

The play inside will be where BYU may have to take control of the game, and they're more than capable of doing so with one of the top frontcourts on the west coast. Obviously Abouo's going to help on the glass given the fact that he's the Cougars' second-leading rebounder, but BYU can call on the experienced Noah Hartsock (17.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Brandon Davies (11.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) for scoring and muscle inside. Hartsock is shooting 59.1% from the field on the season, which is quite the achievement when considering that he's taken the most shots on the team (159). Davies is a very good athlete who does the majority of his work in the paint, and while his field goal percentage is down from his first two seasons in Provo that's got more to do with Davies' larger role. 

As for Saint Mary's their best frontcourt player is senior Rob Jones (14.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg), who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding while also ranking third on the team in assists. If Saint Mary's isn't calling upon Dellavedova to make something happen more likely than not it's Jones who shoulders that responsibility. The other interior players are called upon more for defense and rebounding than scoring, with the experienced Kenton Walker and Mitchell Young combining with freshman Brad Waldow and sophomore Beau Levesque in a four-man platoon (seven-footer Kyle Rowley also plays 6.2 mpg). This group has to help out Jones on the boards against a BYU team that's the better rebounding squad of the two.

The Cougars out-rebound their opponents by an average of 5.1 rebounds per game while the Gaels are almost breaking even (plus-0.3) in rebounding margin. With these being the top two defensive teams in the WCC from an efficiency (and field goal percentage) standpoint, rebounding and second-chance points could make the difference. If Davies, Hartsock and the rest of the Cougars can attack the offensive glass successfully they've got a shot at leaving Moraga with the win. But they're also going to need either Anson Winder or Craig Cusick to step up and take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way on the perimeter. With Gonzaga also factoring into the WCC race, one of these two teams will get a much-appreciated jump on the competition with a win.

Vanderbilt, to their credit, has played a tough schedule to this point in the season but at 8-4 there's no doubt that the Commodores could use another quality win before the start of SEC play. Thursday night's game at #13 Marquette offers the perfect opportunity to pick one up, but John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor are going to have their hands full on the perimeter. In addition to Darius Johnson-Odom there's also point guard Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and reserve Todd Mayo to account for. And in an inside/out role Jae Crowder is one of the top forwards in the Big East. Whether or not Vanderbilt can leave Milwaukee with the win could depend on what they get from Brad Tinsley and Festus Ezeli.

Pac-12 plays also gets underway, and while the much-maligned conference doesn't have a single ranked team that doesn't mean that the action will lack suspense. Oregon State visits Washington with a chance to prove that they're ready to be an actual factor in the title race as opposed to a spolier, and with Jared Cunningham leading the way it's definitely possible. Washington needs to find a way to mesh the talents of Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten on the perimeter while also getting the ball to C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross on the wings. If one were to combine the raw talent of Wroten with the savvy of Gaddy the end result would be the perfect point guard for Lorenzo Romar's system, but obviously that isn't possible.

UCLA's trip to Stanford is another matchup of interest as the Bruins have won five straight games. One big reason why is that they're defending better, and the improved execution on the offensive end hasn't hurt either. Stanford counters with forward Josh Owens and freshman guard Chaisson Allen, who is going to be a star in the Pac-12 and possibly sooner rather than later. Harvard will likely be expected to win at Boston College and Mike Rosario returns to Rutgers in a pair of games in the northeast that the visitors are expected to win, and Memphis had better be careful to not underestimate Andy Toole's Robert Morris Colonials.  

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Elon at (6) North Carolina (ESPNU)
7:00 PM (10) Florida at Rutgers (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Vanderbilt at (13) Marquette (ESPN2)
7:30 PM Penn State at (16) Michigan (BTN)
8:00 PM Howard at (18) Kansas (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (23) Harvard at Boston College (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
2:00 PM Brown at St. Francis (NY)
4:00 PM American University at Mount St. Mary's
4:30 PM Utah Valley vs. Hampton*
6:00 PM Spring Hill at Louisiana Tech
7:00 PM Grambling State at LSU (CST)
7:00 PM North Carolina Central at East Carolina
7:00 PM Campbell at NC State
7:00 PM Yale at Wake Forest
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at New Hampshire
7:00 PM William & Mary at Miami (OH)
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Memphis
7:00 PM Longwood at Chattanooga
7:00 PM VCU at Akron
7:00 PM Green Bay at Butler (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Stetson at UCF
7:00 PM Pennsylvania at Davidson
7:00 PM Austin Peay at Eastern Kentucky
7:00 PM Iona at Hofstra (FiOS 1)
7:00 PM Boston University at La Salle
7:00 PM Citadel at Tennessee (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at UTEP
7:05 PM Maine at Florida Gulf Coast
8:00 PM Detroit at Illinois-Chicago (HLN)
8:00 PM Arkansas Tech at Texas A&M
8:00 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at North Texas
8:00 PM Texas-Arlington at Texas-Pan American
8:00 PM Southern Illinois at Evansville (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Marshall at Belmont
8:00 PM Georgia Tech at Fordham (CBSSN)
8:00 PM Wright State at Loyola (IL) (HLN)
8:00 PM FIU at Middle Tennessee
8:00 PM Tennessee Tech at SIU-Edwardsville
8:00 PM Alcorn State at Southern Miss
8:00 PM Milwaukee at Valparaiso
8:05 PM Northern Iowa at Illinois State
8:30 PM Western Kentucky at Louisiana-Monroe
8:30 PM Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee State
8:35 PM Kent State at Arkansas State
8:35 PM Sacramento State at Northern Arizona
9:00 PM Coppin State vs. San Jose State*
9:00 PM USC at California (CSN CA)
9:00 PM Jacksonville State vs. Colorado State*
9:00 PM Oregon State at Washington (ROOT)
9:00 PM Oregon at Washington State (CSN NW)
9:00 PM Jacksonville at Alabama (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Wagner vs. Air Force*
9:00 PM Oklahoma at Cincinnati (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Troy at Denver
9:00 PM Idaho State at Weber State
9:30 PM James Madison vs. Rhode Island*
10:00 PM Hope International at Cal Poly
10:00 PM UC Irvine at Cal State Northridge
10:00 PM San Francisco at Pepperdine
10:05 PM UC Davis at Cal State Fullerton
10:30 PM Fresno State at Pacific
11:00 PM UCLA at Stanford (FSN)
11:00 PM Brigham Young at Saint Mary's (ESPN2)
11:15 PM Eastern Michigan at Santa Clara
11:15 PM Nebraska-Omaha at Seattle
1:00 AM South Carolina State at Hawaii