Busting Brackets

Duquesne Basketball: BYU scouting report with Robby McCombs of Vanquish the Foe

To get a better look at the opponent for Duquesne Basketball in the NCAA Tournament, I asked a BYU expert his thoughts on the Cougars and the game overall.

Mar 14, 2024; Kansas City, MO, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson (2) reacts to a play
Mar 14, 2024; Kansas City, MO, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson (2) reacts to a play / William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

To get a better look at the opponent for Duquesne Basketball in the NCAA Tournament, I asked a BYU expert his thoughts on the Cougars and the game overall.

As part of my multi-part series of previewing Duquesne Basketball's first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against the BYU Cougars. Before giving my own thoughts later, I wanted to have an expert opinion on the Big 12 program. So I asked Robby McCombs, Site Manager for SB Nation's "Vanquish The Foe".

Check out his thoughts on the game below.

Q. Considering 2 of the key offseason pieces (Adams and Baker) didn’t impact the team, this is largely the same unit that struggled in WCC play last season. What made this team so surprisingly successful in year 1 of Big 12 play?

A: Continuity is the biggest key. In a world where so many teams flip over large portions of their roster each year, BYU made a concerted effort heading into their last year of the WCC to have a team with young guys that would grow together. That included some growing pains, but it's paid huge dividends year one in the Big 12. BYU returned the most returning production of any Big 12 team, and those players took their lumps as largely underclassmen last season and play with so much familiarity and trust. 

Another big reason is scheme change. BYU will never be able to stand toe-to-toe athletically with the majority of Big 12 teams, but BYU can recruit guys that shoot the peel off the ball. BYU went all in on embracing the 3 ball, and they have several guys that can get hot and spread the floor. Even when they miss shots, they “wedge” rebound and create second chance points. It’s such a different look from what every Big 12 teams runs, and it allowed BYU to run over teams in the non-conference and go 10-8 in the Big 12.

Lastly, BYU added a key piece in big man Aly Khalifa. The “Egyptian Magician” is one of the most unique players in college players and fits this offense perfectly. He can hit threes and allows BYU to play five out, but more importantly, he is the best passing big man in college basketball. With opponents so hyper-focused on stopping the three ball, it opens up hard cuts to the basket in a vacant paint and Khalifa drops pin-point passes. Watching Aly pass is honestly one of the best things to watch in college hoops.

Q. BYU gets the “finesse” label for various reasons. Will they be comfortable if this game is a low-scoring dogfight?

BYU should be pretty prepared for a physical game after playing teams like Houston, Iowa State, and UCF, but mucking the game up is how Duquesne can win. If this game is 75+ up then I think BYU wins comfortably. If the Dukes can keep it in the 60s or below that plays right into their hands. What Duquesne can not do is let BYU get in transition and find open shooters. If they can stop those quick threes then they will give themselves a chance.

Q. Is Jaxson Robinson the MVP of the team even though he comes off the bench? And which starter is the biggest x-factor for Duquesne fans to watch for?

A: Jaxson Robinson is the team’s leading scorer Big 12 sixth man of the year. He is arguably BYU’s most outstanding player, but I think sophomore Dallin Hall is the most valuable player. BYU doesn’t have a true backup point guard behind Hall, and behind him is the biggest dropoff more than any other player. Robinson plays some backup point guard and adds an interesting dimension with his length at the one, but he doesn’t orchestrate the offense as Hall does. Hall can get to the basket pretty well and runs the offense along with Aly Khalifa.

Q. BYU was near the top of the A-10 in 3PT defense. If the Cougars struggle to shoot are there other ways to win?

A: 32% from three is the magic number. BYU is a high-volume three-point shooting team that aims for at least 30 threes per game, so the percentage doesn’t necessarily need to be 40%, although if it is that could mean a 20-point win. BYU rarely wins, however, when they shoot below 32%. The one way BYU can really counteract that is offensive rebounding. BYU employs a “wedging” scheme on the offense glass where the bigs block out and free the guards to grab long rebounds. If BYU isn’t hitting some threes and/or manufacturing second-chance points, it isn’t really in this team’s DNA to win a 59-57 type game.

Q. If Duquesne was able to pull the upset, what in your mind happened to cause it? What are the odds of an upset?

A: The above scenario. BYU shoots 30% from three and has fewer than ~10 second chance points. That could keep the game in the low 60s and plays right into Duquesne’s hands.

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Thanks again to Robby for taking part in this Q/A. To see more of his work, follow him at "rtmccombs" on Twitter/X and at Vanquish The Foe.