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Commentary: Love him or hate him, Matt Carlino is key to BYU's success

Published: Friday, Jan. 17 2014 8:02 p.m. MST

Brigham Young Cougars' Matt Carlino (2) fights his way to the basket between Colorado Mesa's Clay Kame (15) and Colorado Mesa's Jon Orr (13) during a game at the Marriott Center on Saturday, November 16, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars' Matt Carlino (2) fights his way to the basket between Colorado Mesa's Clay Kame (15) and Colorado Mesa's Jon Orr (13) during a game at the Marriott Center on Saturday, November 16, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

No BYU player gives fans more mixed feelings than Matt Carlino.

Some days, "Matty Basketball" is practically carried off the court after a big game, such as his 26-point effort against Stanford or his 20-point performance vs. Texas. Then there are the days when he scores only seven points on 3-15 shooting against Utah, or when he scored just four points on 1-7 shooting in BYU's disastrous loss at Pepperdine.

No one wants to throw Carlino a parade after those kinds of games.

Sometimes, it seems that Carlino can do no wrong with the basketball in his hands. Other times, BYU fans cringe as he drives into double or even triple coverage and puts up a wild miss. Again.

Inconsistency, thy name is Carlino.

But whatever feelings fans have for Carlino, his play is key if BYU wants to win the WCC and/or make it back to the NCAA Tournament this year.

BYU's Eric Mika and Matt Carlino celebrate a made shot and foul as BYU and Iowa State play Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 in the Marriott Center in Provo. Iowa State won 90-88. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Eric Mika and Matt Carlino celebrate a made shot and foul as BYU and Iowa State play Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 in the Marriott Center in Provo. Iowa State won 90-88. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Carlino was a key factor in BYU's biggest RPI wins this season. He scored 20 against No. 50 Texas, 26 against No. 57 Stanford and 18 against No. 87 Utah State. He also had solid games in the Cougars' near-misses against No. 5 UMass (23 points), No. 9 Iowa State (19 points, 0 turnovers) and No. 10 Wichita State (21 points).

Meanwhile, Carlino did not play well in BYU's worst losses. He had four points against No. 123 Pepperdine, 13 points on 4-13 shooting against No. 158 Loyola Marymount, and seven points on 3-15 shooting vs. No. 160 Utah.

There's a clear pattern here.

Yes, BYU does have a scoring machine in Tyler Haws. Haws is No. 1 in the WCC and No. 7 in the nation in scoring with 22.6 points per game. That being said, Haws cannot simply put the team on his shoulders and power the Cougars to victory every game. Teams such as Utah and Loyola Marymount beat BYU by concentrating their defense on Haws.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Matt Carlino (2) reaches out for a rebound during a game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Saturday, December 14, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars guard Matt Carlino (2) reaches out for a rebound during a game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Saturday, December 14, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

So, when players like Carlino don't play well while defenses swarm Haws, BYU loses.

It can't have been easy for head coach Dave Rose to decide what to do with Carlino. On the one hand, you can't let him languish on the court when he's in the middle of a shooting slump. He went 15-58 (25.9 percent) from the field in a five-game stretch against Utah, Oregon, Loyola, Pepperdine and San Diego. The Cougars went 1-4 over that period.

At the same time, you can't simply leave him on the bench. While other Cougars, such as Kyle Collinsworth, Eric Mika and Skyler Halford, are more than capable of having big games, BYU needs at least three players to get hot to win against quality competition. Taking Carlino out simply diminishes the number of players that can explode for 20 points or more.

Rose seems to have found a suitable solution. Carlino is no longer a starter, but he has gotten significant minutes as BYU's sixth man at point guard. Since Rose has made that adjustment, Carlino is shooting 14-29 (48.3 percent) and BYU is 4-0 with Carlino in his new role.

Whether or not this will prevent a future slump remains to be seen.

Regardless, Carlino's play is key if BYU wants to compete with Gonzaga for a WCC title or return to the NCAA Tournament. That fact remains the same whether BYU fans see Carlino as a hero or a heel.

Lafe Peavler is a sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.

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