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WCC Men’s Basketball Preview: Getting to know BYU is a challenge for opponents

December 28, 2017 GMT

Conference play is all about familiarity. Coaches know what other coaches like to do and what personnel each team uses.

BYU is kind of a moving target personnel-wise as the Cougars begin West Coast Conference play this week.

The Cougars came into the 2017-18 season with eight new names on the roster. One of those new names – Weber State transfer McKay Cannon – was granted an NCAA waiver to play midway through the preseason and he’s made a big impact coming off the bench. Injuries have kept Braiden Shaw, Ryan Andrus and Dalton Nixon out of the lineup. This week, junior college transfer Kajon Brown decided to leave the program and BYU added Idaho prep big man Kolby Lee to the roster.

Despite the turnover, BYU coach Dave Rose said he expects WCC opponents will be very well prepared when they meet the Cougars.

“They know us really well,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They know our guys. That’s what happens when you start playing in league. Familiarity is another big part of your challenge. Guys know what you’re going to do and the individual tendencies of your players. That adds to the intense feel of the first game in the league.”

Brown had only played once in the past six games and Lee is expected to redshirt this season, so the impact on the court during games is minimized. Rose said he and Brown had been talking for the past month and a family illness was probably the deciding factor that sent Brown home. Rose also said that while Lee will probably redshirt, “but you never know,” he added. “You never know what the opportunity will bring. If you talked to McKay (Cannon) four or five months ago and told him about his (own) scenario, he would have been surprised. You just keep plugging away and see what the next day brings.”

The first week of WCC play brings two important home games for BYU, which posted an impressive 11-2 record in the preseason with a current eight-game winning streak. On Thursday, the Cougars host Portland (6-7) in the WCC opener and on Saturday it’s a showdown against WCC favorite Saint Mary’s (11-2).

“This Portland team is way different than last year’s team,” Rose said. “They’ve got a lot of new players and the style that they play is a lot different. They still have the big guy (7-foot-2 Philipp Hartwich) in the middle. He’s a great defensive post guy who can catch and finish at the rim. He’s shooting 71 percent from the field. Then they’ve got a whole bunch of really good shooting, multi-threat guard. What they really do is they shoot threes, and they make over 10 a game. They can also get to the rim and score. Their quickness, spacing and ability to shoot the ball will be our challenge.”

In the long term, NCAA runner-up Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are the two favorites in the WCC, followed by BYU, upstart San Diego and San Francisco.

“Anybody can beat anybody (in league play),” BYU junior post Luke Worthington said. “In college basketball we’ve seen that a lot recently, teams not as touted stepping in and winning in another team’s gym. We just need to be prepared. The way these teams play they can grind out a win against good opponents. We need to prepare for the last team in the league as much as the first team because everybody knows the other teams so well. It’ll come down to execution. If we play the game right, the best team is going to win.”

It’s been three seasons since BYU has earned an NCAA invite (2014-15) but a strong preseason has given the Cougars the confidence to take on the challenge of league play.

“Gonzaga is solid as always,” BYU sophomore post Yoeli Childs said. “We have a really good league. We have to come out every night and be prepared. We need to come out with a chip on our shoulder and be ready to roll.”