Biggest Challenge Yet
The Longhorns (4-0) have probably played a tougher schedule than most have given them credit for so far, playing three top-half teams in FBS, while blowing out Houston Baptist, the lone outlier at 320th in KenPom's rankings. And despite the loss to the Longhorns (and one to Evansville), Mercer comes in at a very respectable 109th with a win over the same Seton Hall (88th) that Oklahoma beat by one point on Friday.
Still, it's safe to say that Texas (77th) will face its toughest challenge yet in Kansas City with a game against BYU (37th). The Cougars sit at 4-1, with their lone loss a squeaky-tight matchup with Iowa State in Provo. They're currently the second-ranked team in the West Coast Conference, behind Gonzaga, and should present a rough early matchup for a young 'Horns team still finding its way somewhat.
For its part, Texas will be the third-best team on BYU's schedule to date, behind Iowa State (23rd) and Stanford. The Cougars beat the Cardinal at Stanford 112-103.
On The Cougars
Seem like a high-scoring affair? That's because BYU has the nation's fastest adjusted tempo, logging at least 81 points in each game and twice topping the century mark. Not only do the Cougars run, but they get up quick shots, ranking second nationally in average possession length at 12.9 seconds. And they do it efficiently, ranking third in turnover percentage (meaning they don't turn the ball over), and 17th overall in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Cougar coach Dave Rose's bunch pushes the ball with what effectively amounts to a three-guard lineup, albeit a bigger one. Matt Carlino (6-2 175) excels in several areas, averaging 18.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. Tyler Haws (6-5 200) is the team's top scorer, averaging 26.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. And Kyle Collinsworth (6-6 215) plays a point forward of sorts, averaging 12.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. That's already a pretty stellar group, and one that only figures to get better as Carlino tracks down his touch from outside a bit better. He shot 33.5 percent from deep a year ago, but is at 20 percent so far this year.
This team could really take off as the bigs develop. Eric Mika (6-10 230) was Scout.com's No. 4 ranked center in last year's class, and he's starting to figure it out, throwing up a 17-point, nine-rebound effort against Iowa State before leaving the game after getting poked in the eye. He's expected to play Monday. And Nate Austin (6-11 230) is an extremely efficient big man, pulling down 10 rebounds per game and shooting 66.7 percent from the floor. He's not as dynamic of a scorer as Mika is, though he certainly makes the most of his opportunities.
The Cougars can go nine-deep, including Anson Winder (6-3 195), who started two games in Haws's absence and Skyler Halford (6-1 180). Winder has been an efficient scorer so far this year though, like Carlino, he hasn't found his three-point range just yet. Freshmen Frank Bartley IV (6-3 200) and Luke Worthington (6-10 245) offer depth at guard and in the post, respectively.
Defensively, BYU doesn't force many turnovers for an up-tempo team, though the Cougars do two things very well: keep opponents off the offensive glass and away from the foul line. The former is especially important … those rebounds are what allow BYU to get into its transition game.
BYU is 75th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which puts the Cougars right about on-line with what Texas has done so far this season. The Longhorns are 81st.
What Can Texas Do To Win?
There are several matchups that would appear to make this an interesting game. As said above, BYU is excellent at keeping teams off the offensive glass. But Texas gobbles up 42.1 percent of the available offensive rebounds, a mark that ranks 12th nationally. BYU shoots the ball well, but Texas is the nation's 13th best team at limiting shooting percentage on two-point attempts, largely because Texas blocks 23.1 percent of opponents' shot opportunities. That's third nationally.
Texas will have to guard the perimeter better. The Longhorns are 309th nationally in that category, with opponents shooting 40.6 percent from behind the arc. And the Cougars are shooting a fantastic 41.1 percent from three, a mark that is 45th in the country. Of course, the Longhorns shoot 41.3 percent themselves, and some big outside shots would really help open things up inside, where the Cougars can be had. Opponents are shooting 51.5 percent on their two-point attempts against BYU, leaving the Cougar defense 236th nationally in that category. Overall, BYU's defense isn't great at holding down opposing shooters.
The other thing to navigate will be tempo. Texas coach Rick Barnes has said repeatedly that he wants the Longhorns to run, and he recruited point guard Isaiah Taylor explicitly for that purpose. But just how fast do the 'Horns want to play? And if the tempo does skew faster than Texas is used to, do the Longhorns have the bench — particularly in the backcourt — to keep up?
All of those are questions that will need to be answered on Monday, and for their part, the Longhorns seemed excited to face such a test. Win, and a likely date with Wichita State sits on the other side. Lose, and DePaul probably awaits. Either way, Texas will get two games against top-100 teams, experience that could come in invaluable both in terms of schedule strength and preparing the Longhorns for tougher games ahead.