When we last discussed the basketball team, there were a lot more questions than answers. Let’s take a look at some of those questions.
Who is going to take over for Jimmer Fredette?
The obvious answer is that nobody on the team is another Jimmer Fredette. Players of his caliber only come along once or twice in most teams’ histories. When you take a deeper look, though, the answer is that everybody has to take over. Everybody has to elevate their games, and a lot of teamwork is required.
The Cougars have done a great job so far. Four players are averaging double figures, and Brock Zylstra is chipping in with 9 ppg, with Stephen Rogers contributing 7.7 ppg. We will have more to say about those in double figures later in this post.
I guess the best way to answer this question is that teamwork and defense are going to take over for Jimmer Fredette. That is absolutely not a knock on last year’s team, either. When you have a talent like Fredette, you have to let him shine. Conversely, when a talent like Fredette leaves, it’s time for everybody to elevate their games and pick up the slack. In basketball, as in football, the best way to do this is to pick it up on the defensive end.
Should BYU even bother to show up this year?
Not if they had listened to the national press. I doubt that many would have predicted the Cougars to even go .500 this year. I wonder that those who predicted gloom and doom for the Cougars think now? They aren’t getting much national TV time or publicity at this point, but the Cougar are 17-5 overall, and 6-2 in conference play. In other words, the Cougars are playing a lot better than most national writers predicted them to, and the total collapse predicted by many just hasn’t happened.
We’ve all seen the pattern over and over. For whatever reason, the Cougars are usually the last team to get any respect from the national press. The football contract with ESPN has helped matters greatly, but the Cougars are still seen as an afterthought when upper-echelon teams are being discussed. Only the stratospheric play of Jimmer Fredette got the Cougars any respect at all last year.
Even so, most writers saw the Cougars as a one-man team, and at least one national sports personality found a way to predict them losing every game in the tournament before someone was finally right. This year, Jerry Palm, who usually does a very good job at CBS, still has the Cougars as one of his last four teams to make it into the tournament.
Palm usually gets a lot of his predictions right, especially toward the end of the season. This is bothersome, because he apparently is brilliant at figuring out all of the politics that go into choosing the field. Is a 17-5 BYU team really only deserving of a play-in game? In the preseason coaches’ poll, the Cougars got exactly one vote as a top 25 team. Even at 17-5, they only have one vote in this week’s poll.
So, who has really stepped it up this season?
Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies have been the top scorers this year, and both have contributed a lot of leadership, besides their points. Hartsock not only scored twenty against Pepperdine, but blocked three shots. Along the way, he became the 43rd player in Cougar history to score over 1,000 points. In the loss to Loyola-Marymount, Hartsock had a career-high 28 points.
Davies could have sulked after last year. He could have transferred. He could have come in with a bad attitude. Instead, he has worked his tail off. Davies scored 29 against Pepperdine, with 15-18 shooting from the free throw line, and contributed two blocks.
From the outside, Matt Carlino, Charles Abouo are both shooting .444, and have combined for 41 percent from outside of the three-point line. Fifth starter Zylstra and sixth man Rogers have combined to shoot .483, and .409 from three-point range.
As we alluded to at the beginning, defense is where the Cougars have really shined this year. While we all like to see scoring, the other half of the game is to not let the opponent score. The Cougars have allowed only 65.1 points per game this year, while scoring 80.
CBS, in whatever metric they use, has the Cougars as the number twelve team in the country in total defense. While they are ranked around 100 in points allowed, this doesn’t take a lot of things into consideration, such as competition or the pace of the game in your part of the country.
We like the scoring margin stat, in which the Cougars are 14th in the country right now with a 14.9 point margin. Conference leader St Mary’s, who are having a monster season so far, are in sixth place with a 16.9 margin. While the Cougars are in third place in the WCC right now, we see them as the second-best team in the league. A victory over St Mary’s in the WCC tournament, though, could change everything.
And this brings us to our next topic:
So, where is this team headed?
The next three games should tell a lot. Virginia Tech is first. On paper, they look OK, with a 12-7 record, but they have pretty much lost to everyone they’ve played who is any good, and fattened their record with tomato cans. They play in the ACC, which is one of the two toughest conferences in college basketball, but they are beatable. If the Cougars beat VT, it will certainly help the respect level in the national press.
The next two conference games, though, will tell a lot. It is essential that the Cougars at least win one of the next two home games against St Mary’s and Gonzaga. If they win both, it proves that the Cougars are as good as anyone in the league. If they lose both, they are going to have to work hard to get into the NCAA draw.
Actually, the post-Jimmer era has already begun, but it has been met by resounding indifference everywhere outside of Provo. At the time of this writing, the Cougars are 5-2, with victories over BYU-Hawaii, Longwood, Prairie View A&M, NAU, and Nevada, with losses to USU and Wisconsin.
Really, it’s difficult to get a handle on this team so far. They have squashed tomato cans, and lost to one rival and one elite team. There are two things we do know: that Dave Rose is still Dave Rose and that the Cougars are going to have to lean heavily on Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies, and Charles Abuou, with Anson Winder, Brock Zylstra rounding out the starting lineup. There will be a lot of contributions from the bench this year, with Demarcus Harrison, Stephen Rogers, and Craig Cusick looking like the three main options.
At first glance, the 73-56 loss to Wisconsin looks like a terrible game for the Cougars, but Wisconsin does that to a lot of ranked teams during the course of the season. They play basketball like football, and they are one of the few teams who are consistently allowed to play what is known in the trade as “Duke Defense” without being called for fouls. The result is that they push teams up and down the floor with impunity, play at their own, slower tempo, and make a lot of decent teams look really bad on the scoreboard.
The Cougars learned from the Wisconsin game, and thanks to the seniors, are now stressing toughness in practice, getting ready for NAU. Unfortunately, the practices have been so spirited that Noah Hartsock (ankle) and Stephen Rogers (knee) might not be available for the NAU game. Chris Collingsworth isn’t ready to come back quite yet, so it could be a bit of a struggle against NAU.
Losing a player who scores as many points as Jimmer Fredette did is bad enough, but when that player was also your point guard, it is even tougher. Jimmer scored as many points last year as many starting backcourts do. So far, nobody has really picked up the slack yet. The scoring is coming from Hartsock (16.8), Abouo (13.3), and Davies (12.0) right now, who are scoring 56.3 percent of the Cougars’ 74.8 points per game. Stephen Rogers is contributing another 9.2 per game.
As of yet, nobody in the backcourt has really emerged to do much more than run the offense and contribute the occasional bucket. Until someone does, the Cougars will continue to be a work in progress.
Luckily, the schedule won’t be as demanding as it could. The move to the West Coast Conference should work out well, and the Cougars can develop during the season without having to face a lot of elite teams. They will face some solid teams, but non-conference games against Utah, Oregon, and Virginia Tech look much more demanding than most of their conference games.
If things go well, the backcourt will improve due to more experience, and somebody will emerge as a consistent, double-figure scorer. Brock Zylstra is the best bet, but so far, he has failed to match his 17.3 point average from the trip to Greece. In the meantime, anyone watching tape of last year’s Cougars will now be defending a post-oriented team instead of one that launched up (and made) mostly outside shots.
Football Update – No Vacation in Hawaii
Coach Mendenhall is making sure the Cougars don’t fall victim to “island paralysis syndrome.” This is what happens to many teams who go to Hawaii, decide they are on vacation, and look like it when they step on the field at Aloha Stadium. The Cougars get Thursday to enjoy themselves, but will work hard on Friday, and be fully ready for the game on Saturday.
It is important that the Cougars keep their focus and bring home a ninth win on Saturday. There are still a lot of conference invitations yet to go out, and the Cougars need to make themselves look as attractive as possible, no matter how the conference realignments work out in the end.
If there are superconferences with a playoff to determine a true National Champion, the Cougars need to be attractive enough to get an invitation to one of them. On the other hand, if the BCS continues on its present route, the Cougars need to continue to look good on a yearly basis for the pollsters.
In a perfect world, the polls and the computers would always get it right. The best teams would end up at the top, and every team would to to the bowl it deserves. College football, though, is far from perfect. At the top, where the decisions are made, it is driven solely by money, and the most attractive teams get the most attractive post-season games.
In a way, the rankings are a lot like the world golf rankings, but without the points. Even though every year is a new year and every team is a new team due to the fact that students graduate, teams are often judged on their past as well as their present.
So far, 2011 has been a good first year as an independent for the Cougars. Other than the Utah debacle, they have stayed in every game, and the latter part of the year has been entertaining for the most part. Even the TCU game wasn’t the blowout many in the national media expected.
It is essential that the Cougars finish strong. A victory over Hawaii would put the Cougars at 9-3, setting them up for a possible 10-win season. In the eyes of the national media, the tenth win would be huge. It gives reporters a double-digit number to look at when assessing the team’s value.
Bronco Mendenhall knows this. The players know it. And they know that a tenth win is not possible if they don’t take care of business and get their ninth win on Saturday night.
We are looking for a great performance. There may be a few underthrown balls in the low altitude and heavy air at the beginning, but Jake Heaps should adjust quite well after a couple of drives, and the Cougars should take care of business on the Island for their ninth win.
BYU In The Sweet 16
What a great weekend! BYU did what they had to do this weekend. They got the requisite amount of points from Jimmer Fredette, but they also got key contributions from the rest of the team. This is very important to moving forward from the emotional distress caused by the national media coverage of honor code violations.
The Wofford game on Thursday wasn’t much of a yardstick. The Cougars got a lot of contributions from players other than Fredette, but this was Wofford they were playing. Yes, Charles Abouo, Noah Hartsock, and Logan Magnusson scored in double figures, notching ten points each. Yes, Kyle Collinsworth nabbed eleven rebounds.
But you couldn’t help feeling that this was just a superior team taking care of business against a plucky but outclassed team that wouldn’t have finished over .500 in the MWC.
The game against Gonzaga, though, was a major eye-opener. For the Cougars to win against top-notch competition, it is going to have to go like it did Saturday. Here is the scenario:
Jimmer Fredette hits his first few shots. The other team keys on him, and this opens up the floor for everyone else. And everyone else comes through. Then the floor is opened back up for Fredette, who administers the finishing touches.
This is how it has to happen, and this is how it happened in Saturday. In a way, it was what happened against Wofford, but against much better competition.
Once again, three other players scored in double figures. Noah Hartsock scored thirteen, and demoralized Gonzaga with three for three shooting from beyond the three-point line. Jackson Emery scored sixteen points, and every one he scored seemed to be crucial. Stephen Rogers came off the bench to score ten. And Kyle Collingsworth picked up seven rebounds to go with six points.
Most of all, Jimmer Fredette only took 23 shots to score 29 points and added five free throws for a total of 34. Fredette scored 1.26 points for every shot from the field. When he is over a point per shot, BYU is usually going to win.
Now, the Cougars go to New Orleans to play Florida. If they beat Florida, they get the winner of Butler vs Wisconsin. Florida is a winnable game, but it will be no cakewalk. The Gators may be far-removed from their two consecutive National Championships, but their team is full of players who were once elite recruits and has finally found its own identity.
The Gators who won the National Championship had a core that was tall and athletic. They turned out to be so talented that they almost made winning look easy. The current Gators are built in the mold of head coach Billy Donovan. They don’t have a roster full of first round NBA draft picks, but they are a very gutty, scrappy team. They play with passion and a lot of “basketball sense.” The Cougars can win this game, but they are going to have to play as well as they did against Gonzaga on Saturday. Anything less will result in an early exit.
If they beat Florida, cheer for Butler to beat Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a matchup nightmare for BYU, as Pitt would have been. They are too big and strong inside, and would exploit the lighter and smaller Cougars. They are also a very patient team that runs a lot of clock on offense, plays stifling defense, and can easily disrupt the tempo of a team that relies on outside shooting.
Wisconsin wins ugly, but they win. And their style of game fits NCAA Tournament play extremely well. Butler, on the other hand, is a matchup that the Cougars can win. They don’t do anything great, but do a lot well. They are a well-balanced team, but they don’t present the almost-insurmountable matchup problem that Wisconsin would.
What BYU Must Do Against Florida
The Florida game is going to have to be almost a carbon copy of the Gonzaga game for the Cougars to win. Fredette will need to hit a few early and hope that Florida doubles him or plays a zone that focuses on him. This will open up the floor for other players.
Then, Hartsock will have to hit from outside and Emery will have to slash his way to the basket once the court is opened up. Kyle Collinsworth will also have to continue to rebound as well as he has, and another great set of contributions from the bench players would be a major bonus.
Fredette will once again have to average more than one point per shot. He should get to the line against Florida, who like to play pretty tight on defense, but the points per shot statistic will be more important than his total number of points.
Will BYU’s Depth affect their Performance this week?
So far, Kyle Collinsworth has played admirably in place of Brandon Davies. However, there isn’t anyone to fill his slot on the bench as well as he did. This could be a problem, but may not. So far, the Cougars have done just fine.
If this was a tournament like most conference tournaments, where you play three or four games in a row with no rest days, the effect of Davies’ suspension on team depth could be a major detriment, as it may have been in the MWC tournament. It is very possible that BYU simply “ran out of gas” against SDSU while playing their third game in three days.
In the NCAA Tournament, though, you play two games a week with a day’s rest in between. There is plenty of time to rest and heal nagging injuries. Also, everyone is running on adrenaline in both games, and fatigue doesn’t really seem to factor in as much as it would in conference tournaments.
A Quick Prediction…
The Cougars will beat Florida in New Orleans on a last-second shot by, who else, Jimmer Fredette. If Butler beats Wisconsin, BYU will be able to get by them and into the Final Four. If they have to play Wisconsin, though, it will probably be a long flight back to Provo.