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BYU basketball vs. #1 Gonzaga preview: how to watch, stats, podcast, and more

Everything you need to know before the big game!

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Santa Clara Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is a huge game in the West Coast Conference between the BYU Cougars and the #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Here is a massive preview of everything you need to know before the clash on the Marriott Center hardwood.

How to watch

Tipoff for tonight’s contest is at 9 o’clock MST.

Television

ESPN2 with Eric Rothman on play-by-play with Adrian Branch providing analysis.

Streaming

The game will also be carried on WatchESPN.com for those with a cable or satellite subscription.

Radio

KSL Radio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, BYU Radio Sirius XM 143 with Greg Wrubell and Mark Durrant calling the action.

Game preview

The challenge of Gonzaga

When investigating BYU’s upset bid against Gonzaga, making the case for the Cougars become problematic. Simply put, everything that BYU does really well, Gonzaga does better. BYU certainly isn’t alone. Gonzaga is undefeated. The reason is simple. The Zags are better than everybody defensively. Plus, the Bulldogs are better than everybody but UCLA offensively. Take a look.

Offense points per possession National Rank Defensive points per possession National Rank
Gonzaga 1.053 2nd 0.747 1st
BYU 0.942 99th 0.827 42nd

When evaluating the game of basketball down to the efficiency of individual possessions, nobody is a better overall team than Gonzaga. They are incredible. They scored when they have the ball at a rate better than everybody except UCLA. They surrender the least amount of points per possession than any team in America. That’s a lethal combination that easily explains why the Bulldogs are 22-0 and the #1 team in the country.

If BYU are going to win tonight, it will have to do with shot making. The Cougars will have to execute at a higher level offensive than they have throughout the season. The difficulty of playing a Dave Rose team is their lethal attack in transition. However, the fast break game for BYU this season has been rotten. Gonzaga is superior to BYU in uptempo play on both ends of the floor. This, however, isn’t a great compliment to the visitors from Spokane, Washington — most teams in the country have been more efficient than BYU in transition offense and defense this season.

Offense Transition points per possession National Rank Defensive points per possession National Rank
Gonzaga 1.111 81st 0.891 24th
BYU 0.941 299th 1.038 218th

There are 351 Division 1 basketball teams and BYU ranked 299th in scoring on the fast break. In addition, they aren’t very good at stopping their opponents on the break. In fact, BYU will surrender more points on average in transition than they will score. That could also be described as losing basketball. Despite this, BYU plays at break neck pace. They have the 4th fastest pace of play in the country.

The Cougars will continue to play fast tonight against Gonzaga. However, BYU must execute at a higher level than they have through the first 23 games in transition if it is going to be effective against the Bulldogs. Otherwise, Dave Rose’s desire to play quickly will likely play into the hands of Mark Few’s squad.

Half court offense and defense have been better venues for efficient Cougar basketball.

BYU is 50th nationally in half court offense. That’s pretty darn good. But, where BYU is good, Gonzaga is better. Gonzaga rank 2nd.

BYU is 34th nationally in half court defense. That’s really quite impressive. But, where BYU is good, Gonzaga is better. Gonzaga rank 2nd.

The theme continues. Take a look at how BYU and Gonzaga perform offensively against man-to-man defense and how efficient their man-to-man defense is.

Offense PPP against Man-to-Man National Rank Man-to-Man Defense PPP National Rank
Gonzaga 1.043 2nd 0.73 8th
BYU 0.929 59th 0.772 17th

Unbelievably, BYU ranks 17th nationally in how stingy their man-to-man defense performs. That’s absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, even in instances where BYU is fantastic, Gonzaga is better. The Zags rank 8th.

Zone Defense

With how good BYU plays man-to-man defense, it would seem like a bad idea to play zone defense. Just based on the merit of the effectiveness of the man defense.

Zone defense is one of the major holes in BYU’s game. Where the Cougars are 17th in man defense, they rank 278th in zone defense. The Cougars are surrendering 1.032 points per possession against their zone defense. Opponents are scoring a little better than a basket every other time down the floor. BYU’s zone defense is a significant flaw.

There are many reasons why the zone look doesn’t work, but the most simple explanation is that BYU’s personnel are better man defenders than they are zone defenders. Plus, the lack of experience may hurt this groups ability to read and communicate to a level that creates stops in zone defensive looks. Let’s take a look at individual BYU players performance in relation to points per possession in both man and zone defense.

Man-to-Man Defense PPP Zone Defense PPP
Eric Mika 0.818 1.6
Nick Emery 0.686 0.773
TJ Haws 0.667 1.462
Yoeli Childs 0.713 1.071
LJ Rose 0.731 1.444
Elijah Bryant 0.922 2.222
Davin Guinn 0.758 0.778

Everybody is worse! Opponents are (at least) twice as effective at attacking Eric Mika, TJ Haws, LJ Rose, and Elijah Bryant when they are playing zone defense!

Elijah Bryant is surrendering 2.222 points every time he is attacked in a zone defense. That’s the worst mark of any player in the country. Nobody in all of D1 Hoops has done worse than the Elon transfer.

Eric Mika’s 1.6 ranks as 18th worst in the country. TJ Haws’ 1.462 is 56th worst.

(As an aside, Eric Mika also fouls a TON more frequently when BYU plays zone defense. He fouls on 20% of zone possessions he defends. That’s a high number and it gets BYU’s star center on the bench instead of the floor.)

Zone defense is a bad idea for BYU. Maybe the zone could be employed for a one off possession, but it should not be used on multiple possessions.

And yes, for the record Gonzaga is really great here too. They have the nation’s 19th ranked zone defense.

Player matchups

Of course, everybody has wondered how Eric Mika would perform against Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski. Mika averages 20.8 points and 9.6 rebounds; the 7-foot-1 288-pound Karnowski averages 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds. Mika will also have to overcome the freshmen front court of 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie and 7-footer Zach Collins off the bench.

On the perimeter, TJ Haws and Nick Emery will be tasked with handling Josh Perkins and Jordan Mathews.

At the point, LJ Rose will go head-to-head against WCC Player of the Year candidate Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss averages a team-high 14.8 points, team-high 5.6 rebounds, and team-high 4.9 assists.

Here’s a look at both roster’s offensive PPP on the season.

BYU Offense PPP Gonzaga Offense PPP
Eric Mika 1.072 Przemek Karnowski 1.117
Yoeli Childs 0.928 Johnathan Williams 1.099
TJ Haws 0.963 Josh Perkins 0.945
Nick Emery 0.954 Jordan Mathews 1.032
LJ Rose 0.753 Nigel Williams-Goss 1.032
Bench Bench
Jamal Aytes 1 Zach Collins 1.208
Elijah Bryant 0.932 Ryan Edwards 1.2
Braiden Shaw 0.927 Silas Melson 1.108
Colby Leifson 0.829 Killian Tillie 1.033
Steven Beo 0.817 Rui Hachimura 0.852
Davin Guinn 0.794 Jeremy Jones 0.583
Payton Dastrup 0.688
Corbin Kaufusi 0.375

Gonzaga features 5 players who have a higher offensive PPP than BYU’s leader in points per possession Eric Mika. The Zags have an incredible 8 players on their roster who are above 1 point per possession.

Of the Gonzaga players who will play major minutes in Thursday night’s game, their least efficient offensive player is Josh Perkins. The trouble here is that Josh Perkins is shooting 43.3% from 3 this season. That’s better than BYU’s best 3 point shooter, TJ Haws, who is making 39.5% from outside. Gonzaga is obscene.

Defensively, here is how the players stack up.

BYU Defense PPP Gonzaga Defense PPP
Eric Mika 0.864 Przemek Karnowski 0.548
Yoeli Childs 0.745 Johnathan Williams 0.795
TJ Haws 0.727 Josh Perkins 0.803
Nick Emery 0.694 Jordan Mathews 0.732
LJ Rose 0.777 Nigel Williams-Goss 0.728
Bench Bench
Corbin Kaufusi 0.333 Killian Tillie 0.5
Braiden Shaw 0.467 Ryan Edwards 0.571
Colby Leifson 0.519 Zach Collins 0.643
Davin Guinn 0.76 Rui Hachimura 0.68
Steven Beo 0.809 Silas Melson 0.67
Jamal Aytes 0.861 Jeremy Jones 1.231
Payton Dastrup 0.885
Elijah Bryant 1.082

Foul Trouble

As with every game between Gonzaga and BYU, the officiating crew is going to have their hands full. Foul trouble could potentially be the story of the night.

Yoeli Childs and Eric Mika are critical to BYU’s upset opportunities. Should either of them be forced to the bench, Braiden Shaw will need to come up big like he did last year in Spokane. The Cougars haven’t played a lot of small ball this season and trying out something that the Y doesn’t have a lot of comfort with against Gonzaga seems like a bad idea. They could be forced into smaller lineups with foul issues.

On the flip side, Gonzaga could be put into a difficult scenario should their perimeter players get into foul trouble.

Either way, it would be fair to expect a lot of whistles tonight. Free throw shooting may be important. BYU as a team shoots a very good 72.8%. But again, where BYU is good, Gonzaga is better. Gonzaga shoot 74.4% as a team.

CougarCast

For an in depth conversation about the PPP statistics, give this podcast a listen.

About the Show

2002 Daily Herald Utah County Name of the Year Award Winner Tosh Mackintosh and Keith Shirts are two friends who bond over BYU Sports. Obsessed, passionate, and opinionated, they chop it up over BYU Hoops and Football.

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