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Saint Mary’s vs. BYU: NCAA Basketball Picks and Predictions

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Saint Mary’s vs. BYU: NCAA Basketball Picks and Predictions
Head coach Mark Pope of the BYU Cougars huddles with his players on January 07, 2021 in Spokane, Washington. William Mancebo/Getty Images/AFP

Make sure your day has been profitable by investing in nighttime action between Saint Mary’s and BYU.

It’s important for your sports betting to be well-acquainted with the night-time games. If you are down, you know how much money you need to draw even. If you are up, you can build your bankroll for the next day. Top sportsbooks have posted betting lines for tonight’s clash between Saint Mary’s and BYU. Let’s get to the analysis.

Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. BYU Cougars

Saturday, February 27, 2021 – 10 PM ET at Marriott Center

Saint Mary’s Last Year 

In order to show in which respects Saint Mary’s has regressed offensively, I want to talk about what the Gael offense possessed last year.

Look at 1:00 in the above video.

You see that the Gaels had top-level scorers who could draw a double team in order to create open shot opportunities for teammates. Moreover, Saint Mary’s players would stand on each corner in order to put pressure on BYU interior defenders.

In having to account for the possibility of a corner three, BYU defenders had to leave more driving space inside, which SMC had the personnel to take advantage of. So SMC shooters posed a threat from behind the arc — nationally, they ranked fifth in three-point percentage -- while increasing the threat that teammates could pose inside.

Saint Mary’s Regression

On offense, SMC causes less stress to an opposing defense because those dangerous shooters are no longer with the team. The Gaels still want to attempt a lot of three-pointers. But they rank last-place in the conference — yes, they are even worse than abysmal programs like Portland — in three-point shooting percentage.

Occasionally, they will start a player who converts 34.5 percent of his three-point attempts. The other starters are shooting less than 29 percent from deep. Without these shooters, Saint Mary’s struggles to stretch out a defense. The court effectively shrinks because defenders have less space to be concerned about covering.

Tommy Kuhse and the Gaels are expected to cover tonight
Tommy Kuhse #12 of the Saint Mary's Gaels passes. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Saint Mary’s Ball-Screens vs. BYU Ball-Screen Coverage

Saint Mary’s loves to run pick-and-roll actions where they will try to hit the roll man, probably Matthias Tass, as he rolls to the basket. With 7-3 center Matt Haarms, BYU owns the personnel to account for what SMC loves to do. Haarms uses his length to lead the conference in block rate. He is also more than adequately mobile for a man of his size.

The Cougars’ ball-screen coverage tactics enable Haarms to maximize his rim-protecting prowess. As video footage of previous games show, the Cougars will play drop coverage against ball-screen actions. With drop coverage, the Cougar center is backpedaling towards the basket where he can account for the roller who will run into the top-level BYU shot-blocker at the basket.

Because his mobility and length give him added flexibility, Haarms can move more laterally instead of backpedal. Lateral movement allows Haarms to account for the opposing ball-handler in order to deter the drive while still remaining in position to account for the roller. As BYU showed in the teams’ first meeting — where the Cougars limited Saint Mary’s to 52 points on its home floor — it can be as simple as going under on all ball-screens.

There’s no reason for a Cougar guard to get stuck on a screen when he can simply go under the screen, daring the Gael player to attempt a three-pointer without enjoying the likelihood that he makes the shot. 

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BYU Three-Pointers vs. Gael Perimeter Defense

The Gaels like to run opposing offenses off the three-point line. Note for your best bets that they are great at doing so: they rank fourth-best nationally and best in the WCC at limiting the opposing rate of three-point attempts. They match up well with a Cougar offense that relies relatively heavily on three-pointers for its scoring output.

It is true that teams like San Francisco that resemble BYU in being characteristically strong behind the arc have managed to be efficient and productive from deep when facing the Gaels. But San Francisco differs from the Cougars in that the Dons have very quick guards who easily beat defenders inside. So when facing the Dons, the Gaels wanted to devote more attention to protecting the paint.

In contrast, in the teams’ first meeting, the Gaels wanted to force BYU to beat them inside. Their off-ball defenders clung to potential Cougar shooters instead of helping inside. Because this strategy almost worked— BYU was 1-for-10 from deep and needed a late surge to win 62-52 — I don’t see why the Gaels would do anything differently.

The Cougars will try to be more effective inside. They will employ dribble-handoff and ball-screen actions in order to try to free up their guards inside. But the Gaels are comfortable switching until the opposing ball-handler’s original defender recovers to him. Only eight teams in the nation attempt field goals at the rim at a lower rate than BYU. Cougar players are not comfortable attacking the basket.

Kolby Lee #40 of the BYU Cougars takes a free throw. William Mancebo/Getty Images/AFP

The Verdict

A Gael offense that is impotent from behind the arc will struggle against BYU's conference’s second-best interior defense, as measured by opposing two-point percentage, which will be steeled by smart ball-screen tactics. Saint Mary’s highly focused perimeter defense will compel the Cougars to score in a way — by attacking the basket — that is uniquely uncomfortable for them.

For the above reasons, take the “under” with your college basketball picks.

NCAAB Pick: Under 129.5 at -110 at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

Under 129.5(-110)
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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.