Mark Pope’s practice dance in December was inventive.
His role behind the scenes to maintain team chemistry was Christopher Lloyd in “Back to the Future”.
A month ago, Pope was climbing high after victories over San Diego State and Oregon, boasting a top 20 ranking, a 7-0 record with dominant rebounds, a game of high guard and artistry in hitting the ball.
Then December 1 arrived.
It was the day he lost elite shot blocker, rim protector and dunker Gavin Baxter in the wake of losing the great man Richard Harward to an undefined heart problem.
It was the day BYU lost to Utah Valley University in Orem.
This month is when the Cougars have lost three games in 23 days as they hit the road for eight of nine games, but have included wins over rivals Utah, Utah State and Weber State. .
During this time, Pope saw his team wrestle on the 3 point line, recover, wrestle again. He has seen roster shifts and a struggle to find a cohesive presence at the post.
Pope kind of coached the Cougars after Liberty in Honolulu when his star goalie Alex Barcello was in trouble for the first time this season without any explanation. In Hawaii, Barcello struggled to finish, couldn’t climb, lacked energy and his shot abandoned him. He had nine points on two out of five shots, his lowest result of the season in 23 minutes in the victory over Liberty. In the loss to Vanderbilt, he was not himself at all.
Let’s face it, Pope’s fortune is tied to Barcello. He is the lifeblood of BYU. How’s Barcello doing, that’s how the Cougars are going to play in the West Coast Conference.
Still, the Cougars are heading to the league opener in Portland on New Years Day with an 11-3 record.
He may have found an answer to the post with freshman star Fousseyni Traore, who got a double-double (19 points and 13 rebounds) in the win over Liberty, his first career start.
Traore showed flashes of brilliance around the basket. It has length and can block shots and work around the paint itself. It will only get better.
Getting started and breastfeeding Atiki 6-foot-10 freshman Ally Atiki is a good hobby, but it’s a long-term project because he just hasn’t played enough basketball in his home. life.
Pope needs to shoot more from Caleb Lohner offensively, more consistency from Te’Jon Lucas, Seneca Knight and Gideon George.
But if you’re those three of you, you’ve got to grapple with some frustration with playing time as you struggle to find a rhythm.
He absolutely must capture, use, and depend on the 3-point abilities of Trevin Knell, Spencer Johnson, and George.
If these guys don’t become legitimate and consistent 3-point threats in the league, you’ll see Barcello’s frustration and some really tough times with Saint Mary’s and San Francisco also trying to put Gonzaga in and get a seed n ° 2. in Las Vegas.
“BYU will go as far as the perimeter game goes this season,” predicts former BYU star Jonathan Tavernari. “We know what to expect from Alex, but Te’Jon, Trev and Spence need to keep shooting well to keep us competitive. I would like Gideon to shoot more 3s and Caleb to gain confidence and aggression to shoot more also.
Without Baxter and Harward, an undersized Traore will sometimes work. But he’s going to need the firepower of the Wing and the Guards to take on the challenges of the WCC. This is the great equalizer.
On behalf of Tavernari, TJ Haws and Jimmer Fredette, BYU must be delivered remotely or the Cougars will quickly become ordinary.
Going 11-3 with a schedule filled with teams that have played in the NCAA tournament is no way.
But if you can lose to a bad Vanderbilt team, you can lose to anyone.
BYU has won victories over Utah (NET 74th, Pomeroy 72nd), SDSU (63rd, 44th), Utah State (55th, 56th) and Oregon (99th, 61st). The loss to UVU hurt, but the Wolverines beat Pepperdine and Long Beach State on the road and are 9-3 with losses to Boise State, Wyoming and Southern Utah on the road.
The Cougars have a NET ranking of No. 30 and are 27th at Pomeroy.
It’s not too bad and it’s a credit to Pope’s coaching staff, recruiting, match preparation and adjustments after losing Baxter and Harward. If this team were inept and sloppy, they would have eight or nine wins instead of 11.
On Monday, San Francisco leads the WCC’s preseason list in wins at 12-1, followed by BYU and Saint Mary’s at 11-3. Gonzaga is 10-2 and Santa Clara is 10-5. However, not all pre-conference times are created equal.
Is BYU ready to start playing WCC?
Let’s say this is a team that is progressing well towards a March product.