Kalani Sitake has to hope his newly hired and recycled offensive coordinator makes as much difference to BYU's football program as the return of Heath Schroyer to BYU basketball's program has been to Dave Rose.
So far, the addition of Schroyer appears to be a brilliant move. Rose was humble enough to seek his help after that embarrassing exit from the WCC and NIT last spring.
Today, Rose's birthday, his team is on a six-game win streak, soon to be at least eight.
It's just what BYU needed in the form of a new approach, philosophy and emphasis. Now 9-2, after winning the state championship of the Beehive collegiate circuit, BYU jumped from 82nd to 46th in the NCAA’s RPI. The Cougars are on the cusp of the best start since Jimmer Fredette’s final season.
These Cougars still need depth, must overcome some injuries and are susceptible to having more in what could be a long league season. Who knows if this is a squad that can challenge for a league title, conference tournament title or break the trend of settling for the NIT.
But, in the December world of preseason punditry, BYU is closer to much better things than the last several seasons of playing high-pace, race-and-shoot basketball.
After defeating Utah Saturday night, 29-point scorer and team captain Elijah Bryant talked about accountability, offseason commitment, understanding how to guard and a deep determination to be relevant. In the past month, players have talked about being more patient, elevating execution, showing greater teamwork and forcing offenses and defenses to go through all five Cougar players.
When asked about BYU’s defense, Bryant said, "I think just accountability and knowing that we can guard. There are going to be games that you’re going to win in only the 50's and 60's. I think this is the fruits of our labor for the summer, of us grinding early in the morning."
BYU’s first line of defense seems more capable of getting in front of opposing guards, defending the 3-point line and finding help from one another. Schroyer is working with fewer possessions, although Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating (considering opponents' offense) is 82nd after 11 games this season compared to an 87th rating a year ago at the end of the season.
Of the 289 field goals scored this season, 62.1 percent were assisted. The team’s shooting accuracy is 51.9 percent from the field and the Cougars just held their sixth-straight opponent to 70 points or less, something that has not happened in a decade. A year ago, BYU’s last three opponents averaged 89.
There are other elements that stand out to this early start for Rose and his help from Schroyer.
BYU has played fewer home games during this two-month preseason than any other team in its league.
Schroyer’s influence hasn’t just been on defense. His offensive strategy resembles ideology of undefeated Arizona State and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. In no way can the Cougars duplicate that talent, but in theory, they can copy stratagem.
If you look at the shot chart of the BYU-Utah game, the Cougars made almost all their field goals within five to six feet of the basket or from the 3-point line. What is missing is those “iffy” mid-range attempts.
At times, BYU is playing three to four point guards, going small and fast, making defenses react to not only the perimeter shooting but also dribble penetration from TJ Haws, Jahshire Hardnett, McKay Cannon and Bryant. All this, while respecting the range of Zac Seljaas and the inside threat of Yoeli Childs.
It has been 18 months, a summer and a half, since BYU hired strength and conditioning coach Erick Schork from St. Louis University where he had worked with the late Rick Majerus.
Schork, I’m told, has Rose’s team in better shape than a year ago, in terms of strength, endurance, mobility, and speed. Prior to Schork, Rose had a great talent in Bob Medina, who took a job as assistant athletic director at Santa Clara.
Medina, who had an extensive background working in the NBA, had an approach that was geared to a long, difficult NBA season, a routine that required less rigor in terms of frequency of certain exercises due to travel and schedules.
Schork has tailored BYU workouts to fit with a collegiate schedule in terms of the offseason and in-season demands of student-athletes.
And it has paid dividends.
Rose’s squad hosts Idaho State (3-5) on Thursday, a team with wins over Bethesda, CSUN, Northwest Nazarene and Youngstown State.
On Saturday, Texas Southern, a 0-11 team that has played every game on the road, will be in the Marriott Center. Its schedule is among the toughest in America with games against the likes of Gonzaga, Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oregon, Baylor, Wyoming, TCU and the Cougars.
Yes, 11-2 is an attainable mark before WCC play begins against Portland Dec. 28 and Saint Mary’s on Dec. 30.
The Saint Mary’s game will be the perfect measuring instrument to tell where BYU is from a year ago for birthday boy Rose and sidekick Schroyer.