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BYU-Saint Mary’s Preview: BYU Opens as 4-Point Favorite Over The Gaels

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at St. Mary’s Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

After opening up WCC play with a 22-point win over Pacific, BYU will have its first test of conference season when they host Saint Mary’s Saturday night in Provo at 8pm MT on ESPN2. Opening lines for the game opened right around 4 points. The total opened at 132.5. KenPom gives BYU a 66% win probability and predicts a 69-64 final score.

Both BYU and Saint Mary’s are squarely in early NCAA tournament projections and appear evenly matched. BYU is 13-3 and Saint Mary’s is 12-3, and both have quality KenPom and Net Rankings. BYU is 26th and 30th in KenPom and NET, respectively, while Saint Mary’s is 33rd and 43rd. Saint Mary’s is coming off COVID pause after having three games postponed — this will be their first game since a win over Yale on December 28.

The Gaels are an experienced, balanced team with 5 guys averaging over 9.4 ppg. BYU has the better guard line with Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas versus Saint Mary’s duo of Tommy Kuhse and Logan Johnson (all 4 players are seniors), but the Gaels have more size inside. SMC’s leading scorer is 6-10 big man Mattias Taas, who averages 12.5 points on 63% shooting. 6-foot-8 Kyle Bowen starts alongside him and leads the team in rebounds and they bring 6-foot-7 senior Dan Fotu off the bench. None of them are much of a shot blocking threat, but SMC will feed Taas and Fotu on the inside. Freshman Fousseyni Traore has been great this season, but he will have a big task trying to matchup with Taas inside. 6-9 freshman Atiki Ally Atiki will likely get some run this game and matchup with Taas at times.

I am curious to see how BYU guards Saint Mary’s with the Gaels’ size advantage. SMC is an average 3-point shooting team, but they have guys who can knock them down. My guess is that BYU doubles Taas inside initially and see how he reacts to the double teams.

Defensively, Saint Mary’s is as solid as always. They are only 232 nationally in 3-point defense, but they don’t give up a ton of threes, instead limiting opponents to mainly shots inside the arc.

Rebounding will be key this game, as both teams have largely outrebounded their opponents this year. Saint Mary’s is one of the best teams in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounds, while BYU is 41st nationally in offensive rebound percentage. BYU doesn’t need to dominate the glass, but they’ll need Caleb Lohner, Gideon George, and Fouss to create a handful of second chance opportunities.

Prediction: BYU wins

These are even teams and I think they will split the season series. Taas and Fotu could create some problems for BYU inside, but Fouss has been playing really well and I think he can keep Taas from dominating the paint. BYU has more perimeter length and athleticism with Gideon George and Seneca Knight to go along with the better backcourt, and I think those ultimately put BYU over the top and neutralize Saint Mary’s size advantage. Gideon George shut down Saint Mary’s offense last year in BYU’s win in Moraga, and I think BYU will use his length again to slow down Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s by the numbers:

Record: 12-3

KenPom: 33

NET: 43

Best Wins: Notre Dame (N), Oregon (N), Utah State (A), Missouri State (H)

Losses: Wisconsin, San Diego State, Colorado State