Three weeks into his college career, freshman center Brandon McCoy had pretty much had his way with opponents. Using his athleticism, skill and sheer size, McCoy was able to dominate on both ends of the floor — until Wednesday against Northern Iowa.
That game, which ended in an overtime loss for the Rebels, saw McCoy produce a season-low nine points and seven rebounds, but it may end up being a key learning point for the young phenom.
Unlike most of the cupcakes UNLV played to open the season, Northern Iowa actually had some size to throw at McCoy. And since McCoy went into the game averaging 20.2 points and 13.0 rebounds per game with a rep as a future NBA lottery pick, he also got to experience a college first — his first time being the focal point of a very detailed, very targeted scouting report.
When UNLV had the ball, Northern Iowa fronted McCoy at every opportunity. Every time the Rebels’ 7-footer tried to establish position on the block, long-armed UNI center Bennett Koch challenged him physically and forced UNLV to find the right entry angle (with perfect timing). Facing tight interior defense for the first time this season, the Rebels struggled to work the ball inside:
Koch and the rest of the Northern Iowa defense maintained that level of physicality for the entire 45 minutes. McCoy worked and expended a lot of energy on offense, but when the final horn sounded, he had attempted a career-low five shots.
Marvin Menzies said the Rebels tried to get him involved, but that Northern Iowa wasn’t going to let McCoy beat them.
“They were fronting him all over the place,” Menzies said. “We hadn’t seen that yet. Well, we’d seen it, but we hadn’t seen it with a 7-footer, or 6-10. And [Koch] was a strong, big, skilled, experienced player…It was tough for our guards to make entry passes. We were calling stuff to try and get middle pick-and-rolls and get middle touches and deep touches to avoid double teams, and we just couldn’t get that ball entered.”
Northern Iowa also made McCoy the centerpiece of the game plan on the other end of the floor. Once UNI coach Ben Jacobson realized that UNLV wasn’t going to double-team the post — Menzies said he decided to defend the post straight-up because he didn’t want his perimeter defenders to stray from UNI’s 3-point shooters — the Panthers isolated Koch against McCoy at every opportunity.
With no help coming on the vast majority of plays, McCoy was left to defend the wily senior all alone on the block. Koch used the excess space to his advantage and unleashed a variety of polished back-to-the-basket moves, but mostly wore out his right-hand jump hook on his way to a career-high 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting:
McCoy mostly tried to stay between Koch and the basket and get his hands up to alter the shot, but that wasn’t good enough. Koch, who entered the night with exactly 100 games of college experience, never panicked or rushed his shot.
UNLV power forward Shakur Juiston tried to double-team Koch in the post on two occasions, with mixed results. The first time he helped, his man cut behind him and Koch found the cutter for an easy layup. The second time, Juiston was able to strip the ball and force a turnover:
Both double-teams appeared to be spontaneous on Juiston’s part and not something the Rebels game-planned. On the first double, Menzies can be seen on the sideline throwing up his hands in confusion after the bucket.
Aside from those two random plays, McCoy was asked to stop Koch 1-on-1. McCoy shouldn't feel any shame after the player with 93 more games of college experience came out on top.
Menzies is usually willing to live with opponents posting up, as those are generally low-percentage shots. But Koch never cooled off.
“We always tell our guys tough 2’s won’t beat us, but actually [Wednesday] tough 2’s did beat us,” Menzies said with a laugh. “So I might have to reassess that philosophy.”
McCoy can also learn from the way Koch attacked him relentlessly. Koch said after the game that he was motivated by McCoy’s reputation, so McCoy will have to be ready for 24 more games of opponents giving him their best shot.
“Coach was telling me that he’s a great player, and people are talking about how he’s going to be a lottery pick, so I wanted to go out there and see how I could play against an NBA-level player,” Koch said. “So I just wanted to go out there, play my game and be confident.”
Koch certainly won’t be the last player to adopt that attitude against McCoy. Now that he’s a full-fledged star, opponents will see an opportunity to make their name against him.
Menzies said the Northern Iowa loss will be a good learning experience for McCoy.
“He got frustrated,” Menzies said. “He got frustrated with his inability to affect the game from the scoring side, but he’s young. He’ll figure out when they’re doing something to take that away, then you’ve got to bring something else to the table.”
For McCoy, it was the first time an opponent had put so much advance preparation into exploiting him. In a way, it’s the ultimate compliment for a basketball player. McCoy is a star now, and this is what comes with the territory. For McCoy, this is the new normal.