There’s a special number for the 15th-ranked team in the country: 41. It’s not just because 41 percent of BYU’s roster is married — that’s seven out of 17 players — but also because the Cougars shoot 41.4 percent of their shots from behind the arc. And keeping with the 40’s theme, BYU leads the country in overall three-point shooting by drilling 42 percent of their long range attempts.
It’s not hard to see how they’ve arrived at that lofty number. Four of the Cougars’ five leading scorers make at least 46 percent of their threes, and this isn’t even including senior sniper, T.J. Haws.
So what does this mean when looking at BYU’s prospects in the NCAA Tournament now that March is here? Quite a lot, actually.
The Cougars are very capable of running a team over in just a few possessions because of their offensive efficiency, which is buoyed by their three-point precision. As the fifth-most efficient offense in college basketball, the Cougars stand behind just Gonzaga, Dayton, LSU and Creighton in scoring potential. Simply put, BYU’s offense is one of the most lethal in the game. On average, the Cougars put up 117 points over 100 possessions.
In other words, the Cougars don’t stop and won’t stop. As a result, BYU has easily put up 90 points this season on five separate occasions.
Currently ranked 15th nationally, and sitting on eight straight wins, BYU is getting hot at the right time. When Mark Pope’s squad has slipped up this season, it was against ferocious competition. Four of BYU’s seven losses were by less than five points, and against the likes of San Diego State and Gonzaga. The Cougars also fell to in-state rival Utah in overtime. As the season progressed, BYU not only got their star forward Yoeli Childs back from what never should’ve been a suspension in the first place, but bounced back to beat Gonzaga.
It’s hard to equate any of the Cougars’ losses to actual “bad losses” because of the nature of how close these games were. Even in a one-point loss to San Francisco, BYU shot 53 percent from three. It just so happened that Dons’ sophomore guard Khalil Shabazz went 10-10 from the floor that night in War Memorial Gym. The only “blowout” loss that BYU has taken was a 23-point stomping in Spokane. Key factors in that disappointing result included, most obviously, no Childs, but also BYU’s worst perimeter shooting of the season.
On the flip side, BYU’s Feb. 22 win against Gonzaga symbolized what the Cougars can look like when all the pieces are in place. That night, the Cougars made 53 percent of their field goals, 40 percent of their three pointers and simply blew Mark Few’s polished team out of the water.
Even though Childs and Haws didn’t connect from three, they combined for 44 points anyway. Jake Toolson picked up the slack from behind the arc, nailing 5-9 threes. The win coming off, arguably, not even their best shooting game symbolizes the strength of the offensive juggernaut in place in Provo. The depth extends past the Childs-Haws duo and seeps into supporting cast members such as Toolson and Alex Barcello, both of whom have the ability to light up a team from three.
The Cougars’ offensive firepower is simply unmatched, and you don’t need to look any further than Childs’ 38-point outburst on Feb. 29 against Pepperdine to find out why. BYU went to halftime down by three as the Cougars struggled to match up with Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards. But what makes BYU unique is that even when having a collective off night, someone picks up the slack. Against the Waves it was senior forward Zac Selijaas, who added 10 key second-half points to support Childs’ big night.
In its totality, this BYU team is its most dangerous since Jimmer Fredette manhandled opponents in March of 2011. Now five years (!) since their last tournament run, the Cougars are playing hungry. Childs, Toolson and Haws are all seniors with just one shot to crack the ice on the national stage, and they headline a team no one should count out.