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BYU Basketball Film Study: Gonzaga

What can BYU do better in round two?

NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

BYU takes on the Zags for round two after a disappointing first bout in Spokane. This game should hopefully be different for a variety of reasons with the biggest being the friendly confines of the Marriott Center. BYU is also coming off of it’s best offensive outings of the season, waxing Portland by 45 while Gonzaga is coming off of one of it’s worst outings of the season against a scrappy Pacific team that pushed BYU to two overtimes. In order for BYU to hang with the Zags, here are some things from last game that they can improve on.


Facing off against the best team in the country after playing no one for almost two weeks is not ideal. Early on in Spokane, it took the Cougars a while to get used to the length and athleticism of Gonzaga, resulting in five turnovers before the first media timeout and a 16-2 hole. BYU settled down a little as the game went on but the length of the Zags continued to cause them trouble.

Gonzaga is very effective with this press because of Watson, who gets the steal here. Alex thinks he has the misdirection and timing to flip it over to Spencer but can’t get it over the wingspan of the defender. Later in the game we were able to handle the press better by going away from the point man and attacking the smaller guard.

Though Suggs is a big guard in his own right, Alex is able to get the pass over him a lot easier. Kolby also pulls up the back of the press by creeping up to half court, leaving Matt at the basket for the long bomb. While not a strategy that we can consistently rely on to beat the press, we did a good job adjusting and going away from the teeth of the defense. All in all, Gonzaga ended up with 25 points off of turnovers in Spokane, a number that has to be smaller if BYU hopes to pull off the upset.

Playing two bigs

Gonzaga also caused a lot of trouble for our guards with their sagging coverage. BYU tried to capitalize on their size advantage by playing Kolby and Matt together but with neither of those players being a three point threat, Gonzaga was content to hang off them a ways and bother the driver. Here Kolby’s man sags all the way into the paint and aggressively attacks the drive to force a jump ball resulting in a turnover.

And here again the defender stays really long on the roll and ignores Kolby as Kolby moves up to replace.

Empty side ballscreens are usually one of the best ways to score but not if the help is just sitting on the roll that aggressively. While BYU may go away from the two big look tonight, favoring Caleb or even Gideon at the four as much as possible, neither of them are necessarily deep threats either and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gonzaga continue to pack the paint. What could be a benefit here, though, is to cut Caleb down the middle or hit him early and let him go off the dribble against the recovering defender. If BYU does stay with two bigs, look for them to go more with the strategy of keeping the other big low so that his defender can’t help as much on the roll.

Though the paint is still a little clogged, Matt’s defender is not as free to help on the roll because he has to protect the dump off. Kolby is then able to actually get a catch and then score.

Whether BYU ends up in two bigs or stays smaller with Caleb/Gideon the guards need to be a lot more cognizant of the sagging big and turn it to try and keep the offense moving. If we do have smaller fours they might have a window to attack off of late closeouts from the sagging defender or we can use the adjustment from the last clip to get a decent shot.

Tighten up the effort

Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country offensively because they have so many weapons and move well without the ball. With teams that good you aren’t going to be able to just shut them down and while BYU was certainly playing hard in Spokane, there were little things that just killed their effort to slow down the Zags.

With the talent Gonzaga has, they are scoring a ton of points in the paint as they drive and kick. Combined with off ball movement it becomes an incredible challenge for your defense to communicate effectively and get stops. BYU played most of the game aggressively helping on rolls and drives but often wasn’t ready to handle rotations after the fact. Checkout how a quick skip pass followed by a bad closeout kills our defense.

Brandon loads up to Suggs’ side since Suggs is such a dynamic driver but is caught out of position. After the initial breakdown, BYU is caught paying too much attention to the drive again as Connor is guarding no one leaving Caleb with a tough decision to make. His assignment is Kispert, who you definitely do not want to leave, so he wisely stunts but has to leave Suggs wide open.

This overhelping without checking your own man bit us at other times when Gonzaga made a great decision to cut the corner guy and make our bottom help man have to choose between crashing to the roll guy and guarding his man. Here Brandon completely loses his the offensive player cutting in from the corner.

You don’t have to be absolutely perfect to beat the Zags (well, maybe you do) but you have to combine your effort with better focus than this to try and slow them down enough to keep up.

Another little thing that bit us was making sure you get contact on rebounds. Here Timme is able to come straight down the lane trailing in transition.

Gonzaga puts a huge amount of pressure on you in transition so when you get a miss, it is killer to give up and offensive rebound and score.

Finally, BYU needs to do a much better job communicating help and switches tonight. They really keyed in on Kispert in Spokane but it led to them being taken advantage of on a few possessions.

Gonzaga also countered BYU’s aggressive defense by slipping Kispert on screens when he was in at the 4 and BYU couldn’t communicate well enough to stop it.

Though Kispert doesn’t score here, the action takes place so fast that no one can react quickly enough and the Zags are able to get the tip in. Gonzaga is very good and will probably score their fair share of points tonight but there are things BYU can do to communicate better and focus more off ball to firm up their defense this time around.

Make things difficult

While BYU’s defense got twisted up a little off ball, they actually did a pretty good job making life difficult for the Zags in their regular hand off offense. Check out how hard it is for the Zags to get anything going at the start of this possession.

At times BYU even switched one through five to keep things more bogged down. Here it works, resulting in a pull up midrange shot.

This switching flexibility was often keyed by Caleb’s ability to play solid defense when he ended up mismatched with a guard. Here he does a great job on Suggs before corralling the rebound.

I expect to see more of this switching and hopefully similar results as Gideon and Caleb will both find themselves on Suggs at times tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gideon start on Suggs as well to see if we can slow their offense down a little. BYU did a much better job in the half court, especially as the game wore on. Now, whether that was because Gonzaga got complacent up big or not remains to be seen (I don’t think it was). If BYU keeps up this kind of effort while tightening up the TOs and off ball errors, tonight could definitely get interesting.

Feed the bigs

BYU shot very poorly from the three point line in Spokane (4-16 for the game) but one thing that did work well was letting the bigs work. All of the usual suspects in the post were able to score over their defenders and each got a turn. Here Caleb is able to score through Kispert on the backdown.

And later Richard did his thing, going right through Timme for the score.

I especially like this set we ran out of a side out of bounds to get a simple slice screen for Gideon and give him some room to get a catch and operate on the slightly smaller defender.

Now, when you’re up by a lot there isn’t as much incentive to double or really challenge these one on one matchups so it will be interesting to see if Gonzaga attacks these a lot more tonight. The Zags will get their points so it’s important to find ways to keep up and the low post play of BYU’s bigs and Gideon has proved to be one of the most effective ways for this team to score. In Spokane BYU had 12 possessions that ended up with post ups like these and scored 16 points off of them for a very nice 1.33 points per possession. BYU has leaned on its bigs quite a bit with the shooting being so hot and cold and a key part of the game tonight will be avoiding the long scoring droughts that have plagued this team at times.

Keep shooting

As mentioned earlier, the Cougars had a rough night from three in Spokane. Going back and watching things again, though, showed that outside of the disastrous start to the game, BYU was actually generating pretty good shots from distance but just couldn’t knock them down. I especially liked this play from the beginning of the second half where we took advantage of the Zags staying long to help on big screen actions to get Alex loose.

Alex has hit a rough patch the last few games but is still the best shooter on this roster and we need him to keep taking threes. BYU was able to topple the Zags last year with Jake, TJ, and Yoeli all taking and making tough shots from three and an effort like that from Alex would go a long way towards pulling off the upset. The supporting cast of Connor, Trevin, and Spencer combined to go 1-7 in Spokane but collectively are also shooting much better over the last few games so hopefully the Cougars see a better percentage from three tonight. Gonzaga is the best team in the country for a reason but college basketball can be very unpredictable. Here’s hoping BYU can pull off the biggest upset of the season.