There is no contest more compelling across all of college basketball Tuesday than the battle of the Cougars in Provo.

No. 21 BYU will play host to No. 4 Houston in a showdown ripe with analytical intrigue.

The nerds will love this matchup, which marks the programs’ first meeting as Big 12 Conference opponents. Not only are both sets of Cougars ranked in the AP Top 25, but Houston stands at No. 1 in the NET rankings while BYU checks in at No. 5.

Cougars on the air

No. 4 Houston (3-2, 16-2)
at No. 21 BYU (2-3, 14-4)
Tuesday, 7 p.m. MST
Marriott Center, Provo, Utah
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Additionally, KenPom rates the red Cougars as the nation’s top team, with the Cougars in blue ranking at No. 10.

Not since Jimmer Fredette’s clash with Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State in 2011 has the Marriott Center seen such calculated excellence in a contest.

The focus of the evening should be how BYU’s efficient offense fares against Houston’s elite defense. Mark Pope’s crew boasts an efficiency score of 120.7, good for No. 13 in the country, while no other squad even comes close to Houston’s top-rated 85.6 adjusted defense mark.

It doesn’t end there. BYU is eighth in effective shooting (57%), while Houston is first at defending it (40.1%). BYU almost never gets blocked (6.1% block rate), while Houston can swat anything (20% block rate). Practically everything that BYU excels at, Houston is ridiculous at defending.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.

No. 4 Houston brings its elite defense to Provo for Tuesday’s Big 12 showdown
BYU’s fish story — the big one that got away in Lubbock, and the bigger one on its way

While a victory would be a major boost to either side’s tournament résumé, both BYU and Houston find themselves in favorable statistical territory when looking ahead to March.

Beginning with Maryland in 2002, each of the past 21 NCAA Tournament champions have finished the season ranked in KenPom with both a top-40 offense and top-22 defense.

Only nine schools currently fit such criteria in the 2023-24 season: Arizona, Auburn, Marquette, Michigan State, North Carolina, Purdue and Tennessee, along with Houston and BYU.

While a poor showing Tuesday could bump BYU out of the top 22 for defense, both sets of Cougars deserve to be treated as the tournament forces that analytics currently view them as.

Series history

While Houston leads the all-time series 5-3, BYU captured the most recent contest in dramatic fashion.

Four games into Pope’s tenure in Provo, his Cougars went on the road to win a thriller as TJ Haws delivered a 17-foot fadeaway to pull ahead at the buzzer.

Houston has made each of the past three NCAA Tournaments (2020’s COVID-19 cancellation excluded), going 9-3 in the “Big Dance” with Final Four and Elite Eight appearances to show for it.

BYU is still searching for its first March Madness victory since 2012.

The Dave Rose connection

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In addition to having impressive ratings in common so far this season, the two Cougar squads also enjoy a piece of shared heritage in 2023 Utah Sports Hall of Fame inductee Dave Rose.

A Houston alum, Rose was a co-captain on the school’s famous “Phi Slama Jama” teams of the early 1980s, advancing to a pair of Final Fours alongside Hall of Fame teammates Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

Rose later moved into the coaching ranks and took the helm of BYU’s program in 2005, posting a 348-135 record over 14 seasons in Provo with four conference championships, eight NCAA Tournament berths and a Sweet Sixteen run in 2011.

The 66-year-old will be in attendance at the Marriott Center Tuesday night for the showdown between his two schools, his former assistant coach Tim LaComb shared on social media.

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