Each week in this space, KUSports.com online editor Jesse Newell will take a statistical look at one of the 10 teams that has the best chance of taking this year’s NCAA title. The statistics in this article do not include BYU’s 76-56 victory against TCU on Tuesday night.
AP/Coaches Ranking: 12th/12th
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 4th
Don’t laugh. This year’s BYU team has the underlying statistics that suggest it could make a run to the Final Four.
The Cougars are dangerous because they are a balanced team. BYU is 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Only three teams nationally (Kansas, Syracuse, BYU) can boast of having both their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers in the top 15.
Offensively, BYU is a great shooting team. The Cougars make 41.4 percent of their threes (seventh nationally), 53.1 percent of their twos (21st nationally) and 77.1 percent of their free throws (second nationally). BYU also turns it over on only 16.7 percent of its possessions (11th-best mark nationally), averaging just 12 giveaways per game. Good shooting plus low turnovers plus a fast pace (BYU plays the 30th-fastest tempo in the country) has resulted in some monster offensive numbers for the Cougars. They average 82.7 points per game, and have scored 80 points or more in 14 of their first 23 games.
Defensively, BYU thrives in three areas: defensive rebounding, two-point defense and steals. The Cougars’ opponents are getting rebounds on just 28 percent of their misses (21st nationally) and are only shooting 42.9 percent from inside the three-point line (24th nationally). BYU also picks up steals on 12 percent of its defensive possessions, which is the 43rd-best mark in the country.
Honestly, there isn’t much to nitpick when looking at BYU’s statistics. Many analysts bring up that the Cougars haven’t faced a tough schedule, and that is somewhat true, as BYU’s schedule ranks 119th according to KenPom.com. The Cougars do have victories vs. Arizona State (by 13), at Arizona (by 30), vs. UNLV (by four) and at San Diego State (by two), so to say they haven’t played anybody would be a bit of a stretch.
BYU isn’t a good offensive rebounding team, pulling down just 32.1 percent of its misses (212th nationally). The Cougars also average just 21.4 free throws per game — a number they could stand to have higher with their impressive free-throw shooting.
Players to watch
Jimmer Fredette might be the best college basketball player in the nation that you’ve never heard of. The 6-foot-2 junior (who scored 49 in BYU’s victory over Arizona) shoots 31 percent of his team’s shots while in the game (that’s the 71st-highest percentage nationally), but he backs it up with tremendous offensive output. He’s actually made a higher percentage of his three-pointers (46 of 95, 48.4 percent) than two-pointers (93 of 198, 47 percent) this season. He fills up the other stat categories as well, averaging 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals. Perhaps the best part of Fredette’s game comes from the free-throw line, as he draws 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes (89th nationally). He takes advantage of those fouls, too, making 89.7 percent of his free throws. If you’re looking for someone who has potential become America’s next great hero/underdog in the NCAA Tournament (Davidson’s Stephen Curry, anyone?), Fredette could be that guy.
Defensively, look out for 6-foot-3 guard Jackson Emery, who averages 2.8 steals per game. He swipes the ball on 5.8 percent of the defensive possessions he’s in — the third-highest percentage in the nation.
BYU might not have a big name, but statistically, the Cougars are among the best (and most balanced) teams in the nation. With a game-changing guard like Fredette, don’t be surprised if BYU ends up in the Final Four — and don’t be surprised if Fredette gets Stephen Curry-like hype along the way.