No. 2 BYU Cougars (26-10, 13-5 WCC) vs. No. 1 Valparaiso Crusaders (29-6, 16-2 Horizon)
When: Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. Eastern
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
The Cougars and Crusaders meet in what should be a classic offense versus defense struggle in the NIT semis on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Valpo was seen as a snub on Selection Sunday, an opinion which has only been validated by their run to MSG. The Crusaders rode their elite defense into the semifinals. BYU, which got here with a high-scoring, up-tempo offense, now faces one of the toughest tests of their season.
Scouting the Cougars
It's going to be a pick your poison affair for Valparaiso's defense on Tuesday, in large part due to the Cougars' versatility at the point guard position. Or rather, the Cougars' point guard's versatility.
Senior Kyle Collinsworth (15.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.5 apg), the WCC Player of the Year, holds the NCAA record with 12 career triple doubles, all of which have come over the past two seasons. The 6-foot-6 point guard likes to do most of his work inside the three point arc, where he has the size to exploit smaller guards or hang with a big man who may switch onto him. He's the Cougars all-time leader in rebounds (1,042) and assists (698) and ranks 11th in points scored (1,687). Collinsworth has played alongside the guys who rank first (Tyler Haws) and second (Jimmer Fredette) all time at BYU in scoring, making his 11th place standing all the more impressive.
With Collinsworth going to work inside BYU's three point sharpshooters are given plenty of space on the outside.
West Virginia transfer Chase Fischer (18.3 ppg) leads the team in scoring. Fischer is tied for fourth all time at BYU in three pointers made with 213, and he's only spent two seasons in Provo. Freshman Nick Emery (16.2 ppg) was named to the all-WCC second team. Fellow freshman Zac Seljaas (7.8 ppg) brings a scoring punch off the bench. All three take and make a ton of threes.
The Cougars just plain shoot the ball. A lot. With an average possession length of 14.5 seconds BYU comes in as the nation's seventh fastest offense.
Scouting the Crusaders
There is no better rim protector in college basketball this year than Vashil Fernandez (5.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.3 bpg). His 111 blocks rank first in the nation, as does his block rate of 14.3. The 6-foot-10 Jamaican should be able to feast on BYU's frontcourt, which is the weakest part of the Cougars' offense.
While the Crusaders' defense gets a lot of love, as they should, they've got some studs on the other end of the floor as well.
Junior forward Alec Peters (18.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) has had a great season but has really turned it on of late, averaging 25.3 points and 10.3 rebounds over his last eight games. The 6-foot-9 forward was named first team all-Horizon League for the second straight season. Peters gets it done both inside and out with lethal efficiency. He's shooting 44.8% from three and 56.5% from two this season.
Senior guard Keith Carter (10.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) runs the offense for the overwhelming majority of the Crusaders' possessions — per KenPom he has played point guard on 82% of possessions over the past five games — while also providing an additional scoring option next to Peters.