The BYU men’s basketball team got off to a great start with important away/neutral victories against Stanford and Texas, both solid teams. Losses to Iowa State and Oregon showed promise for the Cougars as they took these nationally ranked teams to the wire. Despite losing five non-conference games, the Cougars looked like the best 8-5 team in the country with a tough strength of schedule and losing to teams with a combined record of 65-4. That is when the bombshell hit. The Cougars did something that they have not done before in the Dave Rose era; lose four games in a row.
First they lost to a better than expected, if only by Cougar fans, Utah squad. Next they lost to nationally ranked Oregon deep in the woods. Then they followed it up with back-to-back conference losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, who have a combined 20-12 record. Keep in mind that Pepperdine was picked dead last in the conference preseason polls. Saying BYU has underperformed so far this season is an understatement. They did dominate the San Diego Toreros at the Marriott Center, but it was only one game and on the home hardwoods. So what does BYU need to do in the New Year to get the season back on track?
Solution #1: BYU needs to improve at the charity stripe. Free throw shooting for the Cougars has been downright embarrassing at times this season. At this point in the season the team is shooting 67.2 percent from the free throw line. Frankly, that is not good enough. To squeak into the top 50 the Cougars would have to be shooting at 73.5 percent.
Solution #2: The Cougars need to play team defense. They allow opposing teams an average of 78.6 points per game. By decreasing that average BYU’s defense can become a help instead of a hindrance, when the offense has an off night. When in the zone defense they need to block off passing lanes and keep cutters from getting to the basket. When in man defense they need to lock down and recognize when they need to give help. In either defensive scheme, they need to defend the three-point line better.
Solution #3: BYU needs to play a half-court game. Rose likes his teams to run and that should not change. However, they need to recognize when to pull up instead of pushing to the rim. Perhaps this is a function of the youth of the team. This is especially important for close games in which the Cougars have the lead because establishing a half-court game makes it possible to take time off the clock.
Solution #4: The Cougars need to consistently shoot well from behind the arc. They have a deficit of 5.1 3-pointers to opposing teams’ 7.8, a difference of 6 points per game from outside. The Cougars lost by a total of as many points to Iowa State and Oregon.
Solution #5 :BYU needs a team leader that can be relied upon at the end of a close game. The obvious answer here is Tyler Haws because he has the most complete and consistent skill set on the team, as well as relevant game time experience. Despite that, the Cougars look leaderless at times in close and losing games. Matt Carlino appears to have played himself out of a starting position, although when he is playing at his full potential he can be unstoppable. Kyle Collinsworth is a model of quiet consistency, filling out the stats sheet. Sklyer Halford plays with the energy of someone who wants to prove his legitimacy as a starter. Finally, Eric Mika is inexperienced but has the strength, energy, and talent to make an impact on both sides of the court.
If BYU can implement these solutions, then they will get closer to achieving their season goal of winning the West Coast Conference and should have a good showing in the conference tournament. Right now BYU is on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal and solving these problems will draw them closer to the big dance.
What things do you want to see the Cougars improve on in the second half of the season? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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