It honestly feels odd to be writing this preview, considering that the season felt absolutely over after the overtime loss to Oregon in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament. After such a disheartening year, by Romar-era standards, it just doesn’t feel like they should be playing more games, or at least it doesn’t feel like something to be very excited about. After all, people still debate whether or not winning the NIT is something to celebrate; there’s little doubt that barely making it into the tournament field isn’t supposed to get the blood pumping.
Thing is, BYU fans are probably thinking the same thing after a similarly mediocre year. Don’t get me wrong, BYU’s 21-11 overall record, including 10-6 in conference play, is superior to Washington’s 18-15 and 9-9. But both programs have had enough success in recent years that fans expect better every single year, and no one involved in this game, coaches or players, would have said at the beginning of the year that reaching the NIT equals a successful season.
However, that doesn’t mean that either team will be approaching this game as if it doesn’t matter. Not only is there pride to be played for (as losing in the first round of the NIT is just no good), the NIT can also give young players precious playing time in preparation for larger roles to be taken on next season.
For Washington, that means Andrew Andrews, Shawn Kemp Jr, and Jernard Jarreau. I’m not sure if Romar plans to give those three players more minutes in exchange for a reduction in minutes for outgoing seniors Abdul Gaddy, Aziz N’Diaye, and Scott Suggs, but I would certainly hope he has considered making some changes to his typical rotation. In particular, more minutes to Andrews taken from Gaddy’s playing time would be great, and a little less N’Diaye and a little more Kemp. Just don’t expect the starting lineup to change too much, as I’d be a bit surprised to see Romar yank Gaddy (or N’Diaye) from his starting spot in what could be his last game as a Husky.
No matter who is playing how many minutes for the Huskies, their defensive focus will have to be on two BYU players: sophomore guard Tyler Haws and senior forward Brandon Davies. Haws, a former AAU teammate of Utah-native C.J. Wilcox, has burst onto the scene in his first year back from a two-year mission. He averages 20.9 points per game on efficient 47% shooting from the field, including 36% from three. Davies, a steady source of production for the last three straight years, averages 17.6 points per game along with 7.8 rebounds. Those two do the bulk of the scoring the Cougars, with sophomore guard Matt Carlino third in scoring with 10.7 a game.
Despite his significant height disadvantage, I would love to see Andrews defending Haws, because the intensity of his on and off ball pressure may be Washington’s best chance of keeping him under control. As for Davies, Simmons is probably Romar’s best bet, as the 6’9″ 235 pound forward is physically comporable to the 6’7″ 220-pound Simmons.
This game being played in Provo certainly doesn’t help Washington, but even in the overtime loss to Oregon, the Huskies played much better basketball than they have for most of the year. They may still be wildly inconsistent, especially offensively, but BYU has also struggled mightily to deal with even mediocre teams within their conference late this season. In fact, in their last four games, they are 1-3, with losses to SMC, Gonzaga (a competitive five-point defeat), and USD, and one win over LMU, a team that is 1-15 in conference play this year.
All those factors combined point to a close game, and who wins will likely come down to who plays with passion and who clearly doesn’t want to be playing in the NIT. If both teams come out with some fire, or if both are listless, well then I suppose the game will likely be defined by the Huskies wild momentum swings. If tonight’s team is more first-half against WSU than last ten minutes against WSU (or Oregon), than I’m confident BYU won’t be able to keep up. Only thing is, I’m not confident that will happen. I’ll go with the Huskies, narrowly, but I can’t say I’m rock solid on this one.
Washington 69, BYU 64