Sports weeks like this are few and far between. BYU starts its first (of many?) seasons as a basketball team in the WCC, and what better way to start that affiliation than with a big game on the road against St. Mary’s, one of the Big Three this season in WCC basketball (BYU and Gonzaga being the others). And of course, a bowl game and a chance for 10 wins and a top 25 ranking for the football team.
But this post is really about the basketball team and a big game against St. Mary’s. Though this doesn’t compare to last season’s thrilling match-ups against San Diego State (both teams being ranked in the top 10), there is a lot of appeal for this one. Though neither the Cougars or the Gaels* are ranked, I think there’s a chance both are top 25 teams in a few weeks and both could be dangerous NCAA Tournament teams.
* Check out Wikipedia for a definition of the term Gaels. Still getting used to these mascots in the WCC. Yeah, Gonzaga is typical and boring with Bulldogs, but you have the Gaels, the Dons, the Waves, the Toreros, and the Pilots. Awesome.
I think the WCC is going to be very interesting at the top, with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s as formidable obstacles to the Cougars winning the WCC title in their first season. But who’s the best team so far? Depends on who you ask. With about a dozen games in the book for each school, the computers seem to be divided on who’s best. Pomeroy, Sagarin and RPI are not really that close to each other on these three (see below). I also included a non-scientific average of the three rankings.
Pomeroy Sagarin RPI Average
BYU 20 28 62 37
St. Mary’s 27 18 42 29
Gonzaga 29 41 11 27
What does this tell us? That until these three teams play each other, pick a computer ranking to tell which one is better and I’ll pick another. Pick a marquee win or a close loss, and I’ll pick another.
I think the order is BYU, St. Mary’s and then Gonzaga. But Mark Few is a fantastic coach, and there’s no reason the Bulldogs couldn’t become the best team in the conference when all is said and done.
Getting back to the game against St. Mary’s, the top two scorers for the Gaels are 6-6 senior forward Rob Jones (14.0) and 6-4 Australian junior point guard Matthew Dellavedova (13.9), who also leads the team in assists (6.4). The match-up between the experienced Dellavedova (in his third year running the team) and the uber-talented Matt Carlino could be the most fun part of watching this game.
Jones leads the team in rebounding (10.6), and helps anchor a very efficient offense that thrives on crisp passing and execution. They are not particularly big, and Brandon Davies should be a match-up problem. Expect to see several different Gaels guard him throughout the game, with a mix of smaller defenders who will try to annoy him when he touches the ball.
Neither of these teams play fast, and both teams do a very good job of clamping down on defense. But the Cougars have struggled defensively in the first half in each of their last two games against D-1 foes. If they do that again St. Mary’s, coming back will not be as easy.
Despite the smallish size, the Gaels are a terrific defensive rebounding team, and have guards who can rebound well. They do not turn the ball over often, so the Cougars will need to be very efficient on offense. They’re not a great 3-point shooting team (just 34.0%), but they chuck it up a lot (11th most in the country), so the perimeter defense will be key.
On a recent podcast, I predicted that BYU would lose this game. And while I think it will be close, upon closer examination, the Cougars are a tough match-up for St. Mary’s. BYU is more athletic at several key positions, and Davies is a problem the Gaels don’t have a good answer for. If the junior forward can stay out of foul trouble (a big if, I know), he should dominate.
But even if Davies struggles, Noah Hatsock and Jones cancel out, as should Carlino and Dellavedova. If Brock Zylstra and others can outplay their St. Mary’s counterparts, the Cougars should be able to steal their first conference game in the WCC.
Prediction: BYU 74, St. Mary’s 71