It's been a frustrating basketball season for the BYU Cougars so far — one featuring fleeting moments of transcendence, but too often marred by persistent struggles.
Interestingly enough, those struggles have cropped regularly on the offensive end, heretofore a sanctuary of success for Dave Rose's high-scoring squads. While the defense (or lack thereof) remains highly problematic, it is unusual and a little strange to watch the Cougars struggle to put the ball in the basket.
A good deal of this can be attributed to the absence of the program's all-time leading scorer, Tyler Haws. The recently departed senior likely wasn't fully appreciated by fans during his time in Provo — it appears that the saying "no man is a prophet in his own land" applies equally to generational scoring talents — but his impact is now certainly being felt. Without a go-to offensive focal point who can generate a bucket whenever one is needed, BYU often looked out-of-sorts and positively pedestrian with the ball through its first eight games.
How could the Cougars begin to turn their offensive ship around?
Enter Zac Seljaas.
The true freshman has been a revelation in BYU's last two games. After playing spot minutes to little effect early in the season, Seljaas got his first chance to shine in last week's loss to Colorado. Coming off an abysmal first half and looking for something to jumpstart his team, Rose turned to Seljaas for an offensive spark.
What he got was a jump-shooting inferno.
The Bountiful native carpet-bombed the Buffs with 18 second-half points on 63 percent shooting, nearly bringing BYU all the way back from a 20-plus-point halftime deficit. It was a borderline spiritual experience to behold, but it could also have been easily dismissed as a one-off fluke performance
That is, it would have been had Seljaas not gone and completely one-upped himself against Central Michigan on Friday.
With the triple-happy Chippewas visiting Provo, Seljaas continued to prove that he can chuck with the best of them — and the flamethrower he activated in Boulder was certainly still switched to the "on" position. Playing as an undersized power forward (or "stretch four") in smallball lineups, the young sharpshooter dissected the visitors for a career-high 25 points, converting on 7-of-9 three-point attempts. It was a truly incredible display — one of those special moments when you feel like every time the ball leaves a player's hand, it's guaranteed to go in — and it was desperately needed to help the Cougars outpace their opponents.
So is Zac Seljaas the answer to BYU's offensive problems? Possibly! For the moment, it certainly looks like he could be the missing piece to Rose's puzzle.
As a shooter, Seljaas is in elite company, ranking 7th in the country in three-point percentage (at a blistering 57 percent) among players who've attempted 28 shots or more from behind the arc. He boasts an insane True Shooting Percentage of 76.9 percent and an ludicrous Effective Field Goal Percentage of 77.5 percent — both of which would put him in the top five nationally if he had a few more minutes and attempts to qualify for the leaderboard.
His presence as a "stretch four," sliding Kyle Davis to the center position, has been considerable — keeping the defense honest and opening up more driving lanes for Kyle Collinsworth, which in turn provides better looks for the Cougars' other shooters. He's also a willing screener who's happy to do the dirty work necessary to open up looks for his teammates — or, almost as often, for himself as he pops back to the perimeter for open looks off picks.
Defensively, his long arms make him a reasonably effective perimeter deterrent, despite lacking elite lateral foot-speed. As Rose has opted for more undersized lineups, he has increasingly turned to an extended 1-3-1 zone look, with Seljaas manning the wing. In this setting, his significant wingspan clogs up passing lanes, making it difficult for opponents to penetrate the zone through the pass, while also allowing him to more easily challenge shooters with his length. He's not a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, but relative to what BYU's had to work with so far this season, his physical gifts alone count as an upgrade on that end.
Of course, as excellent as Seljaas has been over the last week or so, we need to also temper our enthusiasm and expectations a bit. Freshmen are notoriously fickle — inconsistency is to be expected, so don't be surprised if Seljaas turns in a stinker or two in the near future. It should also be interesting to see how Rose attempts to use him against teams with more imposing big men. Does he stick with the smallball and hope BYU's four-guard look can draw the trees away from the basket? Or does he ultimately toss more time to Corbin Kaufusi or Nate Austin because of defensive concerns, limiting Seljaas' minutes and opportunities? The match-up game should be fascinating to watch.
But with all those caveats in mind, the truth remains: Zac Seljaas has given this BYU team new life over the past week. A squad that often looked stagnant and confused in their halfcourt offense now appears confident and fluid. The ball zips around the perimeter, often passing up good looks for great ones. And when Seljaas and his silky smooth stroke are on the floor, those great looks seem like they find the bottom of the net virtually every time.