How does this BYU team compare with the Jimmer Fredette-led 2011 squad that made it to the Sweet 16?
Apples and oranges? Yes.
At this stage of the season, this team would be tough to match last year in terms of strength of schedule, big wins, and overall excellence. While this team is 16-4 after defeating San Diego, 82-62, Monday night, at this same stage a year ago the Cougars were 18-1 with wins over Arizona, St. Mary's, Utah State and UNLV.
The only BYU loss a year ago at this mid-January point was on the road at UCLA. That team had an RPI in the Top 10 and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the polls.
Today's Cougars are ranked No. 26 in Jeff Sagarin's USA Today power ratings and RealTime RPI.com has the Cougars hovering around 40.
This year a trio of players have emerged in a big way. One of them, Matt Carlino, was tucked away on the bench a year ago, kind of like food storage.
Last year Noah Hartsock averaged single-digit scoring in the shadows of Jimmer Fredette. Last month, he was the WCC player of the month. He averages 10 more points a game than a year ago.
This squad of Dave Rose's is capable of scoring, but struggles to stop the other guys. Rose's recipe to overcome that weakness is to out-score opponents.
A year ago the Cougars had two outstanding guards — two of the best in school history — handling the ball almost all the time with Fredette and Jackson Emery. This year's backcourt is a work in progress that has settled on Carlino the past 10 games.
This year's squad is deeper, but much younger. It doesn't play defense as well, but is more well-rounded in terms of offensive contributors. This year's team uses 11 players, four of them freshmen. Rose may be cutting minutes down to eight as WCC play hits the midway point.
The best indicator that Rose's system is working is the elevated production of post players Brandon Davies and Hartsock. He's gone from a guard-oriented attack to a power post play, classic-inside out.
In last Saturday's win over Santa Clara, three Cougars scored more than 20 points when Davies got 23 and Hartsock and Carlino added 21 each. That never happed a year ago, primarily because of Fredette's firepower as the nation's leading scorer.
In fact, you'd have to go back 62 games, to March 6, 2010, to find a BYU team that had three 20-plus point scorers in a single game.
On today's team, six different players have scored 20 or more points. A year ago, six players also had 20-plus point games but one of those, Hartsock, only had one. This year he's had six heading with two months to play.
The other big difference is the production of Davies. A year ago Davies had two games in which he scored 20-plus. This year Davies has been on a tear, scoring 20 or more four times.
Against San Diego in Provo, Davies had 21 points and a career-high 22 rebounds. It was the first 20-20 game by a Cougar player in 37 years. So far in five West Coast Conference games, Davies is averaging 19.8 points and 10 rebounds and shoots at a 51.5 percent clip.
A year ago, Dave Rose primarily used eight players with Logan Magnussen playing the fewest minutes of the regulars. Brock Zylstra played, but averaged single digit minutes.
Now, Zylstra averages 28 minutes a game, is BYU's second-best on-ball defender — behind only Charles Abouo — and has games where he's gone for 23, 26 and 22 points.
Bottom line is Rose's current edition is four games from producing another 20-game winner. It'll be his sixth in seven years. With some luck, he'll get that by the end of January with seven games to play in February, plus the WCC tournament in Las Vegas that will bridge into March.
Rose has it going. His program and the underlying recruiting base — he'll trade senior Abouo for missionary Tyler Haws — is on solid ground.
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