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BYU Basketball Film Study: Diving into USC, St. Johns, Utah State games

Let’s jump into the film and see what it says for BYU basketball’s three games against USC, St. John’s and Utah State.

NCAA Basketball: Roman Legends Classic-Southern California at Brigham Young David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

BYU got through the start of its most important stretch of the early season with only one loss, rebounding to pick up wins against St. Johns and Utah State after a tough performance where they couldn’t hit a shot against USC. This team is still learning how to play together, especially the newcomers, but it showed good progress last week.

Here are a few things that worked and a few that didn’t.

Exploiting the empty side

It’s been interesting seeing this team grow together and the coaching staff trying different things to see what will be the most effective. One action that has started popping up more and more is the empty side ball-screen. It isn’t anything new or revolutionary, but it seems like one that this team especially will rely a lot on because it gives the benefit of clearing out a side to operate. A lot of times the normal base offense will end up terminating with this action like this play where Connor gets deep and capitalizes in the post.

This play can be a really effective way to get Connor into situations where he can use his length to make a play and score but also just gives a bunch of space for the two players to operate. The players are still learning how to be effective in this action and there’s definitely room for growth as the younger and new players get more reps.

Trevin gives up his advantage when he sees the defensive big’s “show” and Richard isn’t quite ready for the pass. It will be exciting to see the less-experienced part of the roster grow as the season progresses.

The most effective usage for this action by far has been when BYU runs it with Alex Barcello and Matt Haarms. Often they’ll move the screen even lower below the elbow and at times all the way into the corner to create even more space for things. Because of Alex’s threat as a scorer, Matt is often on the receiving end of a lot of easy looks.

BYU ended up in this action a lot last year with TJ and Yoeli and it looks like this year’s iteration with Alex and Matt will be equally as effective.

High/Low Hiccups

With the size BYU has, the team has been looking to capitalize on high/low opportunities often so far with mixed results. After a pretty good week during the first few games of the season, the high low game struggled a little last week against better opposition. Gideon George and Caleb Lohner especially have been figuring things out on the receiving end. Here Gideon doesn’t take his time to gather himself and ends up missing everything on his layup.

There’s really no reason he needs to stay on basically one leg through the catch and the shot. Against Utah State he had one he tried to convert as an alley-oop that ended up in a miss as well. As he gets more comfortable being on the receiving end, I anticipate we’ll start to see him convert these regularly.

Caleb also is learning the finer points of being on the receiving end of the high/low. Here he’s matched up with an experienced player who knows to try and push him off his spot and ends up successfully doing so.

The pass here also could be better and closer to the hoop but Caleb could also hold his position just a little bit longer to allow him to time up the catch better. The exciting thing is he improved on this later in the game on a crucial possession, matched up against a less heady player.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the extra ball-screen was thrown in here to take advantage of the switching scheme USU was using. With the switch to a player not as heady or strong, Caleb was able to hold his position better and make a winning play.

Offensive Flow

This week showed clearly that this team is still very much a work in progress. Though many of the players know the scheme, they are getting used to the tendencies of each other and the reads and timing in the offense. The offense hasn’t always had a great pace and there have been head scratching turnovers as they’ve gone through some growing pains. Watch Connor here as Matt bails on the action too early since Connor had just gained an advantage with a nice juke.

The offense isn’t quite firing all cylinders yet as lineups have been adjusted and rotations are still being set. Here both “bigs” roll when one should pop.

This lack of continuity has been a contributor to some of the dry spells the offense has gone through but it is definitely starting to get better. Against Utah State the offense had much better pace and fluidity in it and players seemed a lot more comfortable with their reads. Here’s a nice possession in the first half of that game where everyone seemed pretty sure of what they were going to do.

This could have been a called action but even if that’s the case it looked a lot like last year’s team that we came to love for their offensive prowess.

Gideon George

It was a breakout week for the Junior from Nigeria. He cemented his place as a key piece of the rotation in Connecticut, especially with his rebounding skills. The trajectory looks great for Gideon as he’s already shown some pretty good individual offensive chops. Check out how he puts his defender “in jail” (on his back) here then nails the floater.

His level of comfort in one on one situations extends into the post as well where he is often backing down people to a turn around jumper or up and under move. This coaching staff has always showed a ton of trust to its players and that was seen in the St. John’s game as they let Gideon work in isolation after being switched onto a smaller player.

After a very productive set of games at Mohegan Sun he was not as effective in the box score against Utah State but did show why he continues to get minutes with the little things he’s bringing to the team. Even though this shot is a make, he makes sure to account for his man and take him out of the play.

Instead of chasing a potential rebound he did his job, making sure to check Bean who had been feasting on tap outs most of the night. Expect to see Gideon keep his spot in the rotation as he continues to do the little things like this.

Spencer Johnson

A little less heralded than Gideon, Spencer Johnson had a good week as well. He increased his minutes in every game this week going from 4 against USC to 7 against St. John’s before logging a season high 17 against Utah State. This team needs more ballhandlers and distributors, and Spencer has shown he’s not afraid to try and make plays. He’s dead even on assists and turnovers (5 a piece) but may be able to improve his turnover numbers as he gets more acclimated to D1 competition. He’s aggressive when he’s on the floor, trying to make a play himself or for others, and certainly isn’t afraid to shoot.

Shooting acumen aside, he might be most impactful for this team as a ballhandler and distributor as he shows a willingness to throw passes others might not try. It has contributed to some ugly turnovers or near-turnovers at times but it also delivers some nice dimes like this well-placed pass to Kolby.

It’s impressive how he recognizes that Kolby’s man is staying too long and goes ahead and hits the roll late with a nice touch pass. If he can keep making plays like this, expect to see him continue to get 10-15 minutes a game.

Defensively he’s shown he can hold his own like his quick feet and hands in this possession against St. John’s.

Off ball he made an impact last week, tying with Brandon for the team lead of deflections over the three games. Against Utah State he was especially good pressuring their handoff actions. It will be exciting to see if he can be consistent with his contributions as BYU hits the back half of our 6 toughest non conference opponents.

Set of the week

I’m thinking of starting a new tradition and see if it sticks. Each time I do a film study I’ll find one play that I liked the best for that week and explain why. This week’s is a simple baseline out of bounds (BLOB) play that was run against USC.

There are couple things I really liked about this action when I saw it. The first is the setup. This configuration is often used to set up a lob play, which would make a lot of sense when you put a 7’3” center down there. Instead BYU inverted the action a little bit to have Connor scrape off of the screen from Matt. From there it’s a pretty simple open up for Matt to get big and hold his ground for a post entry. USC was fighting hard to get to a front so once a catch was secured, the finish was simple. Another thing to notice is Brandon lifting his man and Alex running up to the ball so that there is no help on the entry from the top. I loved the sleight deception with setup and the simplicity of this play.