Saturday, the Texas Tech basketball team will face an opponent nicknamed the Cougars for the second game in a row. However, No. 20 BYU couldn't be more different than the Houston squad that dominated the Red Raiders on Wednesday night.
If the old adage is true and styles really do make fights interesting, what we will see in Lubbock this weekend could be one of the more intriguing games on the college hoops docket. That's because a gritty Texas Tech team is going to have to find a way to keep pace with a high-powered, finessed BYU squad. Whichever style rules the day will go a long way toward determining how this game ultimately plays out.
BYU will play a style that Texas Tech isn't accustomed to seeing from a Big 12 rival
These Cougars lead the Big 12 in scoring at 85.7 points per game. That's over nine points more than Tech averages.
Much of that is due to BYU's dedication to the 3-point shot. In fact, perhaps no team in the nation is more reliant on the 3-ball than the Cougars.
Taking a whopping 33.5 shots from beyond the arc on average, BYU ranks second in the nation in 3-point attempts. The only team that averages more is North Florida meaning that no major-conference squad shoots more 3s than BYU.
The next closest Big 12 team is Oklahoma State, which ranks 54th nationally at 25.4 attempts per game. Tech sits at No. 108 by hoisting 23.8.
Individually, BYU has two players who have already let it fly from deep over 100 times. Guards Jaxson Robinson and Trevin Knell are the two biggest threats.
The former is shooting 38.9% from long distance and the latter is shooting at a blistering 47% clip. In fact, against Cincinnati in the Big 12 opener, Knell drilled nine 3s on 14 attempts to account for all 27 of his points. What's fascinating, though, is that BYU only scored 60 points that night in an 11-point home loss that saw the Cougars blow a double-digit lead.
Tech fans also need to know about 6-foot-11 Noah Waterman who has shot 91 3-pointers thus far and is converting at a 37.4% rate. His ability to stretch the floor could draw Tech center Warren Washington away from the goal meaning there would be almost no rim protection for the Red Raiders.
How Texas Tech can beat BYU
There really isn't a glaring weakness for the Cougars, at least on paper. They don't rank near the bottom of the conference in any important statistical category.
In fact, they are tops in assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point FG defense, second in rebounding margin and scoring margin, and third in points allowed. However, there is no doubt that they can be beaten.
Just like Tech, in non-conference play, BYU did not play a ranked team. What's more, thus far, they've faced only two ranked foes going 1-1 with a loss at Baylor and a home win over Iowa State. Additionally, the Cougars have just one road win this year, a 63-58 victory over UCF last Saturday.
In their three losses, there are some similarities that Tech would be wise to recognize. First of all, in none of those games did the Cougars top 72 points, and in two, against Utah and Cincinnati, they failed to get out of the 60s.
Against Utah and Baylor, BYU was held below their season 3-point attempt average. Shooting only 30 vs. the Utes and 24 vs. the Bears, they were forced to try to generate offense in other ways and they struggled.
Meanwhile, against Cincinnati, BYU did manage to fire off 46 shots from deep but they were cold that night making only 13 (28.3%). Thus, it will be imperative that Tech does a great job of running shooters off the 3-point line and getting a hand in BYU's face when outside shots do go up.
But more importantly, Tech has to do what Houston did to the Red Raiders on Wednesday and play the role of the physical bully. The Red Raiders need to turn this game into a rock fight and almost dare the officials to blow a whistle on every possession.
Also, the pace will be important for Tech to control. This season, the Red Raiders have been willing to push the ball quite a bit but that's not going to be wise on Saturday.
Instead, the Red Raiders should try to milk the clock and limit the number of possessions BYU gets. That doesn't mean that opportunities to run should be turned down but Tech has to be strategic about when to go and when to slow it down.
Also, the Red Raiders can't get sucked into a 3-point shooting contest. If BYU gets hot early and makes several in a row from deep, Tech can't abandon its game plan and try to match the Cougars from the outside.
This game will require discipline and toughness just like most Big 12 games do but on Saturday, the type of discipline needed will be different. Tech has to be on-point when it comes to its perimeter defensive rotations while having the maturity to play the type of game that Grant McCasland wants to play, not the one BYU wants.
The Texas Tech head coach preaches that the toughest team wins and that's what Tech should be this week against a team that doesn't necessarily thrive in cage matches. If this game looks more like bare knuckle boxing and less like a track meet, Tech should be able to impose its will on the visitors and come out on top.