The BYU Cougars and the Baylor Bears meet at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday at Madison Square Garden with a trip to the NIT championship game on the line. Both teams have rolled through the previous rounds of the tournament, and this rematch of Baylor's Dec. 21 win in Waco promises to be up-tempo and high energy.
BYU enters the NIT semifinals as the seventh-fastest team in the nation with an adjusted tempo of 71.5 possessions per game, according to kenpom.com. The Cougars have been efficient with those opportunities in the NIT, scoring 1.18, 1.31, and 1.15 points per possession in double-digit victories over Washington, Mercer, and Southern Mississippi. That efficiency is led by senior Brandon Davies and sophomore Tyler Haws.
Davies patrols the interior, where he shoots 53 percent on twos and takes 58 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. Haws is more perimeter-oriented and is an excellent shooter, as evidenced by 38 percent on threes and 87 percent on free throws. BYU also got help in the form of a hot shooting night from senior Brock Zylstra to reach the semifinals.
The Bears aren't as fast-paced as BYU, but point guard Pierre Jackson has no problem pushing the tempo. The 5'10 senior is among the quickest guards in the nation, and is central to almost everything Baylor does on offense. Jackson takes 27 percent of the shots while he is on the floor, and assists on 40 percent of the makes. He shoots well on two-pointers (50 percent) for his height and should be a tough guard for the Cougars, as he has been for all teams in the tournament.
Jackson was just that in the previous meeting between the two teams, putting up 16 points and nine assists in leading the Bears to 1.11 points per possession. He also played a vital role in holding BYU to 0.90 PPP, tallying four steals. The Cougars are good at taking care of the ball as a whole, but guards Matt Carlino and Craig Cusick are exceptions and can be forced into miscues.
On the other end, Baylor likes to crash the glass, and that plays into BYU's defensive strength. The Cougars are excellent at limiting second chances and held Baylor under its typical offensive rebounding percentage in December. If BYU can do a better job at forcing tough shots, it has a good chance to stop Baylor. That, in turn, will allow the Cougars to get out on the break and run.
Baylor's athleticism gives it the biggest advantage over BYU. It was pivotal in the previous game where the Bears blocked 12 percent of the Cougars' two-pointers and stole the ball on 13 percent of possessions.
This matchup should be closer than the previous 79-64 decision. Baylor won't have homecourt advantage and it can't expect to know down half its threes while BYU struggles from the outside again. However, the Bears will still be the slight favorite in what figures to be an exciting game.