I’ll be honest. I don’t know what I am. Am I dismayed? Am I distraught? Am I disappointed? Am I frustrated? Am I bewildered? Am I confused? At this point, on the heels of BYU’s fourth loss in a row, I’m not sure I really even care to define the state of my inner-fan. I’ve watched approximately 215 of the last 240 minutes of BYU basketball that have yielded five losses in six games. And I just don’t know any more.
What don’t I know?
Insert shameless jab from Utah/Saint Mary’s/Gonzaga/San Diego State fan here.
I honestly do not know how good of a team BYU is. I don’t. Can anybody say definitively whether BYU is good or bad or somewhere in between? The same team that was flat all night against Utah was spry against Oregon. The team that shot the lights out against Stanford is the team that managed only one three-pointer and a 40% field goal percentage against Pepperdine. The same Cougars who pushed undefeated and nationally ranked Wichita State to the brink are the same Cougars who rarely contested LMU, ranked 157 in the RPI.
I’ll tell you what I do know, though.
While national pundits and talking heads are wondering what happened to BYU, they’re missing the point that the Cougars’ issues were always there, masked by an ability to make shots and win games.
So, while Doug Gottlieb is wondering this
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) December 31, 2013
…and Matt Norlander is offering up this opinion
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) December 31, 2013
I’ll respond with this
— Andrew Perkins (@coachamp) December 31, 2013
Look, let’s be real here. The Cougars have some recurring problems that have plagued them all season.
There are issues with BYU’s defense. It’s not very good at this point. They have trouble keeping people contained off the dribble, and the help defense and zone rotation leave something to be desired. They’ve shown some bright spots in limiting Wichita State and Oregon for stretches, but they haven’t been able to put consistent stretches of solid defense together.
There are issues with front court depth when Eric Mika and Nate Austin are in foul trouble. And they’re in foul trouble A LOT. Nate Austin has fouled out in three straight games. Josh Sharp is picking up a handful of solid minutes, but Luke Worthington is still adjusting to the college game. It was painfully obvious that Mika and Austin were needed in OT against Oregon, but they both had fouled out. BYU needs those guys on the court.
There are issues with free throws. Next.
There are issues with making the “extra pass.” BYU has settled for too many no-pass or one-pass possessions. Two things are happening when the defense collapses and contests the drive – turnovers and missed shots. The opening possession for BYU against Pepperdine was a masterpiece, moving the ball, getting the defenders moving, and creating space for wide open driving lanes. The Cougars need more of that.
By extension, there are issues when BYU can’t get on the fast break. This issue was on display against DII Colorado Mesa, who made a point to get back on defense. If a team sends three or four players to sprint back on defense and get set, they’ll limit BYU’s points in transition and also control the tempo of the game. Colorado Mesa did it. Utah did it. Pepperdine did it. The problem for the DII Mavericks was that they couldn’t keep it up all game. But they laid a blueprint for disrupting BYU’s offensive production.
It is what it is, as frustrating as it may be. The issues were there, but they only have become more noticed as the losses started to occur. Winning cures many things, after all. And losing, well… it just kinda stinks.
Now, let’s take all that reality, and try to sprinkle some perspective on it.
Does this losing trend look bad? Yes. Should BYU fans be worried about USD on Saturday? Yes. Is BYU a below average team? No. Have they been playing at a below average level at times as of late? Yes. Should BYU fans give up on the season at this point? No. Definitely not.
There are 16 games left on the conference slate. The next three are at home. The Cougars have 5 days to clear their heads and get their minds right before they take on San Diego in Provo. They haven’t played in the Marriott Center in three weeks.
Also, consider the following:
Eric Mika is a talented young big man – sky’s the limit. Nate Austin is a rebounding machine. Tyler Haws is arguably the best player in the WCC. Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth are extremely talented. Skyler Halford has upped his game as of late. When these players are on their game, it’s an exciting brand of basketball that can hang with nationally ranked teams (see Iowa State, Oregon, Wichita State). Also, consider that BYU is a young team with no seniors, and may need coached up this week to regain some confidence.
To revisit the question posed at the beginning of this article: Can anybody say definitively whether BYU is good or bad or somewhere in between? There are indeed definitive weaknesses, but BYU does have a talented young team that could be a WCC contender if they get it together. They do, however, seem to be in their heads a little bit and somewhat off-kilter. Coach Rose said as much after Monday night’s loss to Pepperdine:
Coach Rose on postgame radio: “We’ve got to get back to where we feel more confident with our ability to play within the system.” #BYUhoops
— D. Sean (@RealDSean) December 31, 2013
Nate Austin spoke on it, as well : “Once we got down by 10 points, we were wondering if this is really happening again, some guys started losing confidence a little bit. At halftime, coach Rose got our spirits back and in the second half we looked like a team that was playing together that was believing in each other and trusting each other.”
BYU needs to re-focus and get their swagger back. It’s easier said than done, but if they can get it together they’ll contend in the WCC. If not, then who knows? Heck. I don’t.