COMMENTARY — I’ve written in the past how much I love Dave Rose’s style of basketball. BYU fills it up and basically tries to outrun every team it plays.
It’s fun to watch and creates guys who garner national attention — guys like Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Haws. But it can be very frustrating as well.
“Ball last” mentality is what I like to call it, as in whoever has the ball last is going to win the game. BYU’s football team had it in the 1980s and 1990s, well, sort of. They didn’t play much defense, but their offense was so good under guys like Steve Young, Ty Detmer and Robbie Bosco, that hanging 70 points on the board was not uncommon.
Back to basketball: BYU is averaging 82.9 points a game, good enough for 31st in the nation out of 346 Division 1 teams. Top 10 percent — pretty good, right?
Maybe, except when you consider that the Cougars have ranked in the top 20 in scoring in the nation the past six years in a row, including last season and 2010 when BYU was second in the USA in points per game.
So what’s going on this year? Well, first of all, the Cougars are only about a point per game less than last season, so it’s not that bad. The scoring around the country seems to be on the upswing (thank goodness, perhaps we won’t have to suffer through an NCAA Championship game in the 50s or 60s).
One problem has been consistency. The Cougars are as hot-and-cold as a team can be. Especially the shooters, Chase Fischer and Nick Emery.
Emery is a freshman who just returned from an LDS Mission. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, he’s going to be a star of Tyler Haws proportions (if not Jimmer). Being a frosh, he’s going to be up and down. That’s what you get with young players. You live with it and think about their bright future and move on.
But Fischer, a senior, is supposed to be above all that streakiness. It blows my mind that he could play 30 minutes in BYU’s loss to Harvard and not make a field goal, not get a steal or a block and only dish out one assist. Especially considering he scored 23 a few days before against Central Michigan and then threw down a whopping 41 points the next day against New Mexico.
In the BYU loss at St. Mary’s, Fischer hit just 2 for 8 from 3-point territory. Two nights later, he lights up Pacific for 23 points, making 6 of 11 deep balls.
There’s no doubt Fischer is an excellent talent and the Cougars wouldn’t be 10-5 without him. But the shooter needs to make shots — every time out. That’s what made Jimmer a superstar — and was BYU’s ultimate undoing in the Sweet Sixteen against Florida in 2011. Nursing a thigh injury, Fredette was 3 for 15 from deep in that game after shooting over 40 percent for the season.
Another issue for the Cougs so far this season has been a lack of interest in sharing the basketball.
Kyle Collinsworth is amazing, the NCAA’s all-time triple-double machine. He passes the ball with gusto. In fact, his assists are at an all-time high at 7.3 per game. He has 110 of them this season, an impressive number through 15 games.
However, the rest of the team has just 130 combined assists. As a team, BYU is 59th in the nation in sharing the basketball. That compares with fifth in the nation last season and a consistent top 20 finish in assists for the past half-decade.
In other words, Collinsworth is the only one sharing the rock.
Lastly, the Cougars are killing themselves at the free throw line. A season ago, BYU was fifth in the nation at the line, making 76.8 percent of their charity shots. This year, the Y ballers are making just 67.3 percent of their free throws. How big a difference is that? Look at it this way: If the Cougars were making 76.8 percent this season, they would have scored 29 more points this season, about two more points per game.
That means games that “got away,” like the Harvard loss and the loss to Long Beach most likely wouldn’t have happened. BYU was a combined 27 for 50 from the line in those two games. Not good.
The bottom line is that the Cougars have some glaring — but fixable — issues this season. And despite all that, they are 10-5 overall and can make a real splash in the West Coast Conference.
A realistic shot at getting into the NCAA Tournament is not out of the question, but a first or second-place finish in the WCC is probably the only way it will happen. And the only way BYU finishes that high is if they become more consistent, share the ball more and hit their free throws.
Up next: BYU has two home games this week with 5-11 Santa Clara in the Marriott Center Thursday (9 p.m. on ESPNU) and 8-6 San Francisco visiting Provo Saturday (7 p.m. on BYUtv).
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