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Cougar Tracks: As Good as Ever

By Greg Wrubell   |  Posted Jan 18th, 2012 @ 1:36pm


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Piggy-backing off of yesterday's "Cougar Tracks" and inspired by Dick Harmon's recent column in the Deseret News, I have a few more thoughts about the 2011-12 BYU Basketball team, compared to the 2010-11 squad that set the school record for most wins in its 32-5 "Sweet Sixteen" campaign.

Whereas last year's BYU team featured the nation's best player, this season's version may prove to be Dave Rose's most balanced collection of talent, and only injuries to Chris Collinsworth and Stephen Rogers have prevented the 2011-12 Cougars from maximizing their projected depth dividends.

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Before the season began, Rose spoke at the West Coast Conference's Tip-off event, and predicted the following about the 2011-12 Cougars:

"We might play a little faster without Jimmer (Fredette), because Jimmer was a guy who really liked to keep that ball in his hands. We may race that thing up on a pass and try to initiate our offense a lot quicker."

Last year, the Cougars ranked 20th in tempo, at 71.3 possessions per game. This season, as Rose predicted, BYU is indeed playing a little faster, at 72.6 possessions per game. Breaking in a new backcourt and a new freshman point guard at semester break has contributed to a slightly higher turnover number, but BYU's offensive efficiency, while marginally lower, is still ranked 34th nationally, and its scoring has remained constant: 81.4 ppg in 2010-11, 80.8 ppg in 2011-12.

Not having one player dominate the ball as Jimmer did has made BYU a more team-oriented offense, and the reliance on multiple players has seen BYU make considerable jumps in field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, assists/field goals made and other offensive stats:

BYU in 2011-12 v. BYU in 2010-11, Offensive Statistics

Category 2011-12 Rank 2010-11 Rank
Scoring Offense 80.8 ppg 9th 81.4 ppg 7th
Scoring Margin 16.4 ppg 12th 13.5 5th
Tempo* 72.6 poss/gm 13th 71.3 poss/gm 20th
FG% 49.0 14th 44.9 100th
3PFG% 39.8 17th 36.1 90th
eFG%* 55.9 9th 51.6 59th
Offensive Efficiency* 111.0 34th 117.1 11th
Assists/FGM* 65.4% 8th 52.1% 198th
Turnover Percentage* 18.7 60th 15.1 3rd

Note: *represents stats from kenpom.com

During the WCC's preseason media event, Rose also said that Fredette's 28.9 points per game and having only three players average double-figure scoring were anomalies for his offense. "What we usually have is a group of five or six guys somewhere between 9 and 16, 17 points a game," said Rose at the time. "I believe that's what we'll go back to."

And that is what has happened this season:

BYU Scoring, Top 5 Players, 2011-12 v. 2010-11

Scoring Rank Player 2011-12 PPG 2011-12 % of Team Points Scored Player 2010-11 PPG 2010-11 % of Team Points Scored
1 Hartsock 16.8 20.8% Fredette 28.9 35.5%
2 Carlino* 14.6 9.0% Emery 12.5 15.3%
3 Davies 13.4 16.7% Davies 11.1 10.7%
4 Abouo 11.4 14.1% Hartsock 8.6 10.6%
5 Zylstra 9.3 11.5% Abouo 7.2 8.9%

Note: Matt Carlino has played only ten games, so his % of team scoring number is 5th on the team, while his points per game ranks 2nd. If his ten-game scoring were projected over the team's 20 games, his percentage would double, from 9% to 18%.

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In his column, Harmon says BYU "struggles to stop the other guys" and that "it doesn't play defense as well" as last year's team.

Based on this year's numbers, BYU could actually be considered a better defensive team than the one that preceded it:

BYU in 2011-12 v. BYU in 2010-11, Defensive Statistics

Category 2011-12 Rank 2010-11 Rank
Scoring Defense 64.3 ppg 110th 67.9 ppg 171st
FG% Defense 39.3 41st 41.5 77th
2PFG% Defense* 44.8 83rd 45.2 64th
3PFG% Defense* 32.3 94th 33.3 104th
Defensive Efficiency* 89.9 21st 92.5 29th
Effective FG% Defense* 46.2 74th 46.7 61st
Offensive Reb% Allowed* 24.9 7th 28.6 36th
Turnover % Forced* 20.5 192nd 20.3 157th
Blocked Shot % Forced* 12.2 58th 10.0 120th

Note: *represents stats from kenpom.com

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Certainly, last year's team will stand alone in terms of the national rankings it achieved, the wide-spread attention it garnered and the far-reaching benefits that Jimmer Fredette's singular season will afford the basketball program moving forward. The current Cougars are still improving, and have yet to make their national mark on the regular season or postseason canvas.

Yet, this year's team stands on the verge of accomplishing some special things in its own right, and as the numbers above illustrate, Rose's system and style are bedrock foundations, upon which players possessing varied strengths are able to thrive.

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I'm still a little nervous but hoping for the best with regards to Stephen Rogers' latest knee injury. In a recent tweet, he said "nothing is torn so time and treatment is key."

Rogers had a torn meniscus in his right knee repaired five weeks ago, and after missing six games, he returned to play sparingly in four games--the last of which was Monday night in San Diego, at which time he fell awkwardly after a made basket, forcing him to the bench for the remainder of the game.

Assuming Rogers will have to miss some game time, Rose will turn to the group of Craig Cusick, Anson Winder and Damarcus Harrison to help fill his spot on the wing. If Charles Abouo can avoid foul trouble, his minutes played may increase.

Cusick, while serving as Matt Carlino's backup at point, has also spent time playing alongside Carlino as a "two," while Brock Zylstra could also slide to the "three" as needed, but Winder and Harrison remain reserve options at both spots.

Cusick has been nothing short of a revelation in the backcourt, solidifying his spot in Rose's "top eight" with heady play and spectacular shooting. Playing both guard positions but primarily running the point, Cusick has dished out 39 assists to only 15 turnovers, while shooting 51% on FGs and 48% on 3PFGs. In league play only, those numbers are an astounding 69% and 90%. And, he's a non-scholarship player.

Winder saw the biggest bump in playing time during Rogers' earlier departure from the lineup, as he averaged 14.3 minutes and 5.3 points per game during the six games Rogers missed. Since Rogers' return, Winder is averaging 6.8 minutes and 1.8 points per game. Harrison played 15 minutes and scored eight points in the first game Rogers missed (v. Baylor), but has since played only 51 minutes over the ensuing nine games (21 of which came v. NAIA Cal State San Marcos), including two games in which he did not play.

Harrison is a freshman straight out of high school; in fact, he's the only player on the active BYU roster without either previous collegiate playing experience, a redshirt season or a two-year LDS mission. Harrison's youth and inexperience have shown up in his shooting numbers: 34% from the field, 23% from the arc and 47% from the stripe. He has the lowest offensive rating (76.9 on a team with a 111.0 rating) and PAP (32.9%) numbers on the team, while at the same time leading the team in percentage of possessions used (26.3%) and percentage of shots taken (30.2%). In other words, he is forcing things on offense, without enough results to show for his impatience.

Harrison is a talented athlete who should grow into a fine player over the next number of years. He is jumpy and quick with a good-looking, high shot that should improve in time. Barring injury like the one currently hampering Rogers, Harrison will likely not have spot in this season's regular rotation, but as team results and individual performances have shown, it's a strong group of players playing in front of him. His time will come.

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