Loyal Cougars

The Ballad of Matt Carlino: Why BYU needs its point guard back

With the Cougars’ season threatening to spiral out of control, Steve Pierce believes there’s one move Dave Rose must make: Free Matt Carlino.

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you know I generally think Dave Rose walks on water. Nevertheless, it’s getting hard to deny that, as good a coach as he is, Rose has mishandled this year’s BYU basketball team something fierce — and that mishandling begins with the toxic point guard situation, which has gone a long way toward poisoning the team’s chemistry as a whole.

When Rose initially floated the notion of playing both Kyle Collinsworth and Matt Carlino at point guard last summer, I immediately hated the idea. Not only did I think it was tactically foolish to move Collinsworth (a talented player and voracious rebounder who lacks any semblance of a consistent outside shot) further away from the basket, but I’m also a firm believer that when you pit two of your captains against each other for one of the team’s most important roles, bad jujubes are sure to follow. It’s a variation on the old “When you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback” saying — a principle that should hit very close to home for fans of the 2010 BYU football team.

The experiment worked fine for a while. BYU came out of the gates hot, earning an impressive road win over Stanford in their second game and playing a number of top ranked teams tough. Carlino started at the point, with Collinsworth occupying his natural role at small forward most of the time and filling in as lead guard when Carlino went to the bench for a rest. For a time, everything was wonderful — everyone played a lot of minutes, the team scored a ton of points and BYU won a lot of games. Things were good in Provo.

That is, until they weren’t. Eventually the tough slate of opponents and the disproportionate number of road games began to take its toll on the Cougars. Good teams watched film (as good teams are wont to do) and hypothesized that you could stop BYU from scoring if you relentlessly focused on getting back in transition — forcing them into a half-court game where their execution is not nearly as crisp. Those teams were right.

As more and more opponents sent three or four players back on defense as soon as a shot was launched on their offensive end, the Cougars complacently complied by walking the ball up the floor, half-heartedly cycling through a smattering of half-court sets and settling for more difficult shots than they might otherwise be comfortable with. As the offense stagnated (and the defense remained porous), the Cougars began to lose and frustrations began to mount — and the dark underbelly of the dual point guard experiment began to rear the ugly head that had always been there, content to hide just beneath the surface so long as the team remained successful.

The shivs were sharpened. The backbiting began. Many blamed the team’s problems on Carlino and called for Collinsworth to replace him as starting point guard. Carlino shot too much, they said, and he was shooting a very low percentage. He turned the ball over too much and didn’t pass enough. Only Collinsworth could restore the proper balance. The mobs had found their scapegoat — and he was a familiar target.

It took a good old-fashioned beatdown at the hands of rival Utah, featuring a frustratingly inefficient performance from Carlino, to push Rose toward the change. He ultimately made the switch in advance of the subsequent game at Oregon, installing Collinsworth as the team’s primary ball handler and moving Carlino to shooting guard — a position he has hardly ever played at the collegiate level.

What transpired next is well known. BYU played pretty well but ultimate lost in overtime to the Ducks, before proceeding to drop their first two West Coast Conference games to perennial bottom-feeders Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. After losing his job to Collinsworth, Carlino saw his minutes drastically slashed against the Lions and Waves, as he pressed hard to make plays in his limited opportunities but floundered, missing a vast majority of his increasingly difficult shots. Meanwhile, Collinsworth continued his stellar individual effort on the boards, but struggled to handle the ball against pressure defenses and failed to jumpstart the team’s struggling offense. Things were ugly. The offense was a mere shadow of the high-octane outfit it had been just a month prior. And one of the team’s captains and most talented players languished on the bench as his team imploded around him.

Observers could see the team turning inward on itself, the chemistry souring as the losses piled up and the atmosphere growing tense as the point guard situation descended to new lows. The Cougars had lost five of their previous six games, including four in a row, and had quickly played themselves to the very far edge of the NCAA tournament bubble. Suddenly, a once promising season was spiraling out of control.

And that’s where we find ourselves today — between the metaphorical rock and the hard place. Dave Rose needs to find something that can right the ship. Anything. A home loss to San Diego on Saturday would likely make the season seem irredeemable. So what should he do?

The short answer: Put Matt Carlino back at point guard.

The fact of the matter is, BYU is currently 0-3 in the Kyle Collinsworth era — and that’s not a knock on Kyle himself. He’s been a satisfactory point guard, even if he does struggle against pressure, and he has turned in some really nice individual statistical performances even during this bad stretch of games for the Cougars. But the team simply doesn’t respond to him offensively like it does when Carlino’s got the reins and he has the offense purring.

Nobody pushes the ball faster and harder up the floor — off a make or a miss — than Matt. He’s constantly flying up the floor, looking for holes to attack as the opponent slowly settles back into its defensive shell. That’s where BYU makes its living — that’s the approach that helped them notch quality wins over Stanford, Texas and Utah State. And that’s something that Matt Carlino uniquely brings to this team.

Collinsworth doesn’t possess that same sense of pace, particularly off made baskets (something BYU seems to give up a lot of lately). He’s more inclined to walk the ball up the floor, pass to the wing and instigate an offensive set. That’s a perfectly fine temperament for a point guard to have — but is it the right temperament for the point guard on a BYU team that must play in transition as much as possible to be effective and struggles mightily in the half-court? I’d argue that the answer is no.

The added benefit to such a switch is that you don’t lose any of the really great things that Collinsworth brings to the table. By shifting him to the small forward spot — or even playing him as a small-ball power forward — BYU can free him up to attack the glass even more voraciously for rebounds, put him in spots where he can succeed at getting to the rim (where he’s most comfortable) in transition more often for easy baskets, and still maintain his keen passing ability within the flow of a half-court set. And you get all of this while restoring Carlino to the role where he feels most comfortable, where he’s spent three years learning to play, where he had this team playing its best offensive basketball just a month ago.

To be sure, Matt Carlino has his fair share of weaknesses, and his shooting is by far the most problematic at the moment.[1] His shot selection can be highly suspect at times, and he’s in the midst of a horrific shooting slump. Those things are not to be discounted (and there’s likely a strong correlation between the two), but they’re also things that can be continually refined. He can and should be coached to take better shots than he has recently, and when he does, those shots will start to fall. How do I know that? We’ve seen it happen before.

Through December of last season, Carlino was shooting an abysmal 22 percent from deep. (He’s at a not-quite-so-bad-but-still-really-bad 28 percent so far this season.) What happened then? Rose told him to keep shooting (albeit smarter shots), kept building up his confidence, and eventually he came out of it. He shot a very respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc the rest of the way, almost single-handedly won a couple close games in crunch time, and played a huge role in BYU’s run to the NIT semifinals.

But none of that happens if you don’t stick with him through the tough times. Rose stuck with him once, and it paid off. Carlino pulled himself out of his slump and played really effective basketball in conference and postseason play. He needs to do it again. He needs to make it clear to Matt that he has confidence in him — not only for the rest of this season, but laying the groundwork for next year too.

Carlino is a player who thrives on confidence. He’s at his best when he can play freely and naturally, feeling the game and feeding off emotion. When you take that away from him, it kills him. He questions himself and his role, he overthinks the game and plays tentatively, and his play quickly goes from bad to worse.

This is not a new phenomenon — it’s true of a lot of players. So when Rose gave away Carlino’s role (at a time when he was already dealing with a confidence-testing slump) and began drastically reducing his minutes, it only made Matt worse — something that has been born out in his despondent, truncated performances in the last three games. For all intents and purposes, whether he intended to or not, Rose’s recent personnel decisions have helped strip Matt Carlino of his much-needed confidence — kicking off a cycle that will make it difficult for him to be productive so long as it remains in effect.

The happy flip-side to this equation is that, if Rose has the power to diminish Carlino’s confidence, he also has the power to build it back up. It’s a simple process and, as I’ve already mentioned, one the coach has already been through before. But it has to start with restoring his mercurial point guard to his natural role — if not because he necessarily believes that Matt’s recent play deserves that distinction (although I think the tactical benefits highlighted above speak for themselves), then as a symbolic vote of confidence and trust in his ability to work hard and regain his previous good form.

It has often been said (including by yours truly) that BYU can only go as far as Matt Carlino takes them — that he’s the X factor who can provide the perfect complement to Tyler Haws’ offensive wizardry and Kyle Collinsworth’s all-around excellence. When Carlino’s good, the Cougars are very good. When he’s bad, they can be pretty bad. And when he’s virtually nonexistent? Well, we just found out how well that works over the past three games.

I know that Carlino can be frustrating, particularly when he’s in a slump. Sometimes he takes difficult shots that make you want to pull your hair out. Sometimes he pushes too hard to overcompensate for a crisis of confidence and makes silly mistakes. And sometimes he just straight-up misses a boatload of shots. But we have to remember, in those dark times when the slump monster is raging, that there is light on the other side. We’ve seen it before, and it is glorious.

Because when Matt Carlino is good, he’s undeniably, wickedly good — and so is everyone around him. BYU played their best basketball of the season with him at the helm, and they can do so again. But not unless they ride with him through the tough times, tell him they still believe in him, and help him emerge stronger on the other side. They can’t lock him away on the bench and hope he’ll magically fix himself — that’s not how it works. He needs to feel the ball in his hands. He needs to get those slaps on the back from his teammates and coaches. He needs to hear the roar of his home crowd’s approval.

It’s time to free Matt Carlino. The fate of this season — and perhaps beyond — depends on it.

 


  1. The other primary knocks against Carlino — that he doesn’t pass enough and turns the ball over too much — have always been overblown. In fact, if you adjust for the amount of time each player spends on the floor, he’s actually assisting more often and turning the ball over less often than Collinsworth this season. Matt assists on 27.3 percent of BYU’s baskets when he’s on the floor, while Kyle assists on 23.7 percent; and Carlino turns the ball over 14.9 percent of the possessions he plays, while Collinsworth commits a turnover on 17.3 percent of his possessions. All of these numbers are respectable from both players — but the idea that Carlino is somehow a less effective passer or more turnover-prone than his teammate is patently absurd.  ↩

15 Comments

  1. WCCCoug

    January 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Agree with everything you wrote and would just add that Carlino and Haws have half-court chemistry. Carlino found Haws a couple of times every game on back-door cuts just by making eye contact. Several times that easy layup was what got Haws going.

    I don’t buy the criticisms I hear from many fans that Carlino has not improved his decision making. His first two years in the program, he was good for at least one turnover a game when for no reason (defense was back and set up), he chose to make a 30 foot chest pass instead of simply dribbling the ball into the forecourt. I haven’t seen him do that once this year. He also has been better at pulling the ball out when the drive isn’t there.

    Where Carlino seems to get in trouble is when Haws comes out of the game. Without the team’s best scorer on the floor, you could almost sense that Matt felt he had to do more and ended up forcing shots. When he is on, those shots fall. When they start missing, and he gets yanked, his confidence tanks fast.

    As for Collinsworth, I would love to see Rose use him like UCLA used Reeves Nelson. KC is a strong, crafty guy that can operate anywhere along the baseline and drop the ball to Mika for easy baskets, kick the ball to the opposite corner, or finish himself.

  2. Wes

    January 3, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Free halford

  3. Sanpete

    January 3, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    I’m not sure the article’s analysis is right, but it’s how I’ve felt too. Rose has treated Carlino oddly, it seems to me. Rose does build confidence, yet he has publicly said things beginning last season about Carlino that could only undercut his confidence, including all the talk about Collinsworth that implied he might take Carlino’s place. Rose is a smart guy, and maybe he’s had his reasons, but I’ve feared something like what we’ve seen would be the result. At the beginning of the season Carlino looked happy and played very well, and I thought the team had dodged the bullet of integrating co-point guards, as it were, but it’s all grim now.

    There’s talk about starting Halford over Carlino, or at least giving him more of Carlino’s minutes. I like Halford, but I don’t see him as driving the team the way Carlino does.

    This may get worse before it gets better.

    • Steve Pierce

      January 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      I expect Halford to start tonight and Carlino to come off the bench as backup point guard. I think it’s a mistake, but I guess we’ll see how it works out.

  4. realhaka

    January 4, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Outside of his field goal percentage being well below average*, he was having an outstanding year at the point after the stinker at Utah (16 ppg, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 2 steals (leading the WCC) before being demoted at Oregon. He was instrumental in wins over Stanford, Texas, Utah State, was great against Iowa State, and almost single-handedly kept us in the game during the first half against Wichita State. BYU’s RPI was in the low twenties with all the analysts saying BYU was a tournament team based on their schedule and overall play at 8-4. Since then they are 0-3 after Rose moved him off the point, they haven’t looked like the same team, and his shooting and overall play has gotten worse. There is no way this team gets better by moving him off the point.

    Sanpete stated, “Rose has treated Carlino oddly”. That is an understatement. Have you ever seen Haws or Collinsworth get pulled out of a game because of a bad shot or bad turnover? It never happens. But when Matt forces a bad shot or makes a turnover you see him go right to the bench. That doesn’t do much for the confidence of your point guard and co-captain.

    Free Carlino.

    *One last comment on his field goal percentage. His real stinkers before the demotion came against the likes of Mount St. Marys, Colorado Mesa, and North Texas, games we really didn’t need him to shoot well. He seems to lose a little focus against bad teams. His shooting numbers against the better teams BYU has played (take out Utah, a stinker by the whole team) have been pretty solid.

    • Steve Pierce

      January 4, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Amen on all points. AMEN.

  5. BB

    January 4, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    We’ll guess you were wrong… Halford 11/26 28 points, Carlino 1/4 2 points. I think Carlino needs to come off the bench for the rest of the season.

    • Sanpete

      January 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      Right, for the rest of the season. That’s a sadly typical fan reaction. (Carlino was 2-6 for 6 points with 4 assists and 2 turnovers.)

      No one said Halford isn’t a scorer. But he isn’t as good at driving the team as Carlino.

  6. Gayle

    January 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    The problem that I saw with Carlino, was that he didn’t know when to go and when to slow down. It was go all the time. It allowed Stanford to climb back from a 20 point deficit with little time remaining and Iowa State to come back for a win. He would drive into the middle and force a shot or contact and not get the foul call bail out, then the ball would be going the other way. In the mean time only 8 seconds were drained off the clock and our lead dissappeared. After a while it became very clear to the opposing team that you only had to play defense for fifteen seconds at most, and if you got back on D to stop BYU from getting a layup, they would drive into the lane to get their shot blocked or blast away from the perimeter. Say what you want about Collinsworth not being as good a point guard as Carlino, but when he drives he looks to pass, and he’s actually big enough that he can go up against an opposing player and hammer it home. He’s better at taking what the defense gives, and as such is a better fit when the fast break isn’t there, which has been the case for most of the past month.
    I would love to see Carlino get his confidence back and find a role on this team, but he has to learn what his limits are and play within them.

  7. Gayle

    January 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I thought his defense was head and shoulders above Carlino’s. Sure he didn’t have as many steals as Carlino typically would have, but his overall energy level and tenacity held USD highest scorer and the second highest scorer in the league to single digits.

  8. David Walton

    January 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Clearly the problem with BYU is their defense and not their offense. They score enough points to win games but their zone is pathetic. Carlino has talent but very little basketball judgement. Whether Halford is a long term solution remains to be seen but he gave BYU a great game on both ends of the floor. Regarding “freeing Carlino” I feel just the opposite, he needs to develop some basketball savy and learn not to play totally out of control. I.m also not sure how coachable he is, he seems pretty moody to me.

  9. Andrew Kim

    January 8, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Just saw this article. I think it’s hilarious that the argument that is essentially made is that last year, Carlino was horrible for a stretch, and the team couldn’t be good because of it (I took the liberty of the second part of the statement, but you have to admit, when Carlino is playing really poorly, the team is bad), but then eventually he shot himself out of the slump and was a respectable three point shooter (although fail to admit he still shoots poorly from the field). And because he eventually shot himself out of it last year, we should allow him to lose games singlehandedly for us again this season, let him be horrible for a little while longer until he proves he can shoot the ball respectably again. Sounds good to me. Then next year, we should watch him kill our chances of an NCAA appearance as we watch him take bad shots and shoot about 40% from the field, but then he’ll have proven twice that he can shoot out of horrible, so you’ll write an article about how we should still let him play because he has proven to us twice that he can shoot himself out of historic, season killing slumps.

    I realize I am exaggerating a bit, but what was extremely true of every Dave Rose team until Matt Carlino stepped on campus was that his teams were consistent, and very good. When Matt Carlino is your point guard, you can throw consistency out the window. There is sure a lot of talk about how great the team is when Carlino is good, but how often is that? Name the great wins that he has led us to when he is really good – please (honestly, I’ll give you Gonzaga two years ago at home when Noah Hartsock went off – give me one more). The team is in the midst of their three worst seasons in the Rose era (with the exception of Rose’s first season where we were coming off of single digit victories), and there has been one constant to these three seasons – Matt Carlino and his erratic point guard play. You talk about coaching him up, but Rose has tried to do that since Carlino has started here, and he still has no clue what a good shot is, what a good possession is, or how to run BYU’s offense.

    Matt Carlino has approximately 30% of all BYU possessions ending in his making a contribution (shot, turnover, assist, etc), and yet, has the worst efficiency rating on the team. Of the six other Cougars to have a possession percentage of at least 14% per kenpom.com, Collinsworth has the lowest offensive rating at 102.7. Carlino’s offensive rating: 94.2 (not close to Collinsworth). So basically, the guy who takes the most shots on the team is the guy that shoots the worst. The guy with the ball in his hands the most is the guy who has the who is the worst efficient with it.

    I recognize that the team has not flourished as Rose tries something new, but why would he go back to something that has proven to be bad for two and a half years? If an NIT tournamen bid, inconsistency, but beating a few NIT worthy teams every now and again is your cup of tea, then by all means, let’s go back to Matt Carlino. If you, like Dave Rose, want to see if the team can become something more, then you have to be in support of shaking things up.

    • Steve Pierce

      January 8, 2014 at 11:29 am

      You’re right. Every struggle the program has endured at any point in the past three years is Matt Carlino’s fault. You’re not exaggerating at all.

  10. Tim McMahon

    January 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you for this article. BYU and Matt Carlino are among my favorites in college basketball. Dave Rose walks on water for me too, I love his matchup zone. I model my high school basketball team around his style. That being said, Rose is COMPLETELY blowing it with Carlino this year. I had to vent after watching that disaster @ Gonzaga the other night. BYU cant cover an 8.5 point spread @ the Zags? Are you freaking kidding me? Carlino is as pure a scorer as any player in NCAA. His game has a euro-style that screams Manu Ginobli. I pride myself on finding kids in the NCAA that can flat out get buckets, Carlino is simply one of those kids. If BYU wants to keep scoring 85+ points, Carlino must be allowed to play his game and get his shots up. It is sad to see a good coach get it sooooooo wrong about one of his own kids. Rose is WAY too far into the woods to see the trees at this point in time. I wonder if he knows how pathetic the half court offense is without Carlino in there when he is watching film, or if he has told himself the lie that Carlino is more bad than good so many times that he actually believes it. Without Carlino in the game the other night, I watched Collinsworth (pure offensive rebounder) pushe the ball in transtion numerous times into a peel out, reverse pivot pass backwards. I was appalled.

    Carlino against Texas this year(their biggest game) 20-6-6-2.

    Don’t blow it Coach Rose. Swallow your pride.

    If their are fans on here that truly and honestly believe the Carlino is not the best player on the court 90% of the time, I have to call into question your ability to decipher a basketball game. Someone on the court has to break their man down, or your team will spend all night playing straight over the top of the defense instead of in the gaps and in space.

  11. Tim McMahon

    January 27, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Steve, just read your “about” section. I have been telling people in Cleveland for 2 years now about Carlino. I love that you are the self appointed president of the fan club. I also consider myself one as well. My friends and I have been doing a player pool for March Madness every year for the past 10 years. We are obssesed with college hoops. We spend all year scouting the best scorers for our tournament challenge.

    #1 off the board for me this year will be Matt Carlino. BYU will get an 8 seed.