Another frustrating week featuring an expected home win and another tough road loss to a team not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s has a lot of Cougar fans wondering if this basketball team is getting better. BYU has lost as many WCC games by 13 points as they have lost single possession games all year. The recent losses to San Diego and Santa Clara hit especially hard because those two wins all but dash whatever was left of BYU’s at-large berth hopes. I hope to expound on the trends I touched on during my visit on Cougs on Cougs last week.
Since the start of the season (excluding Coppin State and Coastal Carolina, since, well… they aren’t the best teams to measure against) BYU has gotten better at almost every facet of the game.
Yes, you read that right.
BYU’s shooting percentage has steadily increased, most notably from behind the three point line. Since shooting a season low effective field goal (eFG) percentage of 38%, BYU hasn’t dipped below 47.1%. BYU has not lost a game where they had an eFG of 51.7%. Based on BYU’s average number of field goal attempts per game, that is between 2 and 3 more made shots per game. BYU’s shooting is improving, and is approaching a level that BYU hasn’t lost when reached. BYU’s rebounding percentage and free throw rate are also both increasing, mainly thanks to Yoeli Childs and Elijah Bryant hitting their respective strides. These are 3 of the 4 factors identified by basketball statistician and author Dean Smith as the main factors that determine a basketball team’s success.
The fourth is turnover percentage and outside of the past two games, it has been stagnant. Side note: how did BYU turn the ball over on 25% of their possessions against Loyola Marymount? Maybe this is a story for next week.
When you look at BYU’s production in these factors and compare it to BYU’s opponents’ production, BYU is improving.
Based on this metric, Saint Mary’s has been the worst played game of the season. San Diego and Utah Valley were about equal in terms of how the team played. The highs since that game have been higher than during BYU’s out of conference slate.
The key from now on will be consistency. BYU’s longest winning streak is at 4 games, which happened twice. One came against Princeton and 3 of the lowest RPIs on BYU’s schedule, the other was a stretch that included games against CSU-Bakersfield and Idaho State.
In addition to this, BYU is becoming more efficient on both sides of the ball. This will be surprising to some, but the largest strides have actually been made on the defensive side. This year, defensive rating is the strongest indicator of whether BYU won or lost a game. The problem has mainly been that BYU rarely puts together convincing offensive and defensive performances together. Again, consistency is key, and that is why I believe many don’t feel like the team is getting better.
This graph shows the combined value of BYU’s offensive rating and defensive rating compared to the BYU’s season average.
Yes, the inconsistency is frustrating, but the team is trending in the right direction.
Of course, these trends apply to the whole season. Anyone who watches BYU knows that they are a vastly different team on the road compared to when they’re at home. At home, BYU is 12-1. Away from the familiar confines of the Marriott Center, however, BYU is only 4-6. Has the team been getting better on the road? Looking at the data from road games plus USC and Illinois (since those were road games in disguise), the answer is still yes. However, the team is improving at a much slower rate. In addition to the slower progress, the team started out performing worse on the road. The improvements have brought the team’s road averages up to league average, and they’re improving by about a point per game.
This is still under performing for many who had high hopes for this team. They may not be improving as fast as fans may want but to say that they aren’t improving seems to be incorrect.