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BYU Basketball Film Study: San Francisco and St. Mary’s

How BYU has kept things rolling to finish out the season

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

BYU has wrapped up the regular season and begins the post season tonight. It was a completely different regular season finale than originally scheduled with BYU ending up facing a dangerous USF team searching for a win and a solid Saint Mary’s team instead of Santa Clara. The Cougs found a way to keep things rolling, though and put both teams away, cementing themselves as a tourney lock and a single digit seed. Let’s take a look at some of the things that I liked from the film.

Push the pace

BYU has played at a much slower pace this year than in times past and it has really helped this team unlock it’s potential. They do look for opportunities to push the pace though and you can tell it’s always top of mind, at least for the coaches. Check out Pope telling Spencer to advance things quickly here.

Saint Mary’s will always try to bog you down and play their pace so it’s always worth it to try and speed things up, even if you aren’t creating direct points from it. Getting out in transition generates a lot of things that may not end up being counted as transition points. Take this early up pass from Brandon to Trevin that results in a foul.

It’s always nice to pick up fouls when you can not only to put pressure defenses but also to get you closer to the bonus, should you need it at the end of games. The Cougars put the Gaels away handily this game but there’s something about getting out in transition that helps loosen up your players and help them have an aggressive mindset.

Another benefit of putting pressure on defenses through transition opportunities comes when the defense is forced to just match up with whoever is closest, creating potential mismatches or lapses.

Here SMC’s four man ends up on Trevin then plays too soft on the ballscreen for Trevin. You can see a coach on their staff signal to get a hand up but there’s no one there because the SMC big was expecting a switch or some other coverage. BYU only ended up five fast break points in the box score but secondary benefits like these plays help your offense produce.

Reacting to the defense

San Francisco has often been touted as one of the most analytically driven teams in the country. As such they often will show a variety of coverages on different actions to try and force their opponents away from more productive spots in their offense. Against BYU that meant a fair amount of switching on our ballscreen and handoff actions as well as a “top lock” to stop us from coming getting side to side and throw a wrench in our offense. This “top lock” concept is essentially just playing very high on the action to push the offensive guard away from the handoff and in general make it harder. When it works, it can put you in a funk like this possession.

Notice the subtle switch by Gideon’s defender too get on Alex and jump so high parallel to the sideline and force the action elsewhere. So what did BYU do to get some separation from this look? First is the obvious answer: backcut. It took them a while but after a turnover on one look they finally connected on a nice backdoor action.

Gideon sets things up very nicely and Matt hits paydirt on the pass.

Another way to counter is to push the offensive player into the corner, eliminate the handoff, and pass it directly to him.

I really like this option because of how fast it compromises the defense. Connor has to shoot this ball here when he gets that much space but this clip is a great example of using the defense’s aggressiveness against them.

USF also sought to take away BYU’s room to operate by switching a lot of middle ballscreen action. BYU countered this with patience. Watch how long it takes for things to develop before they are finally able to capitalize on the switch with a little lob to Caleb who had a smaller guard switched onto him.

A lot of times it can be tempting to immediately look at the mismatch and you can try to hit it too hard and turn the ball over. Here BYU just keeps running their offense, being aggressive, and since USF never switches back, they end up being able to benefit from the mismatch eventually.

In this clip BYU again is patient to work their way back to the mismatch and Richard makes a great play knowing that help is probably going to crash on him.

The unselfishness in this clip is great. Instead of just trying to bully his way to the rim, Richard knows that the defense will contract the second that ball goes in and that a kick out should be open. Credit this staff for not only building that culture where that’s the play he’s looking for, but also for scheming and finding ways to make it so that the defense is always guessing wrong.

Brandon’s relentless driving

Coming to BYU, it was known that Brandon Averette was a relentless driver. It took a little while for everything to gel for this team but that balance seems to have been found and Brandon is picking his spots well. As we’ve seen, this staff likes to create opportunities for players to use their strengths and it’s fun to see the different openings that are created for Brandon out of our normal offensive actions. Brandon is doing a good job of looking for his spots in the normal flow like this clip where he goes with a quick rip through to get to the rim.

Haarms vacates toward the arc as part of our normal action where he is coming up to ballscreen and with no big below, Brandon knows the green light is on. The snappy reversal from Alex is an important piece of this as it gives Brandon a half second opening to blow by his man and also catches the help a little flat footed.

Having the big vacate is little more deliberate at times as we can see from this play coming out of an out of bounds under set.

Check out how we take a quick look at the high low then Haarms floats up. Manipulating the help defender like this gives Brandon an advantage since he can beat a lot of people off the dribble but can struggle at times in traffic. He gets enough space here to very comfortably get to the other side of the rim and make the tough finish.

Even when the action isn’t specifically for him, you can tell he is hunting these opportunities to drive based on where the help is. Check out how he pounces on the opportunity that opens up from the help defender stumbling here.

He already has an isolation with the big switched onto him but waits to pounce until it’s clear that the help will be compromised. At that point it’s a race to the rim that he will win more often than not. With how locked in he is right now in picking his spots, teams will have to be very cognizant of making sure their help is in place, potentially opening up opportunities on the weak side of the floor if defenses commit too much.

Switching on defense

BYU has been more willing to switch defensively on ballscreens to mostly good results. Even with Haarms or Harward as the five men, the Cougars haven’t been hesitant to switch when the guards get caught on screens or behind the ballhandler. Against SMC it was pretty effective in helping us corral their most dynamic player. Check out how well Matt moves his feet here after Alex gets stuck on a nice screen where the big flipped directions.

He does a good job to not overcommit to the in-and-out dribble then walls off the lane, almost getting the driver to step out. SMC was content to dribble out and attack the mismatch again but Matt again shuts things down with help from a nice swipe by Gideon.

The downside of this switch comes on the glass. While usually good at pushing his man out, Alex doesn’t get the big cleared here and the possession gets extended after great defensive work from the big. Still, it is a luxury to have a big be able to move as well as Haarms does for his size and help you survive switching 1 through 5 when needed.

Richard has made some strides in his footwork but still can get beat when the switch is attacked. Does a good job initially here to pick up the switch in the scrum but when strung out things break down a little.

The fact that we’re comfortable switching these and living with the results is a huge testament to the trust this staff has in the players. Richard doesn’t always get beat like this and has actually provided solid defense on these type of plays, further validating the trust from the coaches and helping this defense really make things difficult for offenses to exploit.

The little things

Matt Haarms took home the WCC Defensive Player of the Year award and though there were others in the running, it’s not too hard to see why. The impact he’s had on this BYU team’s defense has been huge. Here’s a quick look at some of the little things he does well that end up changing the game as other teams have to deal with his length. First up, his reputation and ability to block shots makes it so that players are hesitant to challenge him at the rim and take tough shots like this runner.

Off balanced runners are not high percentage shots and it’s all made possible by Haarms getting to help early, something he excels at. Just that effort to keep an eye on the play and get outside the charge circle is enough for the offensive player to tap out early and put up a junk shot. He’s also very good at showing big, making his arms wide and being ready. It’s a small thing that really does work in deterring shots.

Against SMC he really controlled the game racking up 5 blocks in the first half as well as tallying three deflections. Being able to funnel Kuhse and Johnson wore on those players as the game went one and after a few blocks his length had them second guessing.

After being clocked big time earlier in the half, Johnson takes a peak at Haarms lurking and downshifts a little to try and create some room. This allows Connor to recover which in turn lets Matt recover and simply his his long frame to make the jump hook of Taas difficult. It’s a very mundane play made possible by his effort earlier in the game to get some nice blocks.

Eventually after controlling the paint so much, offensive players every now and again will decide to just not test it. Check out Kuhse give the ball up here after a little the initial drive is stymied.

Not every possession plays out this way as SMC guards were able to hit creases and score on Matt but the consistent effort and ability to just be there pays dividends over the course of a long game like this clip shows.

Even when things break down behind him, Haarms effort and ability to make plays also goes a long way. After handling his business on the perimeter he comes all the way from the arc to make a play on this attempted put back.

As good as Gideon and Brandon have been I still think Matt is the biggest impact transfer we’ve had this season. His effort and instincts combined with his size raise the defensive floor of this team so much and really afforded BYU time to find it’s way offensively and get to the point they are now.

Set of the week

This weeks set of the week involves a lot of movement but really is made to click by a simple exchange at the end of the play. There’s kind of a lot going on in the play but there are quite a few things to like. After starting off with a ball reversal, Alex sets a screen for Brandon before coming off of one himself in rapid succession, an action we don’t usually run. From there it turns into “floppy” (downscreens on each side of the floor) before terminating with a side ballscreen.

I had to watch this play a few times cus there was so much going on and our pace was really good with it. There are so many elements to this thing that end up making it work. Check out how Richard flips the angle on the ballscreen so Brandon can attack baseline and suck in the defense and then how Richard seals off his man to create room at the rim. Finally the last thing I love about this is how the movement keeps going on the weakside of the ballscreen, the simple exchange with Caleb and Gideon confuses the recovering defenders and they are caught in a miscommunication while Caleb gets to the rim. This play was a perfect marriage of design, pace, and execution and keeps me hyped that the best is yet to come for this group as they enter the post season.