The Pope blesses BYU's Davies and Hartsock

One of the biggest questions most people were asking about BYU basketball before this season were "how will the offense work?" or the related "where will the scoring come from?" Many were unsure if BYU could handle the switch away from the ball-dominant-Jimmer offense (I guess because Dave Rose and BYU basketball didn't exist before 2010?). A diversified game from Noah Hartsock and a more agressive Brandon Davies, despite a few bumps, have BYU rounding into a strong team.

Davies, Hartsock, and BYU can thank the Pope for the offense's ability to keep scoring without Jimmer -- Mark Pope, that is.

Eight months ago, Dave Rose hired Mark Pope as an assistant coach with Dave Rice headed to Vegas. Pope, a 6-10 big man who helped Kentucky win a national championship in 1996, brought a solid playing experience to the bench. As a pro, Pope saw limited time in games, but spent his nine-year pro career battling the likes of Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, Rik Smits, Glenn Robinson, Nene, and Kenyon Martin in practice.

Along with the playing experience, Pope spent time as Georgia's director of basketball operations, and as an assistant coach at Wake Forest.

Now, his hand is over a promising season at BYU. Perhaps the natural progression of Davies and Hartsock would have them where they are now ... but I'd like to give some credit to Mark Pope, a clear-cut change that would affect the BYU frontcourt. The impact has been clear, even to Dave Rose:

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Let's take a look at Noah Hartsock. In year's past, Hartsock was a pick-and-pop, baseline jumper kind of guy. He'd score in the post or off cuts here and there, but nothing like this year. This season, he has added to that a strong post game that has him battling down low so much his nose has been pounded into mush. His diversified game had him ready to continue producing at a high level even with an increased work load. Pre-Pope, Hartsock shot 52.7% in his BYU career (already a good clip). This season, despite taking a full 5 shots more per game than he did as a soph/junior, Noah is knocking down 57.3% of his shots.

Davies has brought out a whole new level of his game. Anecdotally, Davies has been far more aggressive on both ends of the floor. He tries to destroy the rim every time the opportunity presents itself, knows when he can overwhelm his defender, and wants rebounds.

Statistically, Davies has upped his boards by a full 2 rebounds per game (from 6.2 to 8.2), but his minutes are barely up from last year (as he's still learning a bit how not to foul so often). He is also blocking more shots (up to 1.3 per game) and getting more steals (0.7 to 1.3). He's even getting more assists (1.5 to 2.2).
The progression of Brandon Davies was apparent to me in one play against San Diego on Monday. Davies had the ball in the post and was stifled. Instead of continuing to pound the ball into the hardwood, he kicked it out to the wing, who immediately returned it to Davies for a re-post. Just as Davies went back to work on the post up, he wrapped a pass around his defender to a cutting Matt Carlino for an easy layup. His awareness to set up a re-post and to hit the cutter spoke volumes to me.

Across the board, Davies and Hartsock were prepared to take on their increased roles this season, and BYU has churned out wins because of it.

This is also really good news for freshman Nate Austin, as well as for BYU recruiting. If it is apparent how well big men do at BYU, Pope's influence could make Provo a Far West of basketball big men like it has been for tight ends in football.

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