PROVO — It's a rare marquee non-conference matchup at the Marriott Center.
And for BYU, it's an opportunity to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume when it hosts No. 6 Baylor today (noon, MT, BYUtv) in front of a sellout crowd.
A victory over the Bears (8-0) would likely propel the Cougars (8-2) into the top-25 rankings.
Forward Noah Hartsock said a win "would mean a lot. We've come a long way so far this year. At the beginning of the year, (in losses) against Utah State and Wisconsin, we were finding our roles. It's a good chance to see where we're at right now, playing against one of the top teams in the nation. If we can play the way we want to, we can be a top-25 team."
BYU has posted a 3-7 record against top-10 teams since the 2005-06 season. Of those, the only non-conference home game against a top-10 team occurred in January 2009, when the Cougars fell to No. 6 Wake Forest, 94-87.
"I think (Baylor's) style is a little bit different (than Wake Forest), but the similarities are how athletic they are and their size," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "This is a really long, athletic team that switches defenses a lot. They're a real balanced scoring team."
Yes, beating Baylor figures to be a tall order, considering the Bears' talented big men.
Forward Perry Jones, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, and 6-9 freshman Quincy Miller are projected to be NBA lottery picks. Perry, who averages a team-high 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, was named the Big 12 preseason player of the year. Miller averages 12.3 points and 5.6 rebounds and Baylor also boasts 6-7 senior forward Quincy Acy, who averages 12 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest.
It's a team that reminds Rose of the one he played with in college — Houston's venerable Phi Slamma Jamma squad that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
"I've played with players like that," Rose said. "They're just a lot of long, athletic guys who are very skilled. That's kind of a unique collection. Then with the point guards they have, they can draw help and get guys open. … I think they had 10 dunks the other night in a game. That's probably more than we've had this season."
Hartsock and Brandon Davies will have their hands full in the paint with Jones, Miller and Acy.
"Baylor is a great team with a lot of talented players. They can get it going when they want," said Hartsock, who compared Baylor to the Kansas State team BYU lost to in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and last year's San Diego State squad. "It's going to be a tough matchup. These guys are longer and bigger. It's going to be even more of a challenge for us. We've got to focus on boxing out and getting them out of there."
"It's really hard to take one thing away from them (defensively)," Rose said. "It's hard to use a second defender on anybody because they're all very capable scorers. What you have to do is, kind of stop all of them from having big nights and hopefully keep them under control. If one or two of them have a big night, then with the balance from the other group, it's going to be really difficult. We may have to zone a little bit. They're so tall and long, that you're really going to have to respect your rebounding position.. That's what we're going to have to do. We're going to have to keep a body on a body, try to get them to miss and rebound the missed shots."
Meanwhile, the Bears' point guards, Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton, will pose a challenge for the BYU defense as well.
"Their point guards are really different," Rose said. "Whatever point guard they have in at the time kind of changes the style and the tempo that they play at. It's a team that was put together pretty well."
Freshman guard Matt Carlino will make his debut for the Cougars today, and guard Gary Franklin Jr., who started 11 games at Cal before transferring, will make his debut for Baylor.
While BYU gains one player, it loses another, as junior forward Stephen Rogers underwent surgery Thursday night to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, sending him to the sidelines for 2-4 weeks. Rogers played in all 10 games for the Cougars this season and is averaging 9.9 points, and 2.2 rebounds. He is shooting .514 from the field and .395 from 3-point territory.
Hartsock said he and his teammates are looking forward to playing in front of a capacity crowd at the Marriott Center.
"When we get a lot of people in here, it gets loud and raucous," he said. "It's a lot of fun for us to play in (that atmosphere)."
BYU is 170-16 over the last 12 seasons at the Marriott Center, which is why few high-profile teams want to come to Provo.
For Rose, being able to schedule Baylor was quite a coup.
"We call a lot of people. Most people don't have an interest," he explained. "(Baylor coach) Scott (Drew) had a little bit of an interest. Then it went away. We kind of moved on, then he called. He said it was something they may want to do, but these are the parameters. It has to be on this date and it has to be a game that ends before 3 o'clock. It was our finals week, not the greatest time, but we're really excited to have it."
Cougars on the air
No. 6 Baylor (8-0) at BYU (8-2)
Today, noon, MT
Marriott Center, Provo
TV: BYUtv Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM