The Cougars lost their last five games by an average score of 62-78. In fact, their closest loss was a 60-69 defeat at Utah. The losing streak included some of the worst losses for BYU under Head Coach Steve Cleveland. In one game against New Mexico, the Lobos shot 68-percent from the three-point line. In another, Air Force jumped out to a 21-point lead at the half while holding BYU to 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
It was BYU's worst offensive season since 1997-98, Cleveland's first year. The Cougars scored less than 25 points in 10 different halves. One out of every six games, BYU barely averaged a point a minute in a half. They had just six games where they shot 50-percent or better, while they had eight games where they shot 35-percent or worse. They had five games of 18 or more turnovers. It's tough to win with that kind of "production."
One of the biggest complaints that seemed to echo throughout the season was that the Cougars simply were not getting any better. A quick statistical comparison of the first three games of the season to the last three shows if there was any improvement over the course of the year.
The level of competition, overall, is pretty similar in both sets of games. The first three games were against North Carolina (a number one see), Stanford (a number eight seed) and Chaminade (a Division II school). The last three were against Utah (a number six seed), UNLV (an NIT team) and New Mexico (a number 12 seed).
Here's where the Cougars showed improvement:
- Field Goal Percentage: up from 39.3% to 42.5%
- 1st Half Field Goal Percentage: up from 32.2% to 50.0%
- Free Throw Percentage: up from 70.2% to 75.0%
- Three-Point Percentage: up from 27.8% to 40.3%
- Points Per Game: up from 60 to 65.7
- Assists Per Game: up from 9.3 to 12.7
- Turnovers Per Game: down from 20.3 to 13.3
Here are the areas where the Cougar did not improve:
- Defensive Rebounds: down from 26.3 to 18.7 per game
- Total Rebounds: down from 39 to 32 per game
- Fouls Committed: up from 19.3 to 22 per game
- 2nd Half Field Goal Percentage: down from 46.9% to 36.0%
- Opponent's Points Per Game: up from 68 to 76.7
- Opponents' Field Goal Percentage: up from 41.2% to 54.5%
- Opponents' Three-Point Percentage: up from 26.7% to 51.4%
- Opponents' Assists Per Game: up from 14.7 to 18.3
- Opponents Free Throw Attempts: 14 more in the first group, 31 more in the second group
Those numbers mean that by the end of the season BYU's offense had actually improved. They were shooting the ball better, especially at the start of the game. This gave them chances to be competitive in the second half of their games (of course, the decline in second half shooting percentage meant that they were not competitive for long).
Player's assists went up 35-percent, which meant that they were moving better without the ball. They were getting more open looks and then hitting them. This is particularly apparent in the team's three-point shooting (a 45-percent increase). Also, their turnovers were down considerably which shows that they were making better decisions with the ball.
While the Cougars improved on offense, the stats also show that they got worse on defense. Their opponents shot the ball much better. Their three-point shooting nearly doubled. That suggests that BYU didn't rotate well and left guys too open.
The Cougars also did not hit the glass as hard as they did at the beginning of the season. It's been said that rebounding is almost all desire. If that is the case, then BYU lost their desire by season's end.
The disparity of free throw attempts is an interesting stat. Some would blame the officiating but there are also two other possible casues. First, BYU was not as aggressive going to the hoop. They settled for jump shots instead of taking it to the rim. Second, on defense they were not moving their feet well. Fouls are called when guys are reaching and using their hands to defend instead of keeping their man in front of them.
There is another factor that could be used to explain the drop off in defensive effort at the end of the season – losing. By the final three games, the Cougars had long since played a meaningful game. At that point, either consciously or subconsciously, the players may have been simply going through the motions.
It also appears that many of the criticisms of Coach Cleveland and his offense should have been directed at the defensive side of the court. The Cougars' main problems were not on offense. They were on defense. Opponents were scoring nearly ten more a game.
Now, that does not mean that offense was running smoothly. There are still some short-comings that need to be addressed on offense. Namely, in the low post, BYU had only one low-block player to average more than five points a game – Jared Jensen. And he will not be on the team next year.
If BYU wants to compete next year, they must find a presence down low. That presence must be able to put the ball in the hole with consistency. Without that scoring threat, BYU will continue to struggle on offense.
Of course, the Cougars can "show" all the improvement they want, but the bottom line is wins and losses and that was the one area the Cougars did NOT improve. They started by losing five of their first six and finished by winning