BYU’s post-season hinges on two things in this final half: The rewiring of Matt Carlino and foibles of the 3-point shot.
Dave Rose has tinkered with Carlino, and the junior captain has responded with heady play, assists, deflections, key buckets and more control of his throttle, which he likes to redline.
And the 3s?
It boils down to makes and stops.
As long as Rose is coaching at BYU, one of the biggest weapons he must use-get-find is the 3-ball. It’s the great equalizer. This season the inability to stop opponents from making them is killing the Cougars and failure to get enough 3s robs Rose of a great cloaking device that hides other weaknesses.
The intrigue of whether or not Rose can continue to ride Tyler Haws but manipulate Carlino into producing his best minutes is the cornerstone of February and March, which Sports Illustrated speculated this week may not be entirely void of fireworks for the Cougars.
According to S.I. columnist Michael Beller, “The most dangerous one could be BYU. The Cougars are on the outside looking in of our most recent Bracket Watch, but they've shown an ability to hang with strong competition, beating Texas and Stanford and losing by two points to Iowa State, nine to Massachusetts and four in overtime to Oregon.”
Beller failed to mention Wichita State, one of the only remaining undefeated teams in the nation at 22-0. Back in December in Kansas City, the Cougars led the Shockers by 13 points with 13 minutes to play in the first half.
BYU led at the half 36-34 before losing. One of the main reasons was BYU’s inability to zero in from 3-point range when the Shockers began defending BYU’s transition. In the first half, BYU was 5 for 10 from distance and Carlino had four of those. No Cougar scored a 3-pointer in the second half when the Shockers made their move.
Now one may argue the Cougars are the No. 2 scoring offense in the country, averaging 87.5 points a game. Scoring isn’t the issue.
Well, there is scoring, then there’s scoring. In BYU’s case, defensive challenges put the Cougars in situations where they’re trading twos for an opponent’s threes. See last week’s losses to Portland and Gonzaga.
The Cougars are getting outscored 24-15 from distance, or nine points a game. Last week at Portland, it was 42 to 27. At Gonzaga, it was 30 to 6.
The challenge becomes steeper when the WCC leads the nation in 3-point shooting. It isn’t so much BYU can’t make bombs, they’d simply rather go to dependable mid-range shots by Haws, work the ball to freshman Eric Mika, give Kyle Collinsworth opportunities to drive against mismatches and score off transition buckets — which they do very well.
The Cougars rank 244th out of 345 Division I teams in number of 3-point field goals attempted. In this regard, this is not a regular type Rose approach with his offense. Opponents have attempted 200 more 3-point shots than his Cougars. Opponents have made 60 more 3-pointers for 180 more points from beyond the stripe.
But set aside the trading twos for threes argument for a second.
If for anything else, the Cougars are a run and gun team, not a grind it out team. When they don’t match 3-pointers with an opponent and don’t guard the three that well, they’re destined to fall behind if the transition game falters.
Plus, there is an emotional powder keg to the 3-ball. It lifts and it propels players offensively and defensively. You saw this last week in Portland when Carlino entered the game and hit a few big shots from outside. Suddenly the grind was easier to deal with. The boost it gave Haws and company was electric.
In the second half of league play, Rose will benefit from more home games. He’s already benefited from rewiring Carlino, to get him to be a more productive point guard.
If the rewiring of Carlino and work to bring balance and control to his offense is too fragile to open up a bomber 3-point mentality, so be it. But then BYU’s defense must make a dent in the comfort of opposing archers in significant fashion.
But Carlino is an X factor in all of this. How he goes, so goes the rest of the Cougars and their postseason in Las Vegas and beyond.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.