Riley Nelson's leadership permeates the entire BYU campus, and made it's way to the Marriott Center floor on Tuesday night. The Riley inspired BYU basketball team followed his example and got off to a blazing start on Tuesday night. Riley's BYU football team went up 28-7 in the first quarter against a terrible Idaho squad on Saturday, and the Cougar Basketball team bested that mark with a 31-2 first quarter of play against a decent Georgia State program last night.
Before the season started, BYU was projected to have a star player with a decent supporting cast. Brandon Davies is a star, and he's shining even brighter than I thought he would. He was dominant last night, but the biggest surprise of this young season has been the emergence of two other stars who now make up a big three in BYU basketball. After Carlino's fantastic game against Tennessee State on Friday, he was even better last night. Haws, the other sophomore star in BYU's big three, is incredible, especially for a recently returned missionary.
Matt Carlino is passing the ball so well, I was surprised to see that he didn't have 10 assists when I looked at the stat line after the game. He orchestrated BYU's hot start, and he did it with ball movement and defense, two things I never thought he would end up being particularly good at after last season. The play that started off the incredible ball movement was his extra pass that he made to Tyler Haws for the three. From there until the end of BYU's run players were making the extra pass and hitting wide open shots. Carlino had 4 steals during the game, with two or three of them coming in those first 10 minutes all for layups. He also had 4 rebounds, with most of those coming in the first part of the game, and when he cleared the defensive glass he immediately put the ball on the floor and got BYU buckets in transition. He shot 5 of 8 from the floor for 11 points and 7 assists, he's going to be a double double machine this season, probably averaging close to 11 points and 9 assists per game.
It looks like Carlino has been trying to adjust his shooting form, the first game he looked as though he was trying to keep his feet and shoulders square with the basket and he wasn't elevating as much on his jump shot. On the three pointer that he made this game he reverted back to last years form and used his legs more to elevate but wasn't square. If he can combine use of his legs to get vertical on his jump shot while staying square that would probably help his consistency on his shot, so It's good to see him working on it.
I think Carlino has a future in the NBA. There aren't very many pass first point guards that can shoot as well as he can too. He's a good enough athlete, and after 3 straight seasons of being one of the leading assisting point guards in the country it will be hard for an NBA team to pass him up. Carlino only needs to average 4.33 assists per game until his senior year to break the career assists record at BYU. He's going to demolish that record, and go down in BYU history as one of the best point guards in school history.
Speaking of records and best guards in BYU history, Tyler Haws might also break some records before he's done. Tyler Haws has a chance to break Jimmer's career scoring record at BYU. If he averages 21 points a game for the rest of his career then he will have Hawsed the Jimmer. 21 points per game is obviously not easy to do, but I do see him averaging 19 points per game this year as a sophomore recently returned from his mission. I see him averaging under 21 points per game this year not because he's not capable of scoring that much, but because he's on the same team as a big man who has a chance of leading all big men in scoring nationally this year. With the incredible progress Haws made from his freshman year to his sophomore year with a mission in between, who knows how much better he'll be the next two years when I see him averaging at least 22 points per game each season.
What makes Haws so dangerous is how versatile he is in how he scores. First of all he's constantly beating you down the court on fast breaks, then if you manage to get back in time, that's when he can beat you in any number of other ways. The first place you'll likely get beat is on the wing. If you get caught sagging off he has a very quick release on his shot off the pass, and it's not flat so he can shoot it over an outstretched hand. He can also put the ball on the floor, and if you over-play the drive to the basket he can pull up on a dime and hit a mid-range jumper on you. If you do get beat to the basket he is crafty and smart enough that he will probably draw a foul on the lay-in, and might get a three point play out of it. Playing off the ball he is excellent moving without the ball and can even play the high post! I couldn't believe that Rose had him scoring from the high post against Tennessee State. Haws is truly a rare talent, which is becoming quite common in the Marriott Center.
BYU fans have become rather accustomed to 28 point nights from their leading scorer. This year the leading scorer is the kind of guy that will also produce 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in game. After an uncharacteristic first game against Tennessee State where Davies only mustered 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks, Davies had a fantastic game against Georgia State. He cut his turnovers down that hurt him against Tennessee State, and he continued to be incredibly efficient scoring the ball. Between the two games he is averaging 22 points per game on 11.5 shot attempts. He is shooting 73.9% from the floor and is hitting 71.4% of his free throws.
Davie's footwork in the post is excellent, he has a good feel for what the defender is giving him, and he can really finish around the basket. There were a number of post moves that Davies put on the Georgia State big men that showed that Davies can literally score at will if there's no immediate double team. Combine that with his athleticism and the skills that he displayed while hitting a face up fade away from 16 feet, and he is a threat to be the best offensive post player in the country. He's also a great defensive player, which is why I think he has a chance to be an All-American this season now that I see how improved he is from last year.
Behind these three stars and the team defense that BYU is playing the Cougars are in for an incredible season. The Cougars are doing a fantastic job of running shooters off the three point line and contesting the three. In BYU's two games thus far this season they have forced their opponents to shoot 20.9% from three point range. This forces the shooter to put the ball on the floor and either try to go to the basket with Davies guarding the rim, or pull up for a mid-range jumper. As a result opponents are only making 34.6% of their shots from the floor against BYU. In the big games that BYU lost last year they lost them because athletic and talented teams were getting open looks from three and that killed the Cougars. That's not happening this year, the days of BYU defenders just hoping the other team will miss are over.
What appears to be BYU's achilles heel this year is rebounding and turnovers. Once again the Cougars gave up more offensive rebounds than they would have liked, but they were much better this game than they were against Tennessee State. Also improved was the offensive rebounding of Josh Sharp, I didn't notice him spending much time on the perimeter or at the top of the key and as a result he had 3 offensive rebounds. If he can start bringing down more defensive rebounds then he will likely cement his spot in the starting lineup.
With how small of a lineup BYU employs and all of the guards on the floor, it has been surprising to me how sloppy they have been with the ball so far this season. They cannot turn the ball over so much and expect to make as much noise this year as they are capable of making. Part of the turnovers issue comes with trying to play uptempo and make plays in transition, but there are far too many inexcusable turnovers in BYU's half court sets. They really need to clean it up as they prepare for Florida State and Notre Dame/ St. Joseph's.
Gonzaga is an exceptionally good team this year, so while national analysts mark them down as a sure thing to win the WCC, just know that BYU's best three players are better than their best three. I still give Gonzaga the edge because of their depth, but it is much closer than people nationally realize. If BYU can continue start their season as hot as they started against Georgia State, then they'll be a force to be reckoned with.
Follow me on Twitter: @lancewarchibald
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