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Gonzaga vs. BYU 2017 game preview: Let the good times roll (in Provo...if that is possible)

The Zags have one of two remaining difficult games on the schedule against a hit or miss BYU squad.

NCAA Basketball: Pepperdine at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The newly minted No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs head to Provo, Utah, into the depths of the Marriott Center, to take on the BYU Cougars on Thursday evening.

After a wild week where basically every top team not named Gonzaga lost, the Bulldogs ascended to the top of the rankings for the second time in school history. Just in time for one of the two biggest games left on the conference schedule—as if the BYU faithful needed any other reason to get excited.

BYU’s season is on life support at the moment, but a win over the Bulldogs would immediately vault them into bubble consideration. These two squads are always trading blows, but the Cougars haven’t defeated Gonzaga at home since the 2013-14 season.

Meet the opponent

BYU Cougars, 16-7, KenPom #72

It has been a rather frustrating season for BYU fans, who finally saw the talent influx they have been waiting for, but now have to deal with the prospects of a rather youthful team. The pieces are there for this squad to be quite dangerous once it gels, but for now, the Cougars are a team that likes to aggressively push the ball. The only issue is that half the time they don’t score.

The offensive efficiency is what kills BYU this season. The Cougars push the tempo, averaging the fourth-most possessions per game in the nation. Where as last year the team ranked No. 48 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency, this year, that number has dropped to No. 107.

The biggest issue is this squad is prone to turning the ball over too often. Against San Diego and Santa Clara, two surprisingly bad losses, the Cougars turned the ball over 14 and 18 times respectively.

The Cougars do pass the ball well, throwing out a lot of different looks at point guard, but the key to this offensive cog is forward Eric Mika. Mika leads the WCC in points scored, in rebounds and in blocks. He is a prolific scorer who has scored in double-digit points in every game this season and has 13 double-doubles on the season. You might hear some comparisons to Domantas Sabonis from the announcers, and before you throw up into your beer, hear them out. Mika is as efficient as they come.

What to watch out for

That No. 1 target is now on our backs.

This team, more so than any Gonzaga team in recent memory, seems to play and completely buy into the “one game at a time” mentality all season. It hasn’t been too often that the squad has looked rattled, shellshocked, mentally absent, or just scared to play—from any of the five positions.

Tonight is a different matter. Remember, prior to the season, a lot of us would have picked this as an easy upset game. The Zags are no doubt the better team, but let’s give a little bit of credit to the BYU faithful: they make it absolutely hellish to play in Provo. The Cougars home win-percentage since the 2005-06 season stands at 171-18, good for fourth in the nation, right behind Gonzaga. Either way, the noise in the Marriott Center is going to probably resemble this:

Force TJ Haws into making mistakes (preferably a lot of them).

The big weak link for the BYU guards is TJ Haws, the younger brother of Tyler Haws. He will be a good player, and he can definitely shoot the ball. But for the Zags, most importantly, he is prone to turning the ball over quite often. No offense to freshman guards, but they tend to make dumb mistakes (as we can all attest to). Little Haws had a stretch of good play for the beginning of the WCC, but things have gotten a little out of hand as of late, and he has turned the ball over 14 times in the past three games.

Now, the Zags don’t necessarily play aggressive defense, but Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Nigel Williams-Goss all have quick hands. Expect to see a lot of pressure placed on Haws when he has the ball, especially considering there is a possibility that Nick Emery either doesn’t see the floor or looks like a slug post-salt spa treatment.

Will we see Killian Tillie?

Tillie went down with an ankle injury in the Portland 2.0 game and had to be helped off the court with what looked like a rather bad ankle sprain. Word out of the practices this week is Tillie has been partaking in drills and such but is quite a bit from 100 percent.

Without Tillie, Mark Few has opted for the most part to remain with a seven-man rotation instead of spotting more minutes for Bryan Alberts or Rui Hachimura. It is safe to say against BYU, where the game is going to be theoretically quite a bit closer, Few will probably have the same gameplan as well. Will we see Tillie if the game gets too close? Or will Few plop Tillie on the bench until he is 100? I guess we will see.

Game info

  • Time: 8:00 pm PT
  • TV: ESPN2 (Eric Rothman and Adrian Branch)
  • Radio: Gonzaga IMG Radio Network (Tom Hudson and Matt Santangelo)
  • Online: WatchESPN