The 2016-17 BYU Cougars basketball season tips off tonight against the Princeton Tigers.
Tonight’s contest will be played in the Marriott Center with a game start time at 8:00 PM MST. The game will be available to watch on ESPN 2 or streamed on ESPN3.com. It can also be heard on KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM or Sirius XM 143.
Princeton had a successful season last year as they went 22-7 and qualified for the NIT. The Tigers return all five of their starters and their top four bench players. Their head coach is Mitch Henderson.
Henderson will enter his 6th season in charge of the Ivy League school. His record with the Tigers is 96-53 for a 64.4 percent win percentage.
Since Princeton has an incredible — almost impossible — amount of team continuity in this era of college basketball, let’s take a look at what the Tigers do to play winning basketball.
Princeton on Offense
Which poison do you want to drink?
In 2015-16, Princeton was the 7th best team in the nation at attacking a zone defense. Princeton scored an impressive 1.11 points per possession against zone defenses. With that level of efficiency, it certainly can’t be a sustainable game plan to give the Tigers a steady
Against man-to-man defense, Princeton averaged 0.958 points per possession — 32nd nationally. That’s still really good. But it is slightly less menacing than when they face a zone defense.
It would be fair to expect Dave Rose to game plan a heavy dose of man-to-man for this evening.
Even when a defense makes Princeton really work on offense, forcing a shot with less than 4 seconds left on the shot clock, the Tigers still are one of the better teams in the country at knocking down a rushed jumper.
So, yeah, Princeton make the most of their offensive possession — to the tune of an offensive rating of 112.5 (points per 100 possessions).
When a team plays such an efficient offense, it will become critical for BYU to rebound. Extra Princeton possessions via an offense rebound are a quick way to give the Tigers a lead.
Princeton’s offense requires a defense to be very clear, communicative, and anticipatory. With nine new players and the Cougars traditional troubles with man-to-man defense, this season-opening opponent will be a challenge for the young guns.
Princeton on Defense
Again, with the effective Tiger offense, the importance of taking care of the basketball will be giant for the Cougars. Princeton can and will make them pay for sloppiness. So, it may be worth holding off on the lobs to Mika in traffic for an evening.
Last season, this group of Princeton players on averaged forced one turnover per their opponents six possessions.
In games where the Tigers opponents were able to win, it was largely due to their ability to take care of the basketball.
Princeton will play man-to-man tonight. They played in man defense on 92.1 percent of all their defensive possessions in 2015-16. They forced opponents to scored only 0.823 points in their man D looks on the strength of forcing a 41.4 percent field goal percentage.
Another spot where Princeton has been effective is their press defense. The Tigers force a turnover on 27 percent of their full court pressure attempts.
BYU always has at least two skilled ball-handlers on the court at a time. This helps alleviate any troubles should Princeton employ a press. However, there is a lot of inexperience and the Cougars didn’t see a full court press in either exhibition game. If and when the Cougars see a full court press it will be fascinating to see how Elijah Bryant, LJ Rose, TJ Haws, etc. handle the defensive strain.
A place where BYU can make its mark will be from behind the arc. Princeton was a good three-point defending team, their opponents shot a collective 34.8 percent. The Cougars, led by Nick Emery’s 38.3 percent from distance, have several promising three-point shooters. If Haws, Leifson, Emery, Rose, Beo and Bryant can collectively bring a barrage of threes that will not only take pressure off of the need for defensive execution, but it will really help where the Cougars have the most decided advantage — in the post.
Princeton is good in most every aspect defensively, but they do have a problem when it comes to post defense.
Princeton isn’t very big, but they do compete. The fact they have been average at defending the post indicates how much their big men make an effort of it. However, minimizing the physical disadvantages they will face against Kyle Davis, Eric Mika, and Yoeli Childs will be a key part of Princeton’s plans for the game. They will try to deny post catches, or force any touches in the post to be further off the block than the BYU bigs are comfortable with.
As the frontcourt appears to be where BYU has the best opportunities to hurt Princeton’s defense, foul trouble will play an important role in the outcome of the game tonight.
Mika and Childs have difficulties avoiding whistles. And Davis can fall victim to needless fouls. If Eric Mika picks up his second foul with 16 minutes left in the 1st half, that’s a major victory for Princeton. If another big is sidelined with fouls, Dave Rose is going to have to make some interesting decisions early on.
Tonight will be about opposite strengths.
Princeton is a super familiar group of players that have a very concrete idea about their strengths and weakness. The have a good idea about all the aspects of their rosters. How and when their coach will use his bench.
Meanwhile, BYU is still getting familiar with each other. The Cougars are still in a discovery phase. Dave Rose is still trying to find groupings of players that give him the best chance to win.
Princeton will win through their teamwork and toughness.
BYU will win through their athleticism and talents.
The question is, which will be the bigger strength?
Then there is the wild card. The Marriott Center crowd. How much will the home court advantage help BYU? That depends on how rowdy people want their Family Home Evenings to be.
This should be a terrific game. This represents an important NCAA tournament resume builder for both teams. The victor tonight gains at the very least a top 100 RPI opponent in their win column for their tournament resume. Both teams have a few opportunities to add that in their non-conference schedules.
Tonight, both will be desperate to start their 2016-17 season off on a positive note.