BYU hoops finally makes its return to the NCAA tournament after a long hiatus pushed back one extra year. After taking care of business and earning a 6 seed, the Cougars are all set to take on a scrappy UCLA team coming off an overtime win in the First Four games. Here are a few things I noticed watching UCLA against Michigan State and some areas where BYU should be able to attack to try and get their first tournament win since Jimmer.
BYU’s leveraged Matt Haarms and Richard Harward to great effect this year, letting Haarms use his height and length on both sides of the floor and leveraging Richard’s strength to put stress on the interior of opposing defenses. The Cougars will once again have a height advantage as UCLA’s tallest players are 6’9’’. UCLA is very physical, though so the Cougars will need to continue playing with force and strength. Here, UCLA’s starting big gets physical on the catch then pushes his man off his line, forcing a miss.
BYU’s bigs will need to play with a lot of force to maintain depth on their catches and go up strong. It’s been something Richard’s been able to do all year and Matt has started to do well later in the season but I was impressed at how physical both Riley (the starter) and Etienne were, despite being undersized.
Regardless of their physicality, you can still score against them and UCLA still helps out a lot sending different double team looks. Even in the clip above you can see Juzang (#3) coming over late to try and help. Against the Spartans, they showed doubles from both their four man and the guard coming from the top but at times struggled to rotate out of both looks.
UCLA has good hands on defense and if you’re not strong with the ball or tight with the handle they will turn you over. Take care of it, though, and you should have opportunities like Michigan State does in this clip. BYU’s bigs are used to double teams and like in the clip above, will often get help by cutting the doubling defender’s player to the basket like Connor does here.
The other option here is to stay strong and go up if you have deep enough position like Matt does here against the Zags:
The double comes from the baseline here, but with his height he could certainly do something similar against a smaller UCLA lineup if he keeps the ball high.
At other times, UCLA brought the four man to double on mismatches from wherever he was to double but again, struggled to quickly rotate out of it and gave up a few threes.
Connor, Spencer, and Trevin should both benefit from looks like above and should get good looks in this game. Knock down a few of those and BYU might be able to get comfortable like Michigan State was in the first half.
BYU should also be able to use one of its favorite actions, especially against smaller teams — the high low. Michigan State started looking at that action in the second half and missed a few opportunities but were able to get decent looks out of their pick and roll, very similar to how BYU has been generating their looks.
They don’t throw the pass here but they could have with the pass coming from the top making it hard to help on. BYU does a similar action frequently but has been more willing to pass it lately.
Whether through a traditional post up or after other action, the Cougars need to be sure to be strong and be aware that UCLA is more than willing to crash down on the rim and try and make a play.
Outside of the post, UCLA is always ready to help and swarm to the ball with swipes and early help on drives. They also like to deny the first pass when they can to make things harder for your offense to go where it wants.
Here, they deny the pass to the point guard so he can reset the offense. They’re extending their defense further than they did most of the game but they aren’t afraid to get up and pressure you. The ball pressure for most of the game wasn’t as strong as it is here but it will be interesting if they try to amp up the pressure on the Cougars. BYU’s players one pass away will need be physical and mindful of creating space for a catch that doesn’t push their offense too high.
If you can get past your defender the rest of the UCLA defense is waiting to swipe the ball away or help early, so BYU will need to be stronger on the ball than this.
If BYU can be smart in knowing that this help is coming and be the willing passers they’ve been all season, they should be able to navigate this and generate positive possessions out of plays where the entire defense contracts.
UCLA likes to get to help in these situations early so if the ball handler can keep their head and make the dump off pass, as should have happened in this play, BYU should be able to get some easy buckets.
Quick note on ball screen defense: For most of the game, UCLA played more of a drop coverage to help contain the ball handler and Michigan State too often bailed the defense out with pull up midrange jumpers.
Right at the end of the clip you can see the Spartan post player pointing for the guard to throw the lob next time. Brandon has recently been making a living dropping dimes on plays like this and the opportunities should be there against the Bruins
Get their defense moving
Michigan State did not do a great job of getting their offense going to multiple sides, opting instead to try and rely on their talent winning one on ones. The opportunities where they did get UCLA scrambling usually worked out well (like the post double team in the clip above). Here the Bruins do have a player get accidentally tripped but their rotations are also way too slow to take away this three.
It’s a scramble situation for sure, but sometimes you’ll see one of the bottom players recognize that the corner needs to be covered and sprint out to run the shooter off the line. They got caught a few times in transition as well and don’t do a great job at recovering in tougher situations like this.
Stay Solid on their Scorers
UCLA is pretty balanced offensively but mostly rely on Johnny Juzang (14.5 pts/g) and Jaime Jaquez (12.3 pts/g) to carry them when things break down. Offensively they don’t do anything too crazy, often terminating in side ball screens for their distributing point guard but they do have an action they ran a lot for Jaquez that caused Michigan State a lot of problems. After running it a few times and getting Jazquez some buckets they used him as a decoy to create looks elsewhere.
It’s a good play design but Michigan State also does a poor job and gives up an open three. BYU has been more willing to switch 1 through 4 on defense and I would not be surprised to see them do it on this play to make sure no one springs loose. Jaquez’s defender here had a rough time with him all night, contributing to the UCLA forward dropping 27 points. Jaquez is a more than willing shooter that will make tough shots but if you stay solid he will force up bad shots.
Michigan State matched size a little better on defense here and it worked out well. I expect Caleb will probably start out on Jaquez but Connor and Gideon will get a run at him as well. When they’re not guarding Jaquez, expect Connor and Gideon to be taking turns on Juzang. Like the rest of the roster, Juzang is not shy and will hit tough shots.
But he will also miss his fair share. Again, if BYU stays solid they should be all right.
With UCLA having many willing shooters and its fair share of bad shots, BYU has to make sure to clean the glass as the Bruins will crash hard at times.
UCLA is capable so it will be important for BYU to build and maintain a solid lead and not give UCLA’s shot makers an opportunity to pull off the upset.
Michigan State was able to capitalize on transition opportunities quite a bit, scoring off of makes multiple times. Despite BYU’s slower overall pace, they still look to push the ball when the opportunity presents itself and should be able to find success against UCLA. Check out this bucket where Michigan State just catches the Bruins off guard:
Brandon does a similar thing often, either scoring or drawing a foul:
As good as the Bruins can be swarming drives in the half court, beating them down the floor removes the need to worry about that.
Will the Cougars prevail?
UCLA is a tough team with some shot makers but BYU should be able to do some things well against them. From transition, to using their size advantage properly, to being as solid as they’ve been all year defensively, the Cougars should be able to win tonight and probably beat the three point spread. I could see a lot of possessions going like this one against Oregon State (UCLA’s last loss).
Minus the bad fadeaway before the bucket here, BYU should be able to do similar things, reversing the floor through post ups and letting Gideon and Caleb crash the glass from the perimeter for offensive rebounds. UCLA is certainly capable of pulling off the upset but if BYU plays to the level that it can and especially if they can get the three ball going down, here’s hoping that the Cougars can get their first tournament victory in 10 years.