Life After Jimmer: How Has BYU Moved On This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Oregon vs. BYU game on Saturday.

Both figuratively and literally, the shadow of Jimmer Fredette looms large over the BYU program.  Last year’s National Player of the Year has not missed a Cougar game yet this season. Fredette has taken up a permanent spot behind the BYU bench while waiting for his professional career to begin later this month with the Sacramento Kings. From the best seat in the house, Jimmer watched the new-look Cougars easily handle Oregon at Energy Solutions Arena on Saturday, 79-65.

The Looming Presence of Jimmer Hangs Over the BYU Program

It would be natural to assume that the Cougars would struggle to replace the offense of a guy who led the nation in 2010-11 with nearly 29 points a contest. Early into the new season, though, you wouldn’t even know the difference looking at the numbers. When looking at the tempo-free statistics, the BYU offense has hummed right along. The Fredette-led Cougars were the nation’s 16th most efficient offense last year, averaging 1.102 points per possession. In early results this year, BYU has slipped all the way down to 1.101 points per possession. That .001 loss moves them to 29th in the nation this year. Dave Rose’s team plays a little bit slower than last year’s run-and-gun model (down to 70 possessions from 72 last year), and consequently it doesn’t average quite as many points. However, that is more likely just the result of games against Utah State and Wisconsin early in the season, two of the slowest-paced schools in the country.

The key to replacing Fredette’s point production has been balance. Rather than being so perimeter-oriented, the Cougars work inside-out this year. Big man Noah Hartsock leads the charge, having nearly doubled his scoring average (16.6 PPG up from 8.6 last year) in just three more minutes a game. Brandon Davies is also back following his honor code violation from the end of last season and is putting up nearly identical numbers. Swingman Charles Abouo has taken a gigantic leap forward as a senior, leading the team in rebounds (7.8) and second on the team in scoring (12.1 PPG up from 7.2 last season). Unbelievable as it sounds, when the Cougars shoot from outside, they are even more efficient as a group than they were with Jimmer dropping 30-foot bombs. Last year BYU shot 36% from beyond the arc, whereas this season the Cougars are nearly at 41% with long-range contributions coming from nearly every position on the court. “We know that Jimmer and Jackson [Emery] are gone,” Hartsock said. “We’ve got to find different players to step up and make plays.”

Early in the season, the Cougars missed Fredette’s running mate Emery at point guard more than the Wooden Award winner. In the opener against Utah State, BYU was uncharacteristically sloppy, turning the ball over 19 times. Since then, BYU has transitioned freshman guard Anson Winder into the starting point guard role and reaped the benefits. In a game-high 37 minutes against Oregon Saturday, Winder scored 10 points and dished six assists. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but his steady play resulted in better chances across the board for playmakers like Hartsock, Davies, Abouo and Stephen Rogers. As Winder continues to grow as a true freshman the Cougars will also add UCLA transfer Matt Carlino to the mix. The point guard becomes eligible on December 17, and if he can play half as well as other UCLA transfers like Mike Moser and Drew Gordon have performed away from Westwood, he could be starting for BYU sooner rather than later.

While statistically the Cougars are right on pace from last year, whether they can match the magic Fredette brought to the court remains to be seen. Early results have been inconclusive as BYU got thumped by Wisconsin and edged by Utah State in its two toughest games. The rest of the schedule has been a relative cake walk including, in a testament to how good the BYU program has become, a middle of the road Pac-12 Oregon team. The Cougars will have plenty of stiff tests ahead. Home dates with a sneaky good Weber State team and #7 Baylor stand out before conference play begins. In its first year in WCC play, BYU should be positioned to challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for a WCC crown. With a little luck, the Cougars might even crawl into the national spotlight again this season and dot brackets next March as a sexy Cinderella pick.

Even without the Jimmer.

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