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BYU Basketball Film Study: Saint Mary’s and USF

What did the Cougars do to secure the valuable Bay Area sweep?

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

BYU looks to wrap up another WCC sweep week tonight as they take on the Pepperdine Waves, but let’s take a look back at how they pulled off the crucial sweep of the Bay Area teams. The games against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco weren’t the displays of offensive efficiency that we saw many times last season but the defensive effort in both games held sway until the offense could catch up and put things away.

Bigs Continual Learning

We saw a bit of the transformation into what BYU will probably be for the rest of the year last week as BYU hammered their two opponents in the paint 84-42. BYU is finding more ways to exploit its size advantages in conference but the bigs still have some learning to do in terms of when to keep it and when to kick it back out. All of the bigs are still learning but we can take Richard as an example of this progression over last week’s games. As BYU has gone more post heavy, Richard has used his aggressiveness to get buckets but also to get himself in trouble.

Richard has been pretty big time in the post going one on one but it took a little time for him to figure out the late dig down and help that people are starting to show him. With three defenders collapsing he has to feel where they are and where he can kick it out.

San Francisco decided to go ahead and double early and though you could tell the coaching staff had prepped the bigs for it and had them look for that open man on the weak side, Richard instead goes to force the pass here a little too late.

Despite the late help from the other big, I think he may have moved his man back enough to get off a solid clean look here but I’m not going to fault him for looking to share the ball. Despite a few rough possessions, there were also signs of him figuring things out, like this assist late in the game to help BYU pull away.

This clip really shows the learning that is happening with this team as the bigs get used to having the ball in their hand more. The action is the same as the last clip but this time Richard takes his time and instead of trying to push through and force up a shot (like the first clip in this set), or trying to hit the other big with a tough pass, he recognizes that the guard is too far down and the best shooter on the team is wide open. This learning isn’t just going on with Richard, all the bigs are getting better at their feel for being the ones the offense is going through and I’m excited for what that means for this team moving forward.

Trevin Knell

In a surprising move, the coaching staff moved Trevin into the starting lineup last week. Though there was a case to be made with some of the advanced stats available, it was a bit out of the blue because Trevin has mostly been under the radar this year even though he’s been playing solid defense and is a plus contributor. The move paid off, though, especially in the game against the Gaels where he led the team with a +/- of 16. One of the biggest things I’ve seen with Trevin is his willingness to hunt shots and embrace contact. This BYU team can have a problem sometimes of not probing the defense enough, resulting in entire possessions of just side to side action with no one really getting a piece of the paint. Trevin’s mindset seems a little more aggressive there and he consistently got into the paint against Saint Mary’s like this bucket shows.

On the defensive side of the ball he’s definitely been holding his own. He does a good job of being right on the defender in handoff actions and has been solid on the ball as well but the play that stood out to me the most was this great deflection later in the game last Thursday.

Gideon was doing a good job of taking care of Kuhse during this stretch and SMC really wanted to get the ball into his hands. Here they try to hit backdoor two times in a row but Trevin sees the little screen action with his man and drops off like he’s supposed to to let Gideon through if Kuhse comes off the screen. This puts him in the perfect position to get the deflection and because he checks in on the ballhandler, he’s able to create this steal. Though he wasn’t as effective in the USF game, I think we’ll be seeing him in the starting lineup for a while, especially if his jumper starts to fall again.

Gideon’s Growth

Gideon George continues to generate excitement in the fanbase and rightfully so. Despite seeing a dip in minutes since his solid performance in Connecticut, he made a big impact in both Bay Area games. Against Saint Mary’s he helped come in and lock down Kuhse, the engine that makes their offense go, and then came in and did it all again in San Francisco while adding some good offense at a critical point late in the first half. It’s fun to see him getting more and more comfortable practically in real time and there’s still growth to be had, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Right now there are still some unsurprising inefficiencies in his game but you do love to see the empowerment he feels from the coaching staff to help him be impactful. Check out this pull up three that’s not the best shot for him to be taking right now

To use the age-old adage, “he can get this shot whenever he wants”, and you would love to see him attack this short closeout instead of hesitating then pulling up. His biggest impact right now is using his athleticism and strength to get by guys and get shots close to the rim and you can tell he’s thinking more about that when faced with a similar situation in the USF game.

Though I’d love to see him take out the pumpfake and just catch and rip through, I really like his pacing here before he blows by his man to draw the foul. He has a unique skillset on this team and it’s better served in plays like these that will make more of an impact than pull up threes.

Another thing it’s been fun to see him improve is being more mindful of ending his drives going toward the rim rather than bailing out the defense with fadeaways or pull up twos.

With the big switched onto him and Richard sealing off the paint he’s got some better options here. He could hesitate and try to beat the big in the pocket of space Richard creates or really just use his combination of strength and length to go through the USF big that really doesn’t have much of a size advantage to him. He actually chose the second option later in the game with a much better result.

With the advantage created in transition this time instead of the ballscreen switch and a little more space to operate, he is more determined to stay moving towards the rim and hits the short little jump hook. As he continues to iron out the inefficiencies in his game he’ll be able to provide a more consistent threat and hopefully become a reliable 8-12 ppg scorer.

Shutting down the Gaels

Saint Mary’s offense relies on having a savvy ballhandler/scorer to make the right reads and slice up the defense. Though certainly not Jordan Ford from last year’s team, Tommy Kuhse has been filling that role pretty well this year and was doing a good job of orchestrating things against the Cougars as SMC took the lead then pushed it to eight midway through the second half. Every game is full of adjustments and counters then adjustments to those counters and it was really interesting to see what the coaches went to in this game and what ended up working to stifle the SMC offense in the second half.

Early in the game BYU started by going over middle ballscreens and funneling Kuhse to the big in drop coverage, meaning he is going to sink with the roll man to be able to recover in time for a dump off while discouraging the drive. The big is relying on the guard to recover in time to keep all the options covered. Here Matt shows this coverage, notice how his main movement is too backpedal into the paint to try and stay in front of both the roll and his man.

For most of the night BYU’s guards kept getting stuck on this screen like Alex does here and Kuhse was often able to take advantage of the big or make some other play. On side ballscreens we used more of an “ice” or “down” concept to force the ballhandler to reject the screen and drive into the big who again, is trying to sink a little to keep ballhandler and roll guy in front of him. Here we show that look and give up a short floater that the SMC big misses, really a shot that this type of defense is designed to give up.

SMC countered this down coverage by flipping the screen to give Kuhse more room to operate and take advantage of the back pedaling big with a nice floater. Notice how the big is setting this for Kuhse to go baseline instead of towards the middle.

With BYU’s guards getting stuck trying to get over the screens, the Cougars eventually made the adjustment to just go under everything. It worked well even though Brandon was whistled for a foul here.

The other piece of the puzzle that eventually helped shut things down was changing the big’s defense from drop to more of a flat show. The biggest way to see the difference is to check out how Matt is no longer back pedaling here but is instead moving more laterally to take care of the ballhandler first.

Gideon gets stuck here but that’s why Matt is in the flat show, to bother Kuhse until Gideon recovers. It works pretty well until Kuhse makes a nice pass, then the rest of the team defense takes over. Caleb does a great job of seeing the whole play and crashing down on the big, giving Matt enough time to get in position for the block.

With a solid ballscreen coverage working, SMC had to then make adjustments away from the simple ballscreen concept, They tried a few things but Gideon’s defense was too stifling for Kuhse to make much of an impact. Here, after Gideon had spent most of the possession denying Kuhse, SMC goes to try and chip him off with the cutting guard.

Then late in the game they threw in three ballscreens to see if they could loosen up the defense. First they went with a double then tried to slip one more in there but the strong D from Gideon and flat show from Richard shut it down.

It’s not often that SMC’s offense is stifled for that long and though they missed some open shots, BYU’s defensive scheme deserves a ton of credit, tallying 4 steals and 1 block in the last 10:26 of the game. SMC doesn’t quite have the talent or shooting to punish teams like they have in years past so I wouldn’t be surprised to see BYU start out with the guards going under and the bigs in a flat show when these two teams match up again in Provo.

Cleaning the glass against USF

USF was a little bit of a different animal and it seemed like a key to keeping their offense in check as BYU made their big run was securing the glass. The Dons are looking to get up a lot of threes over the course of the game, relying on enough going in to be competitive. Lots of threes means a lot of long rebound opportunities that can give up second chance points if you don’t lock down the glass. The Cougars have been pretty good on the glass all year by having everyone locked in on securing the rebound. Over the whole game, USF missed 39 shots. In the first 24 shots, they were able to collect 6 offensive rebounds but while BYU was going on its run, USF missed 15 shots and only was able to get one offensive rebound (which BYU then got a steal a few seconds later) despite consistently sending three to the glass. That 1/15 rate shows very well compared with 6 off rebounds on the other 24 misses and it definitely appears like the effort on the glass was a big part of the run. Securing the glass like that requires everyone to be locked into closing out the possession after playing good defense, a concept BYU show’s well in this clip.

I love how all four players end up in the paint here and especially how Connor makes sure to track his man instead of the ball to make sure there is no offensive rebound. The bigs have really been carrying this rebounding effort by consistently crashing even if they have to come down from the three point line.

The great defensive rotations here lead to a contested three but look how much ground Richard travels to help then secure the rebound. This consistent effort limited USF’s possessions and kept them at bay while the offense started clicking.

Set of the week

BYU scored on its first possession of the second half in both games last week but I wanted to call out the set they ran against SMC. The Gaels like to stunt and bother the ball handler and play solid defense, often forcing floaters or runners. Getting clean looks at the rim can be a challenge at times but this nice set gave Alex a ton of room to operate.

The players start in our usual base offense configuration but instead of Alex hitting Brandon, Brandon vacates and Alex turns the ball. The back screen here is often used to try and hit the lob but since I doubt we were trying to get Kolby on a lob, it serves the purpose of getting Kolby in a position to seal of the paint and Alex has to simply rip through. Knowing SMC likes to bump the bigs on screens like this adds to the beauty of this play call since it puts Alex’s defender at a slight disadvantage and ends up with him off balance as he’s trying to make sure Alex doesn’t pull the three. Plays like these are especially helpful as teams key in on Alex, giving him a ton of space to operate and making the game easier for him.