When the UMass Minutemen and BYU Cougars face each other on Saturday at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, two of the best mid-major conference teams in the country will share a court and probably score gobs and gobs of points. I have had this matchup circled on my calendar since the schedules came out. For the uninitiated, BYU is a run-and-gun teams that has studs on the outside and an extremely skilled big man inside, making them very fun to watch.
Likewise, UMass loves to run, pressure and score with their electric perimeter players and skilled interior presence. In BYU, UMass is facing a team that has already achieved the type of praise and adulation that all mid-major teams yearn for. This is truly a no-lose situation for the Minutemen -- provided they can keep the game competitive.
BYU is not ranked, but that doesn't mean they aren't a good team. Taylor Haws is one of the best pure scorers in the country and will do some things that simply make your jaw drop. He leads the team in scoring with 23.6 points per game. After him is Matt Carlino, whose 17.4 points per game come at the expense of a ton of shots. Only twice this year has Carlino put up less than 15 shots in a game, and that was only because his self-awareness told him he should probably stop shooting (3-for-13, 2-for-11 in said games).
Kyle Collinsworth (11.9 points, 8.6 rebounds) rounds out the guard positions and 6-foot-11 Nate Austin (4.8 points, 9.1 rebounds) holds down the power forward position. At center is Eric Mika, a 6-foot-10 center from Lone Peak High School in Utah that has come in and made an immediate impact. Mika is extremely skilled on the block and can be a real bother defensively as well. Few teams in the country have a starting lineup this complete.
So where can UMass poke the holes? Where can they get an advantage?
Containing the Scorers
The first obvious point of emphasis will be on holding Haws and Carlino to reasonable point totals on a ton of shots. In BYU's first loss of the season to Iowa State, Haws and Carlino combined for 39 points on 39 shots. That is a total Derek Kellogg should be able to live with. Derrick Gordon will draw the assignment on one of the two, but it might be best to throw a bunch of different defenders at the pair, especially Haws, to keep them from going against tired opponents.
Hitting the Glass
Rebounding will also need to be an area where UMass at least can draw even. BYU averages 45 rebounds per game and allows 40 per game. Gordon will be a big factor in the rebounding battle as he is one of the best guards in the country in that area of the game. In truth, it will need to be a total team effort for UMass to keep BYU from dominating the glass.
This final piece of the puzzle actually has a bit to do with the previous key. The Minutemen will need to get as many possessions as they can through turnovers and offensive rebounds to keep the ball on their end of the floor and out of the hands of BYU. In BYU's other loss, a 75-62 loss to Wichita State, BYU turned the ball over 21 times and allowed the Shockers to grab 15 offensive rebounds. The less possessions BYU has, the less it can hurt you with its scorers.
I cannot in good conscience make a pick on this game. In theory, UMass should win because they are the higher ranked team and playing an off-campus home game. On the other hand, BYU can score a ton, has more size and rebounding than UMass, and have been tough to beat when they are playing their game. This game will be way too fun and way too exciting for me to actually choose one team or the other.
So in total cop-out fashion, I'm saying that whomever wins will do so by less than five points.