November 19, 2012

BYU Returns from Barclays Center with 99 Problems

I just...I just don't know about you, man
I like my BYU Cougars men's basketball team like I don't like my coffee: Old, White and Fast. And so it was that my cockles were warmed earlier this month when BYU figuratively opened the door and ran.

The 'door' is, in this circumspect analogy, the great portal of excitement that is the start of the season. The running, of course, is a more literal symbolization of Dave Rose's philosophy of having his players sprint around like their pants are on fire.

BYU was the fifth "quickest" of the 345 teams in the country last season judging solely based on adjusted tempo rank, a measure of the number of possessions a team has per game that is adjusted for opposing teams' pace of play. Two seasons ago it was the 20th fastest. Three seasons ago it was the 14th. So far this season, it's sixth.

This trend suggests a strategy of maximizing the number of possible possessions by playing those possessions quickly, at least in relation to the opponent's pace. It works really well when a team grabs defensive rebounds, forces turnovers and pushes successfully in transition. The first item requires strong post play. The last two items require that a team's offense be centrally and confidently commanded at the point (stick these little thematic morsels in your basketball beard and save them like a snack for further down).


Tyler Haws just wants to be loved
The Cougars opened the season by bolting in near-lockstep with a pesky Tennessee State team before deciding to pull away late. Four days later, it sprinted past Georgia State in a downright nasty fashion, running out to a 31-2 lead before even nine minutes of basketball was played. BYU wasn't perfect on the offensive end, and there were stretches on defense that resembled water draining through a siv (a snooze-button takeaway from this game is that Georgia State actually outscored BYU 41-24 over the ensuing 22 minutes), but the Cougars won. Both of BYU's opponents were content to play at the Cougars' pace, and both opponents lost because they couldn't keep up.

These first two games illustrated BYU's high-percentage shots, relentless transition offense, and even when the Cougars were stuck in the half court set, quick ball movement and shot selection that abused (sub-100 ranked team's) zone defenses. Oh boy, a hypothetical basketball writer hypothetically thought, it would sure be dismaying if future tactically-clueless BYU opponents tried to play a zone against this team. Notre Dame would later prove that same hypothetical basketball writer an idiot.

Continuing the trend of exclusively playing southern State schools, BYU travelled to JayZPlace Friday and took on a real, live ACC team: Florida State. The game was a great early season opportunity, pundits pundited, for the Cougars to master a "quick" style of play against an opponent notorious for "grinding" and "slowing it down."

This line of thinking evolves from a fallacy about Florida State's style: that for several seasons, one of the Seminoles' ingredients in playing tough has been playing slowly, lowering every team's score, and limiting possessions. In reality, Florida State doesn't play particularly slow at all. Its raw tempo each of the last three seasons has actually been faster than about 200-250 other schools.

What analysts really mean to invoke about Florida State is that the team is quite physical and (not unrelated) crazy good at defending interior shooting (best in the country two seasons in a row). The real opportunity the Florida State game gave BYU, then, was to measure how it muscled up in the paint against a physical style of play that wouldn't be friendly to a post-Noah Hartsock ...post.

(Aside, before we get to the carnage: Just to not upset the homers, here, it is necessary to point out that BYU embodies a certain physicality, too. But it's a sort of hearty, American prairie physicality. Cougar players successfully fix automobiles, and radiate a pleasurable musk. They were fed cream as boys, and milk as men. Or maybe the other way around. I don't know. Anyway, they worked a lot on conditioning with Justin McClure and all that, but it's safe to say that this team isn't Michael Snaer/Okaro White, I-will-assassinate-you-because-your-presence-irritates-me, physical).

Now, for a quick break in the action, let's go to Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who is almost definitely Toad, from the Frog and Toad books.

"Ribbit"
Thanks, Len.

So, the "opportunity" for BYU didn't pan out. Florida State looked like the opposite of the wimpy team that inconceivably lost to South Alabama at home to start the season, and straight mortalized the Cougars, who were left to improvisation on offense and a Mark Few-style non-sense substitution carousel. If you were already in pre-SJSU kickoff mode by this point, Notre Dame used a 16-2 run in the consolation game Saturday to turn a late second half seven-point BYU lead into a big poo on the carpet.

(Morsel alerts:) Matt Carlino really only did one of two things either game: a) bad things, b) no things. After dishing out mad dishes against T St. and G St., Carlino got an F against F St. and ND because he got bullied by people that are better basketball players. I realize this is barstool analysis of the worst kind, but when a starting guard's combined line for two games is two points and five assists in 46 minutes, and his team runs its offense primarily off of the rebound-kick-out-guard-push-feed-easy-deuce train of thought, Carlino has little defense for performance. An equally lazy gut-measure of Carlino's ineffectiveness? When he takes an important shot in an important moment, and the collective breath in the arena swells up into a little gasp, and the timbre of the TV commentator's voice arches just that much, he always, always clanks it.

(Morsel 2:) Brandon Davies played 39 minutes over two games this weekend because he got in early foul trouble. Brandon Davies should be playing 39 minutes per game. Again, I don't have data on BYU's performance with Davies in the game versus Davies out of the game, but I know from my eyeballs that BYU generally has a bit of a downstairs mix up when he's being rotated in and out of games at random.  Hell, Davies almost had as many fouls this weekend as he did rebounds, which was not enough.

BYU was actually -21 in the defensive rebounding battle this weekend. Was that caused by Brandon Davies being out? I don't know. But it cannot have helped that Brandon Davies was out. -21 on the defensive glass isn't good for creating more possessions, creating quicker possessions, and especially for creating transition possessions. -21 DReb is bad for Dave Rose's dry erase chart.

Obvious Bright Spot Tyler Haws actually crashed the boards really well. He is not an Obvious Bright Spot because when people like Kenny Smith spend five seconds before a broadcast researching BYU  his is the name that comes up next to the words "scoring leader." Haws is a bright spot because he proved with J after turnaround, squiggly J that he is the closest thing BYU has to a go-to, athleticized scoring threat.

Tyler Haws needs friends. He needs a field general that feeds others and takes pressure off of him, not just in the champagne years, but in the dregs of war and famine. He needs his good buddy, Brandon, to not dine and dash. He needs 56 year-old Brock Zylstra (he was on the BYU basketball roster in 2006! It is now almost 2013. Somebody fix this!). He needs (cough)DeMarcus Harrison(cough).

Or maybe it doesn't matter who he needs. Maybe it just matters that this team needs more weapons. How do you stockpile weapons mid-season if you can't trade for them? You develop them from what you have by making strategic choices.

BYU was certainly capable of beating 22nd ranked Notre Dame a long ways from home. It has top-100 tests Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Baylor, and Montana coming up. This upcoming slate, perhaps more than any other stretch of Dave Rose's career, will test his tactical abilities. Will the answer to better talent and better physicality still be to try to run his kids around like their pants are on fire? And if so, how will the outcomes of those contests be any different than those of the Great Barclays Fail Weekend, 2012?

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