The performance of the 2016-17 BYU men’s basketball team has left some Cougar fans scratching their heads.
The Cougar cagers came into the season with perhaps more hype than any other team in the Dave Rose era. Rose stockpiled the roster with a number of ESPN Top-100 recruits including Nick Emery, Eric Mika, TJ Haws, Yoeli Childs and Payton Dastrup as well as strong supporting players Elijah Bryant, Kyle Davis and L.J. Rose to bolster the roster.
Fans anticipating a West Coast Conference title found themselves baffled by a loss to conference foe San Diego. Now many are wondering if the season is salvageable.
The Cougars started off hot, winning their first six games in the season. A quality victory against experienced Princeton seemed proof BYU would live up to the hype.
The first sign of trouble came during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event in Las Vegas. The Cougars were facing Valparaiso in a rematch of the 2015-16 NIT semifinals. Aside from Princeton, this was the first true test for BYU. The team fought hard but came up just short, falling 89-92.
After the loss to Valpo, the idea of winning a West Coast Conference title seemed a little further away. Fans felt that this year’s team was very good and would likely reach it’s full potential the following season.
No one could have predicted what would happen next.
After Thanksgiving break, the Cougars suited up to take on crosstown rival Utah Valley University. This game was expected to be an easy win for the Cougars. Analysts Ken Pomeroy gave BYU a 99 percent chance of beating UVU at home in the Marriott Center. UVU is a sub-300 RPI team and has never beaten BYU.
From the opening tip-off, BYU’s energy was flat. There was no intensity on defense and a lack of team basketball on offense. The Cougars played selfish basketball and it cost them.
Sophomore guard Nick Emery took it upon himself to be the entire offense for BYU and scored a season-high 37 points, but there wasn’t a lot of production from the rest of the supporting cast. Kyle Davis only scored 11 points.
UVU was on a tear. The Wolverines shot lights out from 3-point range, making a new Marriott Center record of 18 3-pointers. The wolverines laid 114 points on BYU.
“We played embarrassing. That was very embarrassing. Our effort, our defense, just overall embarrassing. I have nothing else to say,” Emery said after the loss to UVU. “We can’t put this BYU jersey on think we’re just going to win games just because we’re BYU. It takes a lot more than that. We’ll move on. We’ll get better.”
Rose added, “We kind of got flustered. A real issue for us the last few games has been trying to keep our composure.”
The Cougars were able to rebound after the loss to UVU with a nice win over in-state opponent Utah State at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake.
BYU then traveled to Los Angeles to take on a very talented USC Trojans team at the Staples Center, but fell into a similar pattern as their play against UVU. The Cougars were effectively able to run the ball through Mika in the post, but were unable to get defensive stops on the other end. BYU lost 91-84 to USC.
The Cougars then faced another in-state opponent Weber State. Rose told BYU Sports Nation Host Spencer Linton during shoot-around that he was nervous about Weber State despite their 2-5 season record at the time.
The Wildcats stayed toe-to-toe with the Cougars through a good portion of the game. Only after a key Weber State player fouled out was BYU able to take a pull ahead for the win.
BYU corrected mistakes and played a strong defensive game, but played inefficiently on offense. The Cougars, known for their 3-point prowess, shot just 3-11 from beyond the arc.
“I like the way that our guys competed on the defensive end,” Rose said after the win over Weber State. “Offensively, you know, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The win over Weber State showcases the problem of this young BYU basketball team. The issue is not offense or defense per se, as the Cougars have shown their abilities to play both well in different games throughout the season. The problem is seemingly a lack of confidence.
“Right now it’s a team, especially our perimeter guys that need more confidence,” Rose said. “It seems our guards are really tense right now.”
The only player that seems to be playing with any confidence and consistency is center Eric Mika. The Cougars have been able to find success offensively by playing inside out and getting the ball to Mika in the post. Mika is averaging 20.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game.
“Basketball is a big confidence game and so you know this is going to boost our confidence,” Mika said. “If we can just roll things over into the next game we’ll be successful.”
BYU has the potential to be a lethal team playing inside out. Mika is able to produce from the post position and requires defensive attention on the interior that leaves shooters open on the perimeter. However, playing inside out isn’t effective if guards aren’t able to knock down wide open looks.
“I think coach wants the three’s to come inside-out,” senior forward Kyle Davis said before his season-ending injury. “Coach wants us to shoot good shots and it’s just making those three’s the best shots we can.”
With only a handful of games remaining in the season, there’s not a lot of basketball left to play. The Cougars will need to play lockdown defense and inside out on offense to come away with wins, which will go a long way to restore the team’s confidence going forward.