Nobody covers the BYU basketball team better than Jason Franchuk of the Provo Daily Herald.
He has seen Jimmer Fredette score 49 points at Arizona and 37 points against Florida in Oklahoma City. He also knows a thing or two about how Jacob Pullen’s beard would be treated in Mormon country.
To help us take a look at Saturday’s big NCAA Tournament game between BYU and Kansas State, he was nice enough to stop by K-Stated and share some insight.
Just how good is Jimmer Fredette?
Good enough to really make a name for himself in the tournament, even if his name was simply ol’ Jim. Fredette has a fantastic ability to find ways to score points. He can shoot outside over a 6-9 defender, and he can pound the ball inside and score through one. He did both against Florida. His broad shoulders and fearless nature make him fun to watch when he gets into the paint. Mind you, this kid had a record 49 points at the McKale Center at Arizona in late December. Think about how many great players have been on the UA court, and this guy owns the record (which is now also the school mark).
Outside of Fredette, what sets this BYU team apart?
BYU’s best when it is running and unselfish. The Cougars often pride themselves on their assist-to-field goal ratio, which is usually above 2/3. They’re about 40 percent from 3-point range, coming from a variety of options. And fouling this team is murder. Fredette is one of the nation’s best charity chuckers — around 80 percent — on a team that is over 70 and leads the country.
Do you see BYU playing more loose or with a chip on its shoulder today, knowing that it has finally made it out of the first round?
I see BYU playing with nothing to lose, which doesn’t happen often for a squad that came into the season having won three consecutive league titles. BYU was a wholly different team during Friday’s media sessions, even after it tried to proclaim being loose Wednesday before beating Florida. BYU really needs Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws to loosen up and play relaxed. The two wings complementary to Fredette were not as noticeable as usual with their strengths against Florida, though Emery did hit a couple of big 3-pointers in the second half.
How badly do you think this team wants to make it to Salt Lake City?
So bad, it can taste the stereotypically popular Utah green Jell-o. But seriously, this team realizes the opportunity in front of it. Just 40 minutes to return home in a very good way. And it’s not like the West Regional is that loaded. I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner of today’s game makes the Final Four, and I believe both teams understand that right now.
BYU appears weak on the inside. How do the Cougars match up with K-State in the post?
Not very good, frankly. BYU was crushed on the boards in the last two tournament losses, both to Texas A&M. Even Florida, which didn’t have much of that attack, beat BYU on the glass. BYU’s post is really good in zone defense and double-teaming (the Cougars call it monstering). But no doubt that’s a big concern how they’ll match up. They hope to force some turnovers out of the inside game, and get Fredette to put a guy or two in foul trouble.
Are BYU players as concerned with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente as K-State’s are with Fredette?
Every bit as much. Maybe more. BYU has struggled with very fast guards. The fastest have probably been from UNLV, and the Cougars lost 2-of-3 meetings this year. The questions to me are twofold: What can Fredette do to alleviate the pressure he’ll see? And defensively, how can BYU protect itself at the other end of the floor? Fredette isn’t exactly a lock-down defender and BYU must keep him out of foul trouble.
BYU has a lot of older guys on its roster. Does that ever help in games?
BYU’s not as “old” as recent years. Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari didn’t go on LDS missions. Tyler Haws is a true freshman. Only two starters, Jackson Emery and Chris Miles, have gone away from the program for two years to perform customary Mormon male church service. This is really one of the younger teams in recent years, though I’m sure people who don’t follow the team would be surprised to find out how many of these guys are married and/or have children. It’s not a typical school, for sure. But these kids are very well spoken, mature and easy to work with.
What is there to do in Provo?
Lots, folks. I rave about Sundance Resort, the place Robert Redford owns. It’s a ski resort in the winter and a hiking-biking-exploring paradise in the summer. The bar scene isn’t exactly hopping (two in town) but great burgers and shakes all over town. BYU’s campus is sparkling-clean gorgeous and a summertime favorite (after a burger and shake) is to take a hike up the trail on “Y” Mountain, about a 1.5-mile fairly moderate haul that affords a great view of Utah County. My only gripe? Everything shuts down early on the weekend nights, making it tough to find a bite.
Do BYU players have to follow special rules other teams do not?
Oh, definitely. Every student — even if they’re not Mormon, as some athletes aren’t — must abide by the Honor Code. That means no drinking, smoking, premarital sex — basically most rites of college life, right? There are repercussions if these rules aren’t followed. Also, facial hair is basically a no-no, too, so Jacob Pullen would have to settle for not being quite as popular.
Any predictions on the game?
Whew, this could really go either way. I predicted BYU would get a much sought-after win at UNLV (Nevada-Las Vegas) over Super Bowl weekend. The Cougars had lost the last six meetings and appeared to be “due.” BYU was playing well. Sure enough, BYU found itself down 29 points in the first half and lost by about half that. So with that in mind, if BYU can hang tough early and hit some shots, I see no reason why the Cougars can’t advance. They’ve faced some good teams this year (granted, none quite like Kansas or Kansas State) but this team is BYU’s most athletic and deepest in years. Of course, that’s only the third time I’ve flip-flopped today. No doubt, BYU has to bring its A-game to have a chance and hope the Wildcats don’t quite bring theirs.