fBYU is 7-0 and riding high with a 19 AP Poll ranking and the best point differential in the nation. With how low the general expectations were among the fanbase heading into the season, it almost seems too good to be true. I see a lot of fans starting to get into this team, but they are holding back a bit to avoid getting hurt — I get that!
So, how good can BYU be? Is it fools gold? I address those and other topics in a buy, sell, or hold format.
Is BYU an NCAA Tournament Team?
Going into the season, I thought BYU needed to go 11-2 in non-conference play and 7-11 in league play to put themselves on the bubble. Now 7-0 to start the season, I think BYU will go 12-1 or 13-0 in non-league play and have a great chance for at least 7 wins in Big 12 play, which one month ago seemed like a best case scenario.
San Diego State, Arizona State, and NC State should all be at least Quad one or Quad two games, which would be a solid non-conference resume considering the gauntlet that the Big 12 is. If BYU were to beat Utah on the road, that would be a Quad one win if Utah is top 75 in the NET rankings.
There are no easy games in the Big 12, but BYU looks good enough to get at least 7 wins in league play. Oklahoma State is off to a 3-4 start, UCF lost to Stetson, and West Virginia looks unsettled after losing their head coach in the offseason and being without a couple key players due to injury or eligibility concerns.
Is BYU a top 10 caliber team?
As of December 2, BYU is #6 in KenPom, which is hard to comprehend. BYU leads the nation in point differential and has some nice wins, but I do not think they are a top 10 team.
BYU has some weaknesses which I think will be exposed by some teams in the Big 12 play.
One, I think BYU will struggle with big, athletic guards that pressure the ball. NC State gave BYU troubles early on with their full-court press, but I’m not as concerned about full court pressure. Very few teams press all game. I’m more concerned about the teams that will pick up BYU’s guards 30 feet from the basket and disrupt the flow of the offense. Think San Diego State — the Aztecs for about the first 10 minutes of the second half really disrupted BYU’s rhythm and by pressuring them in the halfcourt. SDSU had some injuries that game and weren’t able to keep it up and BYU’s offense responded. Having Aly Khalifa as BYU’s defacto point forward should help some of that since he can direct BYU’s offense from the high post.
My second concern is how teams will attack BYU’s front court. Whether it’s Aly Khalifa or Fouss playing the five, both of those players have defensive deficiencies. Teams with athletic, talented five will cause BYU problems, and teams with high end point guards will look to isolate Aly and Fouss in PNR. I think Aly gives a lot offensively that causes mismatches, but there will be games where teams expose BYU that way.
All that is not to say BYU is bad! Every team has weaknesses, I just think those are the two places BYU is most susceptible. BYU will also have plenty of games where they expose teams with their three-point shooting and Aly’s ability to draw the opposing big man away from the basket and shred an opposing defense with pinpoint passing in a five-out attack.
More than anything, I hope BYU’s lava-hot start doesn’t melt fans’ brains into thinking a 8-10 conference season would be disappointing. If BYU did that in the best conference in America — in a year after BYU went 7-9 in the WCC — that would be an unequivocally successful season and likely mean a NCAA Tournament berth. And after going through the gauntlet of an 18-game Big 12 schedule, BYU would go into the NCAA Tournament more battle tested than they have ever been.
Will BYU have five 10+ pt / game scorers at the end of the season? (h/t @yze_guy for the question)
Verdict: HOLD, with a lean towards sell
BYU currently has 5 players averaging double digits and a sixth in Richie Saunders at 9.9 ppg. A couple caveats to this. Fouss is 10.2 ppg on the season, but I’m not sure he’ll play in enough games to qualify as he recovers from a hamstring and knee injury. If he plays in enough games, I think he will. Second wildcard is Dawson Baker. He will likely be eased into things this month which could limit his points to start, but he’s absolutely talented enough to average double figures.
The reason why I lean “sell” is because the Big 12 is such a good defensive conference. Jaxson Robinson and Spencer Johnson seem like sure bets to average double figures, and Trevin Knell is probably a safe bet too. Noah Waterman and Dallin Hall will be close, but I don’t think Richie will average double figures.
The biggest reason why five guys could average 10+ points if Aly Khalifa. Khalifa’s shooting and scoring will increase, but he’ll do most of his damage passing and eats up fewer shots than Fouss.
Is Jaxson Robinson is an All-Big 12 Caliber Player?
I love Jaxson Robinson’s story. Originally a member of the 2021 class where he was a top 50 recruit, Jaxson graduated a year early and committed to Texas A&M as part of the 2020 class as a 17 year old. A&M didn’t work out, but Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman saw enough in Robinson to offer him a scholarship. Jaxson didn’t get much playing time there, and when he entered the transfer portal for a second time in 2022 his suitors cooled off considerably. Outside of BYU, the only other schools he visited that cycle were Colorado State, Tulsa, and Missouri State.
BYU is the full beneficiary of that patience and development. A fourth-year player now, Jaxson turns just 21 this season. He showed flashes last year of his elite shooting ability, and he’s putting that on full display this season as well as improved ball handling, decision making, and defense. Jaxson’s shot choice is better and he is averaging 16.6 ppg while shooting at a 44% clip from three with a lot of volume.
If Jaxson continues to come off the bench, he’ll be a leading candidate for Big 12 sixth man of the year. I also think he will be in the mix for one of the Big 12’s three All-Conference teams that go to 15 players.
Will Dawson Baker Start when he gets back?
A healthy Dawson Baker is the most accomplished player on BYU’s roster and one of the best players. Dawson has averaged double-figure points all three seasons and was All-Big West last year when he averaged 15 ppg. He’s also played well against the best teams UC Irvine played. He scored 14 points versus SDSU and 16 versus Oregon last year. His freshman year he put up 17 points at USC. He had a career high 33 points in a game last season, which is more than anyone on BYU’s roster.
Dawson is absolutely talented to start, but I don’t think BYU will disrupt what they have going on now. Dawson is primarily a two guard, but he can handle the ball and play some point guard as well. Trey Stewart is averaging 15 minutes per game, and I think his minutes will be most directly impacted by Dawson. Spencer Johnson, Trevin Knell, Dallin Hall, and even someone like Noah Waterman will all collectively likely see a slight down tick in minutes as well as BYU looks to integrate Dawson.
Dawson off the bench is a great weapon. He can score off the catch and create his own offense off the dribble. He’s a capable three-point shooter and is probably BYU’s best mid-range shooter on the team. I think we may see Dawson back by the Utah game and the hope is that he is full go by Big 12 play. A bench unit spearheaded by Jaxson Robinson, Dawson Baker, and Richie Saunders would be one of the better ones in the Big 12.