Once again the BYU Cougars will find themselves in Hawaii to participate in a tournament as they join eight other teams in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. This is the first time the Cougars will be playing in the Diamond Head Classic and look to face some quality teams. They will join the host team Hawaii along with Auburn, Harvard, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, and Washington State.
The exact opponents will depend on the way the Cougars and other teams play, like in most tournaments. We do know that the Cougars first game is a matchup with the Harvard Crimson. The second game is a bit more clear than the last game as the Cougars will either face the Auburn Tigers or the New Mexico Lobos. If the Cougars win their first two game the most likely scenario puts the Cougars up against the Oklahoma Sooners in the championship game. However, if the Cougars lose either or both of their first two games the opponent could be any one of the remaining teams.
First Round vs Harvard Crimson:
Harvard plays at a much slower pace than the Cougars and will look to minimize the BYU touches. On offense they will rely on two double-digit scorers in Zena Edosomwan and Tommy McCarthy. Edosomwan averages almost 13 points per game while McCarthy scores 10 per game. With over a third of the Crimson points, the ball will spend most of the time with these two players. The key for the Cougars will be to play physical, get in the lanes, and make them shoot the long ball. Harvard only shoots 61% from the free-throw line, turns the ball over 15 times a game, and only shoots 38% from behind the arc. These are all areas that the Cougars can take advantage of in order to come out with the win.
Second Round vs Auburn/New Mexico
The Tigers run a fast paced offense that averages 87 points per game, which produces four double-digit scorers for Auburn. Kareem Canty leads all tigers in scoring with 19.3 points per game while Tyler Harris adds 17, T.J. Dunans adds 13.4, and Cinmeon Bowers scores 13. Canty also lead all players with six assists per game, meaning the Cougars will need to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. BYU will need to focus their rebounding efforts on blocking out Bowers and Harris as they both average over nine rebounds per game, putting Corbin Kaufusi, Nate Austin, and Kyle Davis in the crosshairs on both offense and defense.
New Mexico Lobos:
The Lobos average 79 points per game and rely on three players to score more than half their points. Elijah Brown averages 19.1 points per game while pulling down 5.9 rebounds and dishing out 3.5 assists. Tim Williams adds 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. Cullen Neal rounds out the three as he scores 14.9, dishes out 5.2, and turns the ball over 2.8 times per game. The Cougars will need to limit the inside touches and force longer shots from the Lobos. As New Mexico is only hitting 36% of their three-point shots, the Cougars will look to force the outside shot as the Lobos primary scoring opportunity. The Cougars will also have a chance to take the ball away as the Lobos turn the ball over 14 times to only 17 assists. An aggressive defense by BYU will go a long ways towards a win.
Third Round vs Hawaii/Northern Iowa/Oklahoma/Washington State
The Rainbow Warriors average 82 points per game and rely on their two stars Aaron Valdes and Stefan Jankovic. Valdes averages 18.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 turnovers per game. Jankovic scores 15.4 points per game while pulling down 7.6 rebounds, but turns it over almost two times a game. The Cougars will also need to be wary of Isaac Fleming who does a little bit of everything with 12 points per game, 2.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and two steals. The Cougars will need to play the Warriors physical in the paint as they only shoot 61% from the line. shots, the more physical the bigs can play, the more the ball will need to be kicked out to the three point line, where Hawaii only shoots 31%. If the Cougars can force uncomfortable long shots by the Warriors, the Cougars will be in a prime position to win the game.
The Panthers have four double-digit scorers that help the team to average 77 points per game. Wes Washpun leads the Panthers with 15.2 points per game, adds six assists, and four rebounds to his totals. Matt Bohannon scores 13.2 points and pulls down four rebounds. Paul Jesperson adds 12.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in addition to 1.1 turnovers. The final peace of the puzzle is Jeremy Morgan who scores 11.3 while adding 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. The Cougars would do well to play tight defense on Washpun in order to limit his quality shots, and to take advantage of his three turnovers per game. With the quick hands of the Cougar guards, Washpun should have a tough job in front of him.
The best team in the tournament is also one of the best teams in the country. The Sooners are sitting at 8-0 going into the tournament and do so behind a quick scoring offense. Oklahoma scores 88 points per game behind their four headed monster. Buddy Hield leads this group with 23.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. Isaiah Cousins is an all around player for the Sooners as he scores 13.8, pulls down 4.9 rebounds, dishes out 4.9 assists, and averages almost a steal per game. Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler round out the four and Spangler leads the team with an average of 10 rebounds per game. The Sooners average 46 rebounds per game so the Cougars will need to hit the boards hard and be ready for long rebounds. Oklahoma shoots almost 48% from behind the arc, so the Cougars will need to make sure their defense extends out to prevent easy shots from anywhere on the floor.
The Cougars from WSU play an extended line-up throughout the game as they have 10 players that average over 10 minutes per game. This leads to much more balance in scoring as Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu, and Que Johnson all average more than 11 points per game. Iroegbu leads the team in assists with 3.8 and Hawkinson pulls down a team high 10.4 rebounds per game. If the Cougars can limit the rebounds by Hawkinson it will provide much better chances for the fast break and offensive control as nobody else on the team averages even four rebounds per game. A quick and aggressive BYU defense can also create a number of turnovers as WSU averages 15 turnovers per game which could lead to buckets on the other end.
You can find the full bracket on the ESPN Events page but below is the important information for BYU fans:
The first match-up for the Cougars will be against Harvard on Tuesday, December 22nd at 2:30 pm MST on ESPNU.
The second game will be a match-up between the Cougars and either Auburn or New Mexico on Wednesday, December 23rd at either 12:30 pm (ESPNU) MST or roughly 2:30 pm (ESPNU) MST.
The final game for the Cougars will be against one of the remaining teams and would be on Christmas Day at either 11 am (ESPN3), 1:30 pm (ESPNU), 4:30 pm (ESPN 2), or 6:30 pm (ESPN2).