Work in progress

Last year's basketball team struggled to both score from the perimeter and defend the perimeter, and teams are hard-pressed to have success when they struggle in those two areas. That's especially so when playing tough competition, and BYU did not compete well overall against the better teams on last year's schedule. Thus far, this year's team is having similar issues, so there's more work to do.

Coming into the season, the oft-repeated refrain among the Cougars was that they had improved their shooting. But do the results so far reflect this?

In their three wins (all in the Marriott Center), the Cougars have shot 19-of-48 from outside, good for 39.5 percent. But in the two losses, which both occurred at the Barclays Center in New York, the Cougars shot 9-of-39 from outside, hitting only 23 percent of their three-pointers. Replace Tyler Haws with Noah Hartsock, and this year's team looks a lot like last year's so far when it comes to shooting.

"Our confidence level is fine," said Brock Zylstra. "You think about the law of [averages] and how … if you have a bad shooting game, the next game you're gonna have a good shooting game, so we're all confident in our shooting."

Unfortunately for BYU, the law of averages didn't go into effect in the second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York, instead waiting until the Cougars returned home and played UTSA on Wednesday.

It was clear that it just wasn't BYU's weekend when, in the second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Zylstra missed an easy dunk. Granted, he did account for two of BYU's three made three-pointers in that game, but admitted that the failed dunk was embarrassing.

"I'd never had a missed dunk in my life, especially on a fast break in a game, so I don't know what happened," said Zylstra, who couldn't help but laugh at himself.

Things have been worse for point guard Matt Carlino. After playing well in the first two games of this season, he has struggled mightily ever since, only scoring a combined four points in the last three games. During that span, he has only shot 2-of-22 from the field.

As a senior team captain, Zylstra said he tries to provide encouragement to players like Carlino that are struggling.

"Yeah, I like to talk to people about it because it's something that I've been through, everybody that's played basketball has been through, so it's a hard time when you're going through a slump like that," said Zylstra, adding that Carlino has been doing a great job of facilitating this year and that he will be fine.

Zylstra said the shooting struggles in the two losses may have been due to the foreign venue that the team was playing in, and while that could very well be true, BYU's opponents didn't seem to have any problems. The two losses came against preseason top-25 teams Florida State and Notre Dame, which combined to shoot 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) from outside against the Cougars.

Meanwhile, in BYU's three wins, the Cougars have held their opponents to a combined 13-of-58 (22.4 percent) from outside.

So, perhaps the level of competition is to blame. Thus far, the Cougars haven't shown much to indicate that they will do better than they did last year against the better teams on the schedule.

"Give credit to them, they're both great teams, high-caliber teams," said Zylstra about Florida State and Notre Dame. "They'll both be most likely in the top 25 when the year comes to an end."

In any event, Zylstra said that the team focused this week on their defensive rotations after the poor showing in New York.

"We were a step slow everywhere, that's why they got open shots," he said. "It wasn't like they were hitting contested shots, everyone, so we need to get there and get a hand in their face and make the shots a lot harder."

While BYU thus far hasn't shown to be better than last year, the season is still very young.

BYU's new players have been getting inconsistent minutes thus far – Coach Rose even said prior to Wednesday's game that confidence is an issue for junior college transfer Raul Delgado and that he doesn't feel real comfortable out on the floor. Delgado was one of the players counted on to help improve BYU's outside shooting, as his 93 three-pointers last season in junior college were nearly twice as many as Zylstra's team-high 50.

Couple the new players and adjusting rotations with the fact that Anson Winder has barely played because of an ankle injury that he is getting over, and this Cougar team appears to still be a work in progress.

"I don't know if we'll get to where we want to be," said Zylstra. "Hopefully we're always increasing. You know, we want to reach our peak towards the end of the year when we have our tournaments, and so, yeah, it is a work in progress. We're kind of feeling it out, we're finding our roles. The bench guys, the starters, we're all trying to see what we want to do and what Coach wants us to do and what we need to do to get a win."

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