After a 66-53 win over UC Riverside the Aztecs will face rival BYU. It will be the fourth year in a row the programs will play each other. Last season the Aztecs lost a close one in the final minutes despite Matt Mitchell scoring a career high 35 points. It ended a four game winning streak over the cougars. This season the Aztecs travel to Provo to try and avenge last season’s loss.
BYU is having a bit of a resurgence. Long time coach Dave Rose’s last four seasons had BYU finish between 52-86 in KenPom. New coach Mark Pope has finished in the top 20 of KenPom both seasons he’s been at the helm.
A team needs to be good at pretty much everything to be a top 20 KenPom team. Rose’s teams tend to be more offensively focused, with the ability to finish both inside the arc as well as being really efficient beyond the arc. His defenses don’t tend to be as good as his offenses, but BYU has still been a very tough team to score on during Rose’s tenure.
BYU is coming off a 10 point win against Cleveland State. In that game the projected starting center Richard Harward didn’t play, and he isn’t expected to play against SDSU either.
How to defend BYU – Slowing down BYU starts with Alex Barcello. He is the cog that makes BYU run. Since arriving at BYU he has shot 48.2% from behind the arc. Last year he finished 41st in the nation in true shooting percentage. He is capable of hitting shots from anywhere on the floor, and excels at creating space for himself.
BYU’s offense generally starts with Barcello bringing the ball up the floor. After crossing half court he will pass the ball and then start running off screens. This will continue until Barcello is open, at which point he can decide whether to shoot or drive. Either way he’s attacking a broken defense.
One key to the game will be playing ball denial on Barcello. Between Lamont Butler and Adam Seiko, the Aztecs have a couple of defenders they can throw at Barcello to slow him down. Playing that aggressive will leave the Aztecs open to back cuts, so the rim protectors will need to be ready to rotate and contest shots at the rim.
Barcello is also an excellent passer, and a great decision maker in general. If the ball isn’t in his hands he can’t make those decisions, so it is imperative to keep the ball out of his hands after he gives it up. This will force other players to make those decisions and create plays for themselves. As a last note on Barcello’s efficiency, against Cleveland State he scored 24 points on only six shots, (going 13-13 from the free throw line) and had four assists to go with it. Limiting his chances to score will be huge will be the number one factor in how well BYU does offensively.
One other problem that BYU had last season was post entry passes. Players like Caleb Loehner wouldn’t always step out to the ball when in the post, which allowed defenders to jump into the passing lane and get a steal. Guys like Nathan Mensah, Keshad Johnson, and even Matt Bradley should be ready to attack any post entry that comes their way.
How to attack BYU –
The main thing the Aztecs need to do is share the ball. The Aztecs against UC Riverside played a lot to create shots for themselves and less for others. Pulliam and Bradley came off of picks looking to score more than pass. That approach likely won’t work as well against BYU, who has exceled at guarding pick and rolls for years. They also tend to eat up players who try to isolate against them.
Aside from ball movement there are a couple other notes. First, Matt Bradley could have another big game. BYU tends to drop their big man into the paint in the pick and roll, leaving the midrange game open. We just saw Bradley tear up UC RIverside in the midrange, so he may be able to do it again. If Pulliam’s floater is falling he could have another big game as well.
With Harward likely missing the game, expect BYU to play small for about 15-20 minutes of game time. They’ll play Loehner at the center position and surround him with a bunch of 6’5″ and 6’6″ players. Their athleticism will be able to slow down the Aztecs’ transition game, but look for the Aztecs to be more aggressive on the offensive glass in those minutes.
The last thing to pay attention to is screen angles. BYU will sometimes deny screens in the high pick and roll. When this happens a well timed flip can spring a ball handler free for an open 3 or a drive into the lane.
Plays to watch for –
Loehner UCLA – In this play Barcello passes the ball to the wing then shuffle cuts through the paint before setting a UCLA screen for Loehner, before popping out behind the three point line. If loehner gets the ball he posts up down low. If Barcello gets it he can choose to shoot the ball or run off a high pick and roll.
Barcello-Loehner two man game – In this play Barcello passes to the wing and cuts to the opposite corner. Loehner recieves the ball at the top of the key and fakes a handoff with a first player before executing the handoff with Barcello on the wing. Loehner then rolls to the rim. Barcello’s first read is the pass to Loehner. The second read is the weakside shooter on the wing. If both of those are covered, Barcello can shoot the ball himself or retreat dribble to set up another set.
Key Players – (Stats from 2021)
Alex Barcello – 16.1 pts, 4.7 rebs, 4.3 asts. For all the reasons written above.
Caleb Loehner – 7.0 pts, 7.1 rebs, 1.2 asts. Loehner grew a lot as a freshman last season and should make a big leap this season. At 6’8″, 235 lbs, he has enough athleticism to be effective anywhere on the floor. The Aztecs may have trouble guarding him as players like Johnson and Baker may not be strong enough, and Tomaic may not be quick enough. The Aztecs will need one of those three players to step up on make plays against the talented sophomore.
Spencer Johnson – 5.1 pts, 2.3 rebs, 0.9 asts. Johnson was the only player in BYU’s opener besides Barcello to score 9+ points, finishing with 13. While the team struggled from behind the arc, Johnson went 2-3 and has a career three point percentage of 41.9%. He is a player the Aztecs can’t let get hot from behind the arc.
X-Factor – If the Aztecs win it will likely be because Keshad Johnson is playing very well. His athleticism gives him a chance to guard Loehner well, and his activity on the glass, especially offensively, can swing games. Ending BYU’s possessions and grabbing a couple extra ones for the Aztecs could go a long way. Plus he has a knack for drawing fouls. Johnson hitting a couple more free throws than expected could go a long way in a game that is expected to be close.