The following, in my opinion, is certainly one of the most maddening sports phenomena:
3 rounds left; challenger is down 4 rounds. The only way to win the belt is to go for a KO.
There is peril in going for a knockout in this scenario. Your opponent to this point has shown that they are superior. By taking big swings, you leave yourself open for punishment and you may be on the receiving end of devastation rather than the delivering end. Again, it has been shown that your opponent is better than you. Scary.
On the other hand, you are a boxer. This is the biggest moment of your career and now isn’t the time to worry about your safety. The time to worry about your safety is when you decided to be a boxer. You’ve worked your whole life to be a champion. This is it! 3 rounds left, down 4 rounds, have to record a KO. So, what are you going to do?
Amazingly, the majority of the time, the challenger simply circles and covers up to finish the fight, losing by decision.
This choice gets me fuming.
Fortunately, Coach Dave Rose is going for a 12th round knockout! That was made clear by his approach to the game vs. Portland last Saturday night.
Dave Rose tweaked the starting lineup. He moved Brock Zylstra from starting shooting guard to power forward. Brock is essentially the Riley Nelson of the basketball team. His contributions to the team are mostly his intangibles and he’s not very accurate. But he is physical, tough, gritty and a good leader. His size dictates that he plays the two, but his 3 point shooting (33.7%) indicate that he ought not be on the perimeter.
Moving Zylstra to the 4 makes sense against WCC competition. Size in the frontcourt is not a strength for any team in the West Coast Conference except Gonzaga. That includes BYU. It isn’t as though Nate Austin or Josh Sharp has been a significant advantage against anyone. Plus, if they are committed to playing zone defensively, Austin and Sharp have been woeful at defending the corner 3. Why not put the quicker Zylstra in that spot to close out on 3s? Besides, remember, Brock’s tough. He doesn’t mind fighting for boards. He had 6 vs. Portland. 3 more than Austin and Sharp combined. Zylstra at the 4 is a better matchup for BYU against every WCC team given our personnel deficiencies at that position.
Replacing Zylstra at the 2 was Craig Cusick. Cusick proved to be more capable at hitting his opportunities from outside vs. Portland by going 3 for 5. Outside shot making frees up Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws. Critical that there is production and a threat of getting burned from outside by leaving our guards to pressure Davies and Haws.
Cusick is the foil to Matt Carlino. He doesn’t play hero ball. He favors smart, safe plays. He has a veteran, calming presence. He isn’t as explosive and dynamic as Carlino, but when the team has to get a good look, Cusick finds it better than Matt. More poise.
This can give BYU some stability. When in transition, Carlino leads looking for a quick basket. When in half court, Cusick leads looking for the best shot possible. This gives some versatility on the floor that isn’t present when only one or the other is playing.
Offensively, the most explosive players on BYU are in this order:
1. Tyler Haws
2. Brandon Davies
3. Matt Carlino
4. Brock Zylstra
5. Craig Cusick
It’s true. Who’s more likely to get 10 points or more in a game? Craig Cusick or anyone else on the bench? I’ll take Craig.
So, Dave Rose now has his lineup with the best 5 scorers on the floor as his starters. Concern for natural position has been abandoned.
Defensively, BYU doesn’t have any dynamic, game changers. Haws is probably their best defender, but he is so critical to the team offensively that he has adopted the "Jimmer rule". Save your energy for scoring the ball. The difference between a starter and a bench player is negligible defensively. So, any success on that end of the court will come as a team.
Last Saturday, I saw BYU defend differently. Still playing an aggressive zone, but now double-teaming immediately on post catches every time. There wasn’t a single time the Cougars didn’t double down on the post. They employed a new defensive strategy.
It is a risky choice. Trying a new defensive scheme with only 4 games left in the regular season takes guts. The team is learning new rotations and adjustment that are made when doubling the post. Their inexperience with this set was exposed at times against Portland.
BYU likely would have defeated Portland by more points had they played their usual system. But, their usual system has them destined for the NIT and a conference tournament exit. That’s not Coach Rose’s vision.
From the changes I saw last Saturday, it is clear that he wants the NCAA’s. He knows this only comes from winning the WCC tourney in Vegas next month. Ultimately, that means beating Gonzaga.
Rose has decided that the way BYU can pull off the upset is by slowing down Gonzaga’s inside game and setting up his team to rain 3’s. So, his team is doubling on post catches, playing Zylstra at the 4, Cusick at the 2, and playing his 5 best scorers for the majority of the game.
As a bonus, Coach Rose gets a practice run at home on February 28 to see if this system could pull it off. In that game, they might get roughed up due to these late season changes in tactics. Heck, they might get roughed up when they continue to try this against Utah State, and at St. Mary’s this week.
By the end of the loss at home to San Francisco, one thing was clear: something had to change. I applaud Rose for recognizing that and going for the Big Dance.
BYU has a puncher’s chance next month in Las Vegas. Rose is doing the most he can right now with this team to load up the haymaker.
(P.S. There wasn’t a giant Dick Vitale head in The ROC at last Saturday’s game for the first time all season. My pride won’t let anyone convince me that it was merely a coincidence.)