One of the harshest judgments often passed on this year’s (and most years) BYU basketball teams is that they don’t play defense. BYU’s 75.5 points allowed per game is good for 226 (out of 351 teams) in the nation, right around noted defensive powerhouses Lehigh and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Most people read that and think, “Wow, we really do suck at defense!” and in terms of points per game allowed, BYU is in the bottom 3rd of the nation. But there is a glaring fact that is getting overlooked: pace of play.
BYU likes to play fast. That’s no secret. BYU has played even faster this year, averaging 5 more possessions per game (up to 81.6 possessions per game, 4th highest in the nation). When you play fast, you can expect to score a lot of points, but the flip side of that is you also tend to give up a lot of points. One key to understanding a team’s offensive or defensive performance is by looking at the team’s efficiency. When pace of play is factored in, BYU’s defensive rating is 84.2, good for 55th in the nation. Last year, the defensive rating was 87.4. The NCAA average is 91.4 (the higher the number, the worse the efficiency). The only games where BYU’s defensive rating was below average are the 4 losses.
When you factor in the increased pace of play, along with BYU’s improved defensive rating, the Cougars are saving a little over 3 points per game. Instead of having chances to tie or win against Valpo and Illinois at the end of the game, the games would have already been over. USC would have been a double digit loss (which would have felt even more crushing considering how poorly USC shot in the first 10 minutes). The loss to UVU would feel just as bad as it did though. Sorry.
Other factors contributing to the losses include getting out rebounded in 3 out of 4 losses (exception: USC), shooting a below average number of free throws in 3 out of 4 losses (exception: Valpo), poor shooting (below average in all losses except for UVU), and post involvement (BYU has lost 4 of 5 games when post players get the fewest possesions). When these other factors are included, BYU is actually losing by fewer points than what would be expected (except for that UVU loss).
BYU’s defense (as a whole) has not been the lone issue this year. Obviously, there have been moments (or the entire UVU game), where the defense hasn’t played well, but overall, games have been won and lost by the defense. The scheme and talent are there and the team has been well above average defensively; the team will likely see more success in the future as continuity continues to grow.