The BYU Cougars and Utah State Aggies both faced rebuilding projects this season after losing several of their key players to graduation. Their matchup yesterday showed just how large of an impact those losses have had, especially on BYU.
Utah State won a close game, 69-62, due mainly to the stellar play of guard Brockeith Pane. BYU's big men had a good game, but BYU had no answer for Pane at the guard position.
Ultimately, BYU's perimeter play cost them the game.
In the past, Dave Rose's Cougar teams have been heavily reliant on perimeter play. The Cougars take a lot of three-point shots, go on fast breaks, and use their guards way more than their post players. The perimeter defense is also traditionally a strength, as opposing teams usually have little success on the outside and have to rely on going inside in order to have a shot at beating the Cougars.
During last season's tournament run, BYU was eventually done in because their guards couldn't make up for their shortage of quality big men, and opposing teams dominated down low.
This season, BYU basketball faces a problem that it's not used to: What do you do when you have plenty of quality big men, but lack good perimeter play?
To be perfectly clear, BYU doesn't run a traditional 2-2-1 scheme. All five starting players (Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock, Stephen Rogers, Brock Zylstra, and Charles Abouo) are listed as forwards, with Zylstra and Abouo being listed as hybrid guards/forwards.
Davies plays the role of center, and fulfilled his role adequately against the Aggies. Hartsock is a clear forward, but also has a good perimeter game, and was actually the Cougar's best perimeter player yesterday, despite the fact that he's not even responsible for perimeter play.
Rogers and Zylstra both spend much more time on the perimeter than they do down low, while Abouo spends approximately equal amounts of time staying on the perimeter and driving the lane.
Yesterday's loss falls on the shoulders of Rogers, Zylstra, and Abouo. Between the three of them, they had 25 points on eight for 17 shooting. Their three-point percentage was 25 percent. To be fair, Abouo did have 16 points and had much higher shooting percentages than the other two. However, he failed to adequately defend Utah State's perimeter players.
Right now, the hopes of BYU's backcourt hang on UCLA transfer Matt Carlino, who isn't eligible to compete until December. Nobody knows how he will play though, after such a long layoff from competition.
If the Cougars want to have consistent success this season, the perimeter play of Abouo, Zylstra, and Rogers needs to improve greatly.