Brigham Young University gets to see how well it can play against a buzzsaw in Monday's opening round of the prestigious Maui Invitational.
The 5-1 Cougars face the 5-0, 9th-ranked run-and-gun Oklahoma Sooners.The marquee team in the eight-team tourney is two-time defending NCAA champion and current No. 1-ranked Duke Blue Devils. In addition to Duke, BYU and Oklahoma, there are other teams with strong roundball pedigrees such as DePaul, LSU and Memphis State. Completing the field are Stanford and host team Chaminade.
(A few years ago Chaminade shocked a highly-ranked Virginia team led by Ralph Sampson in the opening round).
But back to the Cougs and Sooners.
Both teams are deep. Coach Roger Reid is molding a veteran frontline and swingman (Nick Sanderson) with a freshmen backcourt - Randy Reid and Ryan Cuff.
Roger Reid's record is an impressive one - three straight seasons of 20-plus wins and three trips to the NCAA tournament, plus a share of two WAC titles and two WAC tournament titles. And this season, his fourth as BYU head coach, he's picked to win the Western Athletic Conference title.
A lot of that burden and promise fall on his freshman guards. At times they have played like, well, freshmen. They're still finding their legs after returning from LDS missions.
Nathan Call, who had an outstanding senior season at point guard a year ago, went through a similar transition the first part of his junior year after returning from a mission.
How well Randy Reid and Cuff can attack Oklahoma's full-court press will determine how close the Monday 2 p.m. MST ESPN-televised game is and which team advances in the championship bracket.
While going through this transition period the Cougars are committing 20 turnovers a game. The average doesn't figure to improve against the aggressive Sooners.
Through its five games, the Sooners have caused 140 turnovers or 28 a game. "Our first four opponents committed record turnovers," Mike Prusinski, the Oklahoma sports information director reports.
This is the deepest team since the 1990 one that finished the regular season 27-5 and ranked No. 1, Prusinski said.
"We're basically back to the way we used to be. A 40-minute press. Even when we're up by 40, we're pressing." Prusinski said.
The Sooners are strong inside and out and, like the Cougars, use a lot of players. Eight average over 20 minutes.
The scoring is well-balanced. Junior forward Jeff Webster, 6-8, leads the team at 17.2 but three other starters - 6-5 senior forward Bryatt Bann, 6-1 senior point guard Terry Evans and 6-6 senior off guard Angelo Hamilton all average 15 points. The fifth starter, 6-8, 255-pound senior center Bryan Sallier, averages 10.8. And reserve Ken Conley, a 6-8 forward-center leads the team in rebounding with 8.6 per game as well as scoring in double figures at 11.4.
BYU's travel schedule doesn't allow any time to prepare for the Sooners, Reid said. The team had a Friday night game with Utah State, left for Maui Saturday and won't practice on Sunday. Then it takes to the court Monday 11 a.m. Hawaii time.
"I know they're very senior-oriented, a very talented team. The problem they give us is they press from one end of the court to the other. Billy Tubbs would like to beat you 150 to 10 if he can," Reid said.
The key for BYU will be taking care of the basketball and getting good shots, Reid said. "We can't afford to play their game. On the other hand, you've got to take advantage of easy shots if they give them to you."
The Cougars have four players averaging in double figures - Sanderson averages 18 points a game and Jared Miller, Russell Larson and Gary Trost 13 each.
The winner plays the winner of Monday's Memphis State-Chaminade game. The loser plays the loser of that game. Two wins would likely put the Cougars in a Wednesday championship matchup against Duke.
The accompanying chart has the complete schedule. The game times are Mountain Standard times.