Advanced analytics shaping the future of BYU basketball

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Josh Ellis
Andrew May, director of basketball operations, records stats against LMU. May uses analytics to help the coaching staff improve play. (Josh Ellis)

The in-depth analysis of statistics and trends have caused the basketball team to alter their style of play and become a more efficient squad.

“Analytics plays an important role in what we do,” said BYU Director of Basketball Operations Andrew May.

With advanced technology, people all over the world can watch games over the Internet and crunch numbers within seconds, taking game analysis to a new level.

New indicators such as box plus/minus, offensive and defensive ratings, and player efficiency ratings have become part of basketball lingo in both gyms and newsrooms.

Defense

Thanks to analytics, the team realized the 3-point shot was becoming a disadvantage.

The Cougars’ loss in 2016 to Utah Valley University highlighted this problem — the Wolverines hit a record 18 3-pointers in a blowout in the Marriott Center.

This year the Cougars made defense a priority, especially on the 3-point line, and held the Wolverines to just one 3-pointer in their Nov. 29 win in Orem.

After his arrival in Provo last year, coach Heath Schroyer introduced a new defensive statistic, known as a “kill.”

Not to be confused with the volleyball score, a kill for BYU basketball means three defensive stops in a row or three possessions without the other team scoring.

“Coach Schroyer told us that if we get seven kills in one game, it will be very hard to lose,” said forward Yoeli Childs after the win over UVU. “I think we had three or four in the first half, so we knew we were on the right track.”

The team had a season-high nine kills that night, with five coming in the second half, according to Twitter user “Yze Guy,” who keeps track of BYU’s kills during every game.

In every game the Cougars have won this year so far, they’ve had five or more kills, while in their losses they’ve had two or fewer.

This statistic forms part of a new defensive identity the Cougars have taken on this season.

Dani Jardine
Coach Heath Schroyer talks to Yoeli Childs during a game against Weber State on Dec. 9. Childs talked about Schroyer’s implementation of new statistics after the Cougars’ win over UVU on Nov. 30. (Dani Jardine)

Internet Statisticians

Yze Guy” is just one example of how technology and the internet allow just about anybody to keep track of stats and offer analysis into the numbers.

Ken Pomeroy is another sports statistician finding success on the internet.  

Pomeroy is not only an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Utah, but also the founder and operator of the nation’s most popular college basketball statistics websites.

The website ranks every team in the nation based on their offensive and defensive ratings, adjusted for how hard of a schedule they have played.

These ratings are then used to predict the winner of every matchup.

Pomeroy is often featured on ESPN and other sports media outlets, including BYU’s own Sports Nation.

May said the BYU basketball team also uses Pomeroy’s rankings because they “give (BYU) an idea of how we (are) doing relative to everyone else in the country.”

Another tool is a software known as Synergy that allows the team to analyze any college basketball game in the nation, looking at shot charts and videos of every play.

This not only helps them realize what they need to adjust as a team, but also serves as an invaluable tool in scouting their opponents.

“That’s where basketball is going,” May said.

Offense

May said the Cougar’s focus on offense is simply getting open shots, and they recruit players that are supposed to make those shots.

Even though the Cougars went through a bit of a shooting slump to start the season, the team is confident that if they continue to get open shots, their shooting percentages will rise to where the numbers and statistics say they should be.

But May was quick to point out that stats are only a tool, and not the end-all answer to basketball strategy.

“You can find people who are excellent in stats, but if they don’t know how to teach it, it’s not helpful,” May said. “That’s what coaching is all about: understanding how these things relate to each other and what are we going to do in practice that will affect (the statistics).”

May suggested a balance is required between analyzing the numbers and understanding how to teach and coach the players in a way that will increase their success and efficiency.

With BYU’s 17-4 record, they seem to have found this balance and hope to continue their success in implementing a statistics-based game plan.

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