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BYU Basketball Film Study: Portland and Pepperdine

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

It’s been a strange season as far as scheduling is concerned with Covid cancellations and games being played in a different cadence than originally scheduled. After taking care of Portland at home, BYU hoops had the unique challenge of playing Pepperdine in back to back games, besting the Waves in Provo before coming up short in Malibu and dropping their first game to a non Quadrant 1 team this season. Take a look at a few things that tripped up the Cougars in Malibu and what helped them succeed in Provo.

Beating the Zone

Portland went to a zone look to try and hamper some of BYU’s inside play, the first time BYU had seen a zone for a while. It didn’t take long for BYU to figure out different ways to attack it though. One of the basic things they did was cut off the post and then leak to the opposite corner, challenging the zone rotations

BYU first started out with two bigs down low, letting them go one on one over the smaller Portland defenders. Here Caleb makes a nice decisive move to get a score.

After punishing them with two bigs low, BYU brought one big out, allowing the lone big to isolate on his man at the bottom of the zone and causing problems, especially when you couple it with transition to get Portland a little disjointed.

Finally, they combined the 4 out with quick ball movement to reverse the floor after a ballscreen and make it easier for the rolling big to seal the middle defender trying to rotate over.

Zone isn’t a bad option against a BYU team that has so far been inconsistent from the three point line but the staff did a good job of preparing multiple options to beat the zone.

Rebounding in tough situations

Rebounding can seem really simple, just find your man and box him out, but it can get a lot more difficult as you have to rebound out of defensive rotations and against teams desperate to make a play. At that point it’s all about effort, communication, and making a heady play to get the job done. BYU has been solid on the boards for most of the season but got bit by some bad bounces and missed opportunities against Pepperdine. Here late in the game we run into a situation that often can present a problem: the big helps on the drive after the guard is beat.

Once it’s clear that he’s beat and Matt is taking the drive, Spencer has the right idea to recover and veer back to Matt’s man but he once he sees that the shot’s going up he has to be more forceful on the recovery. At that point his one goal shouldn’t necessarily be to get the rebound himself but stop the big from getting it. He isn’t forceful enough here and Pepperdine gets the bucket.

Later in the string of three offensive rebounds there’s another cardinal sin that bit BYU in the rebounding game: not getting a body on everyone.

While it’s good that everyone is near the paint, trying to get the rebound, Alex completely loses his man coming in from the wing and gives up the offensive rebound. It’s really hard to block out someone coming in full speed from the arc but if you get to them early and knock them off their line you have a much better chance. To see what that looks like, watch Connor in the clip above as he gets a stiff arm on the big to neutralize him.

Finally, sometimes you’re just in a situation that someone has to make a play in a tough situation. Here Ross has to pull up at the end of the shot clock but he’s such a dynamic player Caleb has to be ready if he comes off the screen. This puts him out of position for the rebound and leaves Edwards a free run to the boards.

Edwards seemed more assertive in this second game and this is a good encapsulation of that effort, resulting in an extended possession. This one is one of the toughest ones to figure out what could be done but ties into that idea of getting a body on someone. Spencer or someone has to check and see that Edwards has a free run to the paint and knock him off his line, Caleb could even help by yelling that his man is free. It’s a tough play to make for sure but someone has to make it. Fortunately, it seems like these problems were being addressed as after the Pacific game later that week, Alex specifically mentioned them talking about rebounding and getting a man on.


Just a quick Connor appreciation section here as he had a solid set of games getting more and more acclimated to his role off the bench. Connor remains BYU’s best cutter off the ball as can be seen in this perfectly timed cut off a post up.

Notice how he waits until his defender turns to swipe before making the cut right down the barrel for a score. No one else on the team quite has his timing when it comes to off ball movement.

Connor also did a solid job with the ball in his hands driving. He’s big enough to really be able to maintain space to get some nice drop off passes in traffic, like this one to Richard against Portland.

After a lull, it’s starting to look like BYU is getting the old Connor back again, which is great news as we head down the back half of the season.

Guarding Ross and Edwards

Pepperdine goes as far as Colby Ross and Kessler Edwards take them. BYU did a pretty good job on them in Provo, throwing as many as five different defenders at each of them to disrupt them and make them as inefficient as possible. It was a team effort that we executed well in the game at home.

Spencer did a good job here picking up the switch and check out how Richard is ready to swipe down to help on the action. Late in the game after Edwards got going, Kolby actually did a really solid job on him to hold him scoreless. Check out how well he moves his feet here.

Unfortunately things didn’t work out as well in the game at Pepperdine. Edwards was a lot more assertive, especially when we tried to put Kolby on him again later in the game.

It can be really hard to make that switch from guarding down low to guarding on the perimeter and you can see that here. Kolby is used to running down the floor and into the paint in transition but he loses Edwards, who then is able to get a head of steam to get to the rim.

Ross shot worse against BYU in Malibu but was able to get more penetration which caused problems in other areas. Through the whole game he was going a better job of getting BYU’s defenders on his back and then trying to make something happen. BYU’s guards weren’t always up to the task to get the recovery angle and here they paid for it on the offensive glass.

With the lack of the guard recovery, Richard has to step to try and contest and is then out of position for the rebound. Pepperdine’s bigs were shooting the ball much better as well so Caleb had to hug his man a little more and couldn’t give a good swipe, leaving Ross with a ton of room after the hesitation. Should BYU see the Waves again, it will be interesting to see if they are able to execute just a little better and put themselves in a more solid position to win.

Pushing the Pace

BYU’s offense has the bad habit of going through long stretches without scoring. One thing that might help in that regard is taking advantage of pushing the pace any time they can. By pushing the pace it helps create more space for BYU’s guards and bigs to operate and alleviates some of the pressures they feel in the half court. For the bigs, it gives them an opportunity to get a catch without as much traffic and then make the simple play.

The early post up makes the game so much easier for our bigs now that we’re trying to run a lot more of the offense through them.

The guards are also benefitting from pushing the pace, especially Brandon. He’s had a pretty solid stretch of games lately and getting him in open space with a head of steam has been very helpful for him. Check out this play where he recognizes there is no help at the rim and uses his quicks to finish the play.

BYU was very persistent pushing the ball up as seen here when they score within six seconds of a made bucket

And finally, this pace paid off in a big way when they were able to score quickly to knot the game up in Malibu after a tough possession when they gave up three offensive rebounds.

BYU’s played a little slower this year then some years past but there might be some opportunities to make their offense a little more efficient as they look to push the ball up.

Set of the week

This edition of set of the week features something unique, a post up for our smallest player. Brandon has been attacking the baseline a lot lately and BYU has been putting him in positions to do that and use his quickness to make plays. Here they have a nice set to get him a post touch and he ends up drawing a foul for free throws.

After starting in one of our basic configurations (Alex hits the wing and goes to the strong side corner), the real fun begins on the turn. Matt comes and sets a high slice screen to give Brandon some breathing room to get a catch. After the entry pass, notice how the bigs set a stagger for Alex, causing the Pepperdine bigs to completely lose sight of the ball to make sure Alex doesn’t get loose. This off ball action removes the help and lets Brandon have the comfort of attacking without worrying about those extra defenders. Hopefully we can see more of this off ball action on other post ups as well.