The Cougar Cagers seem to be peaking at the right time coming off two big wins on the road against Pacific and Loyola Marymount. While BYU’s defense continued to hold down the fort, holding Pacific to a paltry 52 points and keeping LMU close to that before a late 15-0 run, the offense joined the party as well resulting in an average margin of victory of 22.5 points. Here are some of the the things BYU did to unlock their offensive potential as well as some things they seemed to improve on during their long break after the Gonzaga game.
Knocking down threes
Caleb and Trevin have been shooting the ball really well lately. In fact, in conference play Caleb is shooting 12-20 from distance with seven of those makes coming last week. Meanwhile, over his last seven games Trevin is shooting 15/27 (56%) on almost 4 attempts per game. While their shooting hasn’t quite caught the attention of opposing scouting reports yet it has helped BYU start blowing out opponents and makes the offense so much simpler.
Take this play where Brandon sees the swipe man, who is guarding Trevin, coming over too far and makes a really easy pass for points.
Instead of having to probe the defense and risk a turnover as we’ve seen earlier in the season, the easy play is open and actually produces points here. Similarly, defenses have been more than willing to let Caleb go to help on the drive. Pacific completely lets him have the pop here even though he is going to an empty side.
If these two can continue their hot shooting, BYU will be very hard to stop. Having to shade towards the perimeter opens up Brandon’s driving lanes and the big’s rolls and will present defenses with more tough choices. I don’t anticipate opposing defenses to change much this deep into the season and if they don’t, hopefully Caleb and Trevin continue to make them pay.
Physicality, Communication, Protecting the Ball
In his postgame interview after the LMU game, Coach Pope mentioned that during the ten day wait BYU focused on physicality, communication, and protecting the ball. The Gonzaga loss was a big driver behind those three and it was great to see how what they worked on showed up in games.
Physicality shows up in a lot of things but one thing I noticed in past games was rebounding. BYU kept finding itself on the wrong end of offensive rebounds in some of its closer games and part of it came from not getting the first hit when the shot goes up. It’s one of those small things that makes a big difference and it was great to see Trevin apply that increased physicality on this rebound against Pacific.
Notice that his first look as the shot goes up isn’t at the ball but his man. He makes sure that he gets the first hit on the rebound and ends up taking his assignment out of the equation. Little efforts like this have bit us in the past so it was great to see it being more top of mind.
Another small thing I noticed concerning physicality was Haarms’ improved strength on defense. I feel like on plays like this one in the past he’d just be bumped so far out of the way he can’t recover to contest.
Here he does a great job to absorb the contact and then use his length to get the block. Little things like these two clips show make it evident that the players took the message of those 10 days to heart.
BYU’s been more willing to switch actions as the season has gone on which has led to some communication issues that hurt us (see the game in Spokane). Defensive communication is just one part of what Coach Pope could have meant but I wanted to point out some of the moments we did well last week.
First up, I like how Matt picks up on the cross screen and I don’t know if Caleb communicated that he was stuck but Matt went ahead and switched and Caleb knew to stay.
After the initial entry, Brandon makes sure that Connor’s man is covered when Connor goes to double then Connor returns the favor by dropping to protect the hoop after the defense is compromised. The rotation results in a TO and outside of the bad closeout is great all around.
Another good recover out of the double happened when Brandon and Spencer had to switch off ball earlier in the game.
Doubling the post can get extremely messy and recovery takes communication. Brandon does a great job of that here as the defense contracts, expands, and contracts again resulting in a block. This type of defensive effort has been one of the more consistent things this year and will continue to carry this team through the rest of its games.
Taking care of the ball
I wrote a whole thread on twitter talking about our turnover issues against the Zags and how it handicapped our ability to get back in that game. It seems like there are a few head scratching turnovers every game and though we didn’t eliminate them last week we did cut down on them. In the interview I mentioned previously Coach Pope explained that it comes down to “your early decision making of having the intuition of when you’re going to put yourselves in harm’s way and when you’re going to avoid it, when you need to attack.” Brandon and Alex definitely picked up on the message and whatever they worked on sunk in as they combined for 20 assists to only 5 turnovers last week (they were a combined 11 assists to 7 TOs against just Gonzaga). To see this in action let’s start with one of BA’s turnovers against the Zags.
He gets kind of caught here not really knowing what he’s going to do. Part of that is the big playing solid drop coverage and not overcommitting but it results in getting a little stuck and turning it over. Check out how much more decisive he is here against LMU.
There’s no probe dribble or anything. Once he’s ready to come off he realizes the big defender is too high and thanks to the slip by Haarms, the play is easy to make, just throw it ahead. No points directly from this play but It’s a good demonstration of building and using that intuition. Alex as well did a good job of reading things right but used a lot of patience at times, check out how long he lets things evolve here before hitting the simple pass out to the wing.
I like the pump fake to Richard in order to suck Trevin’s defender down and make this play happen. He knew that since the big was with him, the bottom man would have to cover the roll.
Knowing when to attack and when to hold off was also on display in making the simple play to just kick it to the release man instead of probing the defense or trying to get it to the roll man like you see Trevin do here in a play that results in a three.
Like Pacific, LMU was sitting on the roll man with that bottom defender, the play is easy to make if you know not to try and challenge the interior of the defense and risk a turnover trying to make a play in tight spaces.
Alex demonstrated well the principle of knowing when to attack as he flashed his midrange jumper effectively again but also read when the big wasn’t in the right spot.
This is a tough shot but once it’s clear that the big is late and not in the right position to show on this action, Alex turns on the jets and gets downhill instead of wasting any time probing. The offense in general felt a lot more snappy this last week and a lot of that was dictated by the great play of BYU’s senior backcourt.
Matt Haarms had his second twenty point game of the year against LMU, making it the first time in his career that he’s eclipsed twenty points twice in the same season. Yes, some of that comes because the WCC is not the same level of conference as the Big 10 but the way he did it against LMU stood out. He showed a lot more willingness to initiate contact and play physical than maybe any other time this season. Connecting to the last section about the teams’ focus on physicality, you could really see it manifest in Haarms’ play. While his slight build makes him easier to push around, there are a few things that BYU is doing to help make it easier for him to find his spots and minimize the work he has to do.
First up is a very simple thing that BYU has added into its offense as it initiates. It’s a simple exchange that takes place where the four comes up while Matt goes down the middle of the lane.
This simple action makes it easier for Matt to move people because instinctively the defender will back pedal a bit to keep the offensive player in front of them. Timed up like it is here, the defender doesn’t push back until it’s too late. BYU was in the bonus here and Matt knocked them both down.
The second wrinkle that’s been added helps Haarms on the roll. BYU’s implemented better timing on the replace action where the four man who is low looking for a hi/lo opportunity goes up the lane to be a release for the guard coming off the ballscreen. Watch Caleb here:
Caleb has his eyes on the ballscreen almost the whole time, timing up his movement upwards with Alex coming off the screen. If he had gone too early his defender could sag and dig on the penetration. Too late and he’s in the way of the roll action. With the opposite guard spaced and LMU in a flat show with their big defenders, all of the sudden the defensive responsibility to cover the basket falls to Gideon’s defender, who just isn’t ready in this play and gives up the dunk. This little timing detail has really helped Matt get a little more breathing room on his rolls.
In addition to those efforts, BYU still has relied on Matt to be able to take his man one on one with his back to the basket with mixed results. Some defenders he’s able to bully a little and shoot over but more quality defenders, like Timme at Gonzaga, know how to push him off his line.
Matt does a good job gaining ground to get to his left hand but as he turns and goes up, Timme wins the battle. LMU put their own 7 footer on Haarms who had about 15 pounds on him but Matt did a great job of initiating contact, keeping a strong base, and finishing more toward the hoop.
He even throws a spicy ball fake in there before going back to his left. Notice how he re-gathers his footing on the turn so he can go more into the defender and draw the foul here. He’s not getting pushed off his line as easily as he did against the Zags (when he scored 0 points). Here’s another one where his defender is shorter but strong and initially bounces Matt off his line.
Matt kinda gets pushed around early in this post up but keeps his footing and his dribble enough to eventually get to his spot. His defender still gets a good push on him after the turn but Matt seems more ready for it and executes a stronger turn before letting his length do the rest of the work. The scouting report on Haarms has definitely been to get really physical with him, especially on back to the basket post ups, but it’s looking like he’s learned to handle that. With Haarms being more effective with his back to the basket and in the roll game as well as the threes falling, BYU is in a good spot to close out the season.
Set of the Week
This week’s set of the week isn’t all that fancy but I liked it because of its simplicity and subtlety. I’m excited to see the wrinkles that are thrown into “regular” parts of the offense and in this case it is switching the angle on the ballscreen. In this play it looks like LMU was trying to force Brandon left into a big with a flat show. This usually results in a natural double team type situation and when run correctly and helps to corral the ballhandler coming off the screen. To counter that, watch how Matt subtly flips to the direction of the screen at the last second.
I don’t know if the first screen that Brandon waves off here was a setup but I like to think it was because it plays right into the flip on the second ballscreen. By flipping that direction, Brandon has a few moments of daylight where it’s just him on the big and he can dictate the pace of the drive. That’s all he needs to hesitate and sink the big enough to mess up LMU’s handoff back to Brandon’s defender and ends up in a nice reverse to finish the play. Brandon’s second hesitation works perfectly in freezing the defense and essentially using that big defender to obstruct the recovering guard.
I like a few other things about this play. First is Matt’s pace to set the screens, he goes from looking relaxed to hurrying up to the screen, reducing the amount of reaction time LMU has to figure out where that screen will be and get in the right coverage. The second is Connor’s slow rise up the arc as Caleb fades to the corner, it pulls his defender up just enough to not be there to help on the drive. Caleb’s defender also shades toward him, maybe as a result of his hot shooting, and the basket is wide open for the finish. Like the things we did to help Haarms be efficient, these little adjustments are great to help put our players in situations where they can leverage their strengths.