BYU's defensive performance at Gonzaga was beyond surprising. It would have been almost impossible to predict. One would be hard pressed to find a game with the kind of countertrend performance as the BYU defense conducted in that one game. This single game, wherein the mighty offense of the Zags was severely constrained, caused BYU's adjusted points per possession (PPP) defensive ranking to improve from #130 in the nation to #93--at mid season!
One game does not make a trend, on either offense or defense, and we should assume that BYU will not put together that level of defense in a game again in 2016. But it was too comprehensively effective to shrug it as a one-off that means little beyond the one win. To wit, BYU's defense has improved significantly and it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Cougars play defense at the top 50 level over the rest of the season, even if it drops off from the Spokane game.
OTOH, BYU's 40% 3 point shooting on the season will not likely suffer another game with only 3 makes, no matter the opponent. The Zags did a nice job denying the 3, but the Cougars had many open looks.
Moreover, BYU's Wishbone T triple option attack is becoming stronger every game. (pardon the football metaphor).
Since late in the Colorado game coincident with increased minutes from Zac Seljaas, and to some extent from Nate Austin, BYU's offense has been trending upwards in effectiveness.
Kyle Collinsworth is unstoppable to the paint at which point KC can finish, kick it out to an open Seljaas, Fischer or Emery, or dump it to one of the bigs at the rim.
Most importantly, personal agendas that were limiting this team early in the season are no longer a problem and have been reversed. A combination of good choices by players in response to an array of self inflicted ineffectiveness and adversity imposed externally by the misconduct from partisan gratuitous rivals, has refined team chemistry.
KC is completely on board with a commitment to do whatever it takes to win and has figured out how to lead, while Emery seems to have settled into his proper support role. Nick's response to the recent fiasco with increased polish may have served as an inspiration to his teammates. Even Fischer has reflected humility and a magnanimous energy in recent interviews which explains his improved leadership and judgement on the court.
But it is the performance of 18 year-old Seljaas which has served as a key catalyst for the strength of the triple option offensive attack. Zac is rapidly becoming an important go-to guy. His humility, emotional maturity, good judgement, and deadly shooting seem to have rubbed off on his older mates. The worry has been that it seemed almost impossible for Zac to continue to shoot so consistently. But the fear is always more terrible than the execution. He had his terrible game in Spokane. It's over and BYU won in spite of it. A brilliant coaching adjustment to substitute little used Jordan Chatman for 19 minutes as a stifling defender, limited the damage from poor shooting and helped save the day.
Perhaps the team's most consistent force throughout all of the season's undulations has been Kyle Davis. He raised his game to the spectacular level in the first half at Gonzaga as he single handedly carried BYU on the court with teammates who couldn't shoot straight and Collinsworth on the bench.
Despite the offensive improvement in recent games, there had been an underperformance on defense. Adjusted PPP had sunk to #130 in the nation (while offensive PPP had spiked to #26). My expectation at the season's outset was that defense would be improved over last year for two reasons.
1. Bigs matter a lot on defense and the addition of Davis and Austin should have made a big difference;
2. Quincy's talent and new Pack Line defense would be superior. While it would take time to inculcate into the players, they would improve over the season.
Early in the season, defensive PPP had looked decent, while the offense sputtered. Now the offense is humming while the defense droops.
Until last night! The defense may not reach the level of BYU's overpowering triple option offense, but finishing as a top 50 defensive team could now happen.
Count on Seljaas to almost certainly bounce back immediately, and with him, Emery's and Fischer's outside shooting.
Would now favor the Cougars to win the WCC title and make the NCAA tourney but do not expect them to go through the rest of the WCC schedule without a loss to a team not named Gonzaga or St Mary's. The conference is too tough for any of this year's big three to do that.
I have a different view on the prospect of a rematch with the Utes than some here. Odds for BYU making the NCAA tourney are now more 80%, imo. Odds for Utes are now less than 20%. BYU is far too strong and balanced for the fading Utes at this point, imo.
In any case, my hope is that BYU and Utah do not meet in the NCAA this season. Cougars don't need the additional distraction. Would rather see them focus on a serious post season run which is more than plausible if the defense sustains a portion of the improvement demonstrated in Spokane.