BYU will begin WCC tourney play against Santa Clara on Saturday, get a preview of every team that will contend for the title.
by Robby McCombs
BYU will venture into Vegas seeking to win its first conference tournament title since 2001. It’s no secret that BYU likely needs to win three games in Vegas in order to qualify for the NCAA tournament; Coach Dave Rose stated after Wednesday’s practice, “[Winning the conference tournament] is probably the only way we’re going to get in.”
Here’s a breakdown of each top contender – plus Santa Clara – and how BYU matches up with them.
Santa Clara: The Broncos are the loan WCC team that BYU has yet to lose to since BYU joined the conference in 2011. BYU won the two matchups this year by a total of 70 points. Even though Santa Clara has one of the top players in the country in Jared Brownridge, BYU really exploits Santa Clara’s frontcourt and owns the paint. BYU is able to get up and corral Brownridge without having to worry much about SCU’s frontcourt players exploiting them. As we saw last year in Vegas, however, Santa Clara is able to go off. Jared Brownridge nailed 6 threes, and it took a last-second shot from Tyler Haws for BYU to eek out a two-point win. Brownridge put up 44 against Arizona this season in an overtime loss, so SCU does have upset potential.
- Why BYU matches up well: BYU has the advantage in the backcourt. Neither team has much depth at the guard line, and BYU’s starters have a lot more scoring punch than Gonzaga’s. In BYU’s win at the Kennel, Kyle Wiltjer had a fantastic game, but the lack of production from his backcourt allowed BYU to come away with the upset. WCC Defensive Player of the Year Eric McClellan really gets after it on the defensive end, but his sub 30% three point shooting allows BYU to lay off him and double down in the post. Freshman point guard Josh Perkins has had his moments, but his inconsistency has handcuffed Gonzaga from being an elite team this season. If Perkins averages 15+ in the tournament, Gonzaga will likely take the crown.
- Why BYU doesn’t match up well: Gonzaga has two NBA frontcourt players. Domantas Sabonis is a potential lottery pick, and Kyle Wiltjer is the WCC’s leading scorer. BYU has been fortunate to get Sabonis in foul trouble both games this season, but he has been unstoppable at times when he is in. BYU did a fantastic job in the first half this past game forcing turnovers against Gonzaga’s bigs. BYU’s guards brought weakside help, and it took Gonzaga awhile to adjust to it. BYU forced 11 first half turnovers compared to only 2 in the second half. If Corbin Kaufusi can improve on his subpar performance from last game and BYU can effectively double team Sabonis and Wiltjer in the post, BYU will have a good shot at beating Gonzaga in a potential semifinal matchup.
- Why BYU matches up well: BYU’s 1-3-1 zone befuddled Saint Mary’s in the second half during the game in Provo; SMC scored only 22 second half points. After gong predominately man in the first half, the Gaels struggled mightily against the trapping zone. Corbin Kaufusi was the x-factor that game. He anchored the defense and was one of the main reasons why BYU won. Kaufusi came off the bench to block three shots and grab eight boards in that game in Provo.
- Why BYU doesn’t match up well: Saint Mary’s is ultra efficient. BYU has struggled most against teams that run half court offenses. Not only do the Gaels do that, but they are also one of the best shooting teams in the country. They have four guys that average in double figures, and have multiple guys that are fantastic three-point shooters. Saint Mary’s plays one of the best brands of team basketball in the country; guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are two of the top assist men in the nation. Saint Mary’s outplayed BYU in three of the four halves this season, so BYU will have its hands full if the Gaels await in the title game.
- Why BYU has struggled versus Pepperdine: Pepperdine has given BYU trouble for the past few years. BYU split this year, but were swept last year and have lost the last three contests in Malibu. So why the troubles? First off, Pepperdine is talented. Forward Stacy Davis is a three-time all-conference player, and guard Lamond Murray Jr is one of the best two-way players in the league. The Waves are also one of the best teams nationally in defending the three-point line. Pepperdine routinely holds BYU to under 30% from the arc. BYU shot 38% from three in the last matchup, and consequently were able to come away with an 11 point win.
Pepperdine swept Saint Mary’s this year, so they are a darkhorse candidate to win the whole thing.
Subscribe to ESPN960's News!
Get the latest cougar news, contests and flyaways, and more straight to your inbox with our weekly emails.