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Cougar Tracks: BYU Goes Coast-to-Coast

Cougar Tracks: BYU Goes Coast-to-Coast



Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

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The BYU hoopsters are heading east, while the football team travels west on a busy weekend ahead. While Dave Rose's team faces a statement-making pair of games in the early stage of its season, Bronco Mendenhall's squad is on the home stretch and already bowl-bound, but facing a notable challenge just the same.

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The BYU Basketball team takes a 2-0 record to Brooklyn's Barclays Center and the championship round games of the "Coaches vs. Cancer Classic." First up, on Friday night, is a 1-1 Florida State team that bounced back from an opening-night upset loss to South Alabama by blasting Buffalo earlier this week.

Saturday night, the Cougars will face either nationally-ranked Notre Dame or St. Joseph's, with Friday's winners and losers matching up the following night. All of the games will be televised on truTV, giving BYU an early chance for some key national exposure and some valuable portfolio-building.

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The BYU Football team, meantime, is traveling to the Bay Area to take on a San Jose State squad that at 8-2 has compiled the program's best ten-game record in 25 years. Win or lose, the 6-4 Cougars are ticketed for the Poinsettia Bowl, but a victory would keep alive hopes of winning out, and would also clinch a seventh consecutive winning season.

Despite their impressive record, Top 25 votes, national-level talent and WAC title hopes, the Spartans have been a terrible draw at the gate, averaging a paltry 9,228 fans per home game. That number ranks 119th of 120 FBS teams on average attendance, and the attendance percentage relative to stadium capacity of 30.3% is by far the worst of any FBS team with a winning record.

The Spartans will see an up-tick in attendance over the last two weeks of the regular season, as BYU visits this week and WAC co-leader Louisiana Tech comes to town in two weeks, with the conference title potentially on the line. That said, San Jose State's support has been pitiful this season, and no reward for Mike McMarthy's efforts in rebuilding a dormant program. BYU fans will boost the stadium numbers, and hopefully some Spartan fans will realize whats going on and turn out to make Saturday night's atmosphere an enjoyable one.

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San Jose State has a good thing going; the Spartans are on a four-game win streak for the first time in six seasons, and a win over BYU would mean a five-game run for the first time since 1990.

Spartans QB David Fales leads the FBS in completion percentage at 72.4%; he also ranks 4th in passing efficiency and 20th in total offense.

TE Ryan Otten is a John Mackey Award semifinalist, while WR Noel Grigsby is in the top 25 in receiving yards per game and top 50 in receptions per game. Grigsby is also on a 31-game reception streak.

SJSU's pass attack is ranked 9th nationally, and in the top 40 in both total and scoring offense. The run game isn't very productive (105th).

On defense, the Spartans are solid across the board: 30th against the rush, 20th against the pass, 34th in pass efficiency defense, 21st in yards allowed and 25th in points allowed.

Special teams numbers--individually and team--are also impressive.

In short, if BYU fans looked at the last three games of the season as the "WAC Cakewalk" portion of the schedule, well...I'll give you Idaho and New Mexico State, but don't include SJSU with that pair of pushovers.

The Spartans have already beaten BYU's likely Poinsettia Bowl foe San Diego State (a team that beat Boise State), and should have finished off Stanford earlier in the season. SJSU's only other loss was to a Utah State team that has proven to be very worthy of its current standing. This is a solid, legitimate team, and the BYU game is seen as a huge one for the program. The Cougars need to come ready.

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Back to basketball now, and Dave Rose has to be equal parts very pleased and mildly concerned after two impressive wins to open the season.

Some fans may have arched an eyebrow at Tennessee State and Georgia State, but both of those opponents were 20-plus win, postseason tournament teams from 2011-12, and both squads boasted solid lineups with individual standouts. I would be be surprised if both teams don't show well in the Ohio Valley Conference and Colonial Athletic Association, respectively (note: GSU was barred from the CAA tourney because of its decision to leave for the Sun Belt Conference next season).

Rose can be very happy with his starting five. All five players in that group are shooting 50% or better from the field, with three of the five averaging in double-figure scoring (Brandon Davies, 22.0 ppg; Tyler Haws, 22.0 ppg; Matt Carlino, 11.0 ppg), and a fourth just under that mark (Brock Zylstra, 9.5 ppg).

The "Big Three" of Davies, Haws and Carlino are as reliable a trio as a coach could hope for, with each player occupying markedly contrasting roles and spots on the floor.

Davies has been tremendous, shooting 74% from the field and 71% from the stripe, while averaging eight rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 3 assists and two steals per game.

Haws has simply picked up where he left off before his mission, shooting 56% from the field, 50% from the arc and 91% from the stripe (10-for-11).

Carlino has been superb, running the show quickly and under control. He is averaging 8.5 assists per game, and is already on pace to be BYU's all-time career leader in total assists and assist average. Carlino is picking his spots on offense, shooting 57% from the field, including a 78% clip inside the arc. He has made three of his four free throw attempts. Carlino's three-point shooting (1-for-5) will improve, while elsewhere on the stat line, he is averaging 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.

We knew going into the season that the shooting guard and power forward spots would be in the most flux, although for the time being, neither Zylstra nor Josh Sharp are being pushed hard for playing time.

Which brings us to Rose's area of slight concern through two games, and that is the play of the reserves. The primary backups have done little to distinguish themselves in the early going, albeit their collective time has been somewhat limited.

Rose offered a bit of a mea culpa for his lineup rotation on Tuesday night, saying it wasn't really fair to have some many of the backups/newcomers on the floor at the same time, and that he probably should have given them some more experienced help. The 31-2 lead didn't help matters any, as at that point, a coach is logically concerned about how to keep his guys playing hard without trying to go up 50-2.

Raul Delgado, Agustin Ambrosino, Cory Calvert, and to a lesser extent, Ian Harward, will all coming nicely, I am sure. And as long as BYU is getting what it needs from Zylstra and Sharp, the need for bench productivity will be less pronounced. The time will come, however, when BYU is going to need much more of what Delgado and Ambrosino--in particular--have to offer. Calvert's role is currently to give Carlino a rest, and that is an important position to occupy, but his value as a shooter--at either guard spot--should come into sharper relief as the season progresses.

2012-13 BYU Basketball, Starters v. Bench Production

MPGPPGFG%3PFG%FT%RPGAPGTO/GM
Starters (Davies, Sharp, Haws, Zylstra, Carlino)27.369.060%41%78%25.516.013.5
Bench (Cusick, Austin, Delgado, Ambrosino, Calvert, Harward)12.711.532%33%20%11.04.53.0

Relative to BYU's bench abilities, the right players are there; the confidence will come. For the time being, Rose can play the guys who are playing well and do so with the belief that they can help bring their teammates along.

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Today is the first day of the early signing period in college basketball, and BYU expects letters of intent from Nick Emery, Eric Mika, Luke Worthington, Braiden Shaw and Jakob Hartsock.

It is anticipated that Emery, Shaw and Hartsock will leave directly for their LDS Church missions, while Mika and Worthington are expected to suit up and play for the Cougars next season. Worthington has already said he doesn't currently have any mission plans, while Mika has stated an intention to serve.

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Greg Wrubell

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