The BYU Cougars are headed north to Ogden to play the Weber State Wildcats this Saturday in a yearly in-state battle.
Last year, BYU wiped the floor with the Wildcats, 94-66, and Weber State has since lost the services of Damian Lillard, who is currently the front-runner to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Yet this year's contest is expected to be as close as ever.
According to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, BYU is 3.21 points better than Weber State. But after factoring in home-court advantage, which Sagarin has calculated to be worth 3.78 points so far this season, the Wildcats become a 0.57-point favorite -- a virtual pick 'em.
Ken Pomeroy, I'm told (I don't have paid access to his site), has win-likelihood currently set at 50% for each team -- again, a pick 'em -- but with BYU ultimately winning.
How could this be, just a season after BYU destroyed a Weber State team that had a lottery pick last season? Having watched Weber play four times this year -- and full disclosure, being a tWSU alum -- I feel I can offer some insight.
To be clear, none of the following is meant to predict a Weber State victory. I could see this game going in a variety of ways. I just want to speak to why Weber State is being pegged by stat experts as a pick 'em with BYU.
BYU has problems at times with athletic guards getting to the hoop. This matchup doesn't bode well, as guards Gelaun Wheelwright and Davion Berry are, stripped of hyperbole, two of the quickest college guards I can recall watching. It doesn't always work, especially for Wheelwright, who sometimes makes mistakes trying to move too quickly. Wheelwright (24 mpg) is the backup point guard while Berry (31.5 mpg) starts at the 3. Starting point guard Jordan Richardson is athletic, just not nearly as quick as the other two.
The solution? The zone defense would help that ... except Weber shoots 40.4% from three (#19 nationally).
Weber State ranks 28th nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.2% from the field. The Wildcats also give up just 58.8 points per game, which ranks 45th nationally. In action, this is displayed by WSU's road win over Dayton (7-2). The Flyers average 71.3 points per game, but Weber held them to 61 and beat them in an arena where Dayton was 90-15 over the last six seasons.
Weber's defense is statistically similar to Utah's, though not quite as elite. If BYU's cold shooting continues (Matt Carlino's resurgence has hopefully arrived), things could become difficult.
20-GAME HOME WINNING STREAK
The Wildcats have strung together 20 straight wins at the Purple Palace. The effects of this can be seen simply by looking at the 2010 contest between the two schools. Jimmer was in his senior season -- you know, the one where he won National Player of the Year honors -- and Weber State was without Lillard who had broken a bone in his foot. Despite that advantage, BYU won by only 6 points when it was favored by 12.5 on the road.
One of the early storylines for BYU's success has been whether or not Brandon Davies is on the court. When he's in foul trouble and on the bench for extended periods of time, the Cougars struggle. At 6'9", Davies' counterpart will be the 6'10" Kyle Tresnak (20 mpg).
To Tresnak's side will be Frank Otis (23 mpg), an athletic 6'6" forward who grabbed three rebounds and dished three assists in only seven minutes against BYU last year. The senior transfer from SMU then left the game with a knee injury that kept him sidelined for most of the year. He'll be facing Josh Sharp, who matches him in height but does give up some weight.
Tresnak is backed up by James Hajek, a 6'10" center who plays 15 minutes per game, averaging 5 points with 4 rebounds. Otis is backed up by Joel Bolomboy, a 6'9" freshman who turned down New Mexico and Texas A&M to play at Weber. Bolomboy grabs 8.5 rebounds per game despite playing only 22 minutes per contest, and is 4th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
Davies is the only 6'9" or taller player for BYU who plays at least 15 minutes per game, while Weber State has three such players, all of whom are solid.
The short of it: Davies will need to play it careful. Weber has the personnel to get him in foul trouble if he isn't, and to make BYU pay in his absence.
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Again, none of this is meant to paint a picture that BYU is outmatched, just to give insight as to what the experts are seeing. Davies will be the best big man on the floor, and BYU has a size advantage on the guard line it can utilize to its favor. Weber will clearly need to account for Tyler Haws, which it may not be able to do. The Wildcats are also a poor free-throw shooting team, and have a distinct knack for not winning big games recently.
Hopefully, Weber State ends up being as good as expected, helping BYU prepare for WCC play with a tough test as well as helping its strength of schedule as much as possible.