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BYU Basketball: What have we learned in non-conference play?

Now that non-conference play is over, what do we know about this year's version of the Cougars?

In the year that was supposed to be all about Tyler Haws breaking the all-time BYU scoring record, we've actually learned a lot about this team.

The Positives

First and foremost, this year the Cougars are #1 in the nation in scoring.  They are currently scoring 88 points per game.  They are shooting 47% from the floor and 39% from three.  Both of those are up from last year when they shot 46% from the floor and only 35% from three.  Assists are up and the free throw shooting has improved almost 7%, 69% to 75.7%.  This team can flat out score.

At the beginning of the year, many people assumed that Haws would average well over 20 points and Collinsworth, if healthy, would be somewhere around 15.  The big question was about who would fill the third spot, formerly held by Matt Carlino.  Many assumed, and hoped, it would be Chase Fischer, who was being touted as a shooter that could bomb from deep.  Chase has shown that he can, and will, shoot the ball.  He is currently averaging 13.6 points per game, shooting 42% from the floor and 41% from three.  The real revelation about the offense has been the play of 6th man Anson Winder.  Anson is having his best year as a Cougar scoring 14.2 ppg, shooting 54% from the floor and 43% from three.  Anson has also played well in big moments in big games.

The Cougars have also played fairly well in big games.  They took #15 San Diego State to 2 overtimes, and had a legitimate shot to win that game.  They also played very well against #13 Utah, losing by 4 at home.  They also beat Stanford at home in what was almost a must win game to build an NCAA tournament resume.  Stanford beat #9 Texas on Tuesday.  This should bode well for the Cougars as they have the biggest game of the season coming up on Saturday against #8 Gonzaga in the Marriott Center.

The Negatives

This team is very bad defensively.  They are giving up 74 points per game, which is good for 318th in the country.  I personally believe this is due to the fact that there is very little post defense happening and they give up over 10 offensive rebounds per game.  It is hard to knock a team that is actually 28th in the country in rebounding for not rebounding enough, but it does seem that the team has a hard time pulling boards in critical situations.  One thing I have noticed is that the defensive positioning of the post players puts them at a disadvantage.  If a player is in the low post, the BYU big is always three quarters or in front the offensive player.  This is fairly typical as you don't want to allow an easy post entry, but all of them, and I do mean all, struggle to recover once the ball is in the air.  Worthington is too slow, Kaufusi doesn't hold his position allowing players to walk him up the lane for better passing angles, and Isaac Neilson is not strong enough to battle his way back to good position.  I left out Nate Austin as he is not playing currently and usually is not playing defense in the low post.  The positioning problem leads to the rebounding problems as the bigs are generally not in a good position to actually rebound.  The four main post players (Neilson, Austin, Kaufusi, Worthington) are only averaging 14.3 rebounds per game despite playing a combined 60 minutes per game.

Now, to counter some of the defensive problems, BYU has started using a zone defense more often.  They are using this more frequently when the opposing team has a post player that is skilled offensively also.  This has actually improved the defense according to my eye test.  I tried to find some stats to back up that statement, but didn't want to pay for subscriptions to get access to such stats.  Instead of playing a traditional 2-3 or 3-2 zone that they have used in the past, they are using a match up zone, which accounts for a man instead of just guarding an area.  This is more effective for their purposes as there is always a help side defender for the fronting posts, and shooters are usually accounted for.  The players who can shoot the deeper threes will usually get the better looks.  This defensive style has been used extensively since Nate Austin got hurt.

Now, I'm still going to rag a little on the post players, although it is now more about their offensive game.  The post offense hope was always Jamaal Aytes, who was supposed to come in and give some low post scoring to a team almost devoid of that skill set.  Low and behold, Aytes breaks his ankle and is now out for the season.  Without him, the posts are scoring a paltry 5.4 (Neilson), 3.4 (Worthington and Kaufusi), and 2.9 (Austin).  This has led to some issues in the half court offense as teams are really focusing on closing out to shooters and making BYU into a drive and kick team.

Now, remember this BYU team is 10-3 with the three losses being closely contested, even winnable, with two of the teams being top 25, and the other being from a Power 5 conference.  This has lead to BYU having a pretty good RPI (48) and BPI (39) rankings.  If they can beat #8 Gonzaga Saturday, it will put them in a really good position to make the NCAA tournament again.

It is not often that so many ranked teams come into the Marriott Center, and with the students being gone for the winter break, that means that more fans need to come to the game to support the Cougars.  Tip off is at 4 pm so get your tickets and do your part to get the Cougars a big win!