BYU Basketball Stats: Defense, not free throws, Cougars’ real problem

It’s time to shut up about the horrible free throw shooting of the BYU basketball team.

Believe me, we here at the Sports Bros, like all BYU basketball fans, have lamented the Cougars’ pathetic efforts from the charity stripe. But it’s time to start putting the blame where it really belongs: the defense.

To all who have watched the Cougars play this season, it is no revelation that the team has struggled to get stops on the defensive end. But understanding just how bad it is requires an in-depth look at some statistics.

BYU’s fast-paced system makes it hard to gauge just how good the team is on both sides of the ball. On defense, BYU gives up a whopping 79.1 points per game, ranking them 337th out of 351 college basketball programs. No doubt that is atrocious,  but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. After all, their fast-paced style gives their opponents a lot of possessions, too. In fact, BYU opponents average 77 possessions per game, more than the opponents of all but three teams in the country. With so many more possessions to work with, it is to be expected that BYU opponents will score more points than usual.

That’s why the best way to gauge the defensive production of a fast-paced team is not by looking at how many points they give up per game, but how points they give up per possession. In this department, BYU is still sub-par, giving up 1.03 points per possession, ranking them 147th nationally. 

BYU opponents also shoot well against the Cougars. BYU allows their opponents to shoot 42.5% from the floor on average, good enough to rank them 127th in the nation. What’s worse, BYU opponents shoot 33.9% from three-point range, ranking the Cougars 158th. In effective field goal percentage, a stat that takes into account the fact that three pointers are worth more, BYU ranks 144th nationally at 48.6%. Suffice it to say, BYU’s defense doesn’t put up much of a fight.

Despite defending more possessions than almost any other team, BYU only causes a meager 11.2 turnovers per game and gets a modest 7.1 steals per game, ranking them 284th and 71st nationally. 

In short, BYU’s opponents get a lot of possession, shoot well, and, as a result, score a lot of points. This is the reason BYU has lost 9 games, not their atrocious free throw shooting. Sure, BYU’s 31 free throw attempts per game is more than any other team in the country, but even a colossal improvement would only yield a few more points per game.

But points per game is not where BYU lacks. BYU is the second highest scoring team in the country (87.4 points a game) and the twelfth best team in assists (16.4 assists per game).  And those numbers aren’t that high only because of the fast paced system; BYU ranks 29th in the country in points per possession (1.14).

Obviously, Coach Dave Rose’s fast-paced offense has translated into offensive production. But if they can’t get stops, they will continue to struggle, even though they are scoring at astounding levels.

About the author

Andy Kartchner

I have a Ph.D. in sports analytics. No I don't. But I do have a law degree. And if there's one thing I learned in law school, it's how to write about sports.

I am Big Bro. My brother, Aaron (a.k.a. Little Bro), and I make up the Sports Bros, your one-stop shop for everything BYU sports.