Is BYU’s national basketball ranking sustainable?

Is BYU’s national basketball ranking sustainable?

This article was first published in the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday night.

BYU’s race to 6-0 and a No. 19 ranking has the Cougars basketball program climbing up in projections for the Big 12. Once picked No. 13, the Cougars are now being considered a highly touted member of the Big 12’s six nationally ranked teams in the latest Associated Press poll.  

The Cougars will play Fresno State on Friday at the Delta Center before challenging Evansville and Utah in the coming days.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: Can BYU sustain its Associated Press Top 25 basketball ranking?

Jay Drew: I will say that BYU’s early-season success in basketball will continue, with this caveat: Fouss Traore must return as soon as humanly possible from the injury that caused him to miss the second half of the NC State game.

And, Dawson Baker must get game-ready soon, perhaps as soon as next week’s game at Utah. I’m not holding my breath that freshman Marcus Adams Jr. will be cleared by the NCAA any time soon. But I think the Cougars can keep winning without him, if Traore and Baker are in the lineup and also if Aly Khalifa can keep contributing like he did in the NC State game.

BYU will live and die by the 3-point shot this season. That’s no surprise. The Cougars have been shooting the ball well. But there will be times when that goes away. So there are going to be some tough nights, especially in the Big 12.

But I can’t see any reason why this success can’t continue. Kudos to Mark Pope and his staff for the work they’ve done to get this team to improve. Every player from the 2022-33 roster — most notably Noah Waterman — has improved.

Dick Harmon: We got to see one of Pope’s first practices this year and one thing that stood out was how it resembled a war zone. It was physical, rough and there was a lot of emotion on the floor. You see that in how this team plays and it’s also evident the trip to Europe created a very strong bond and chemistry. Those are features that can fuel a team through adversity and challenges and that’s why they’re ranked No. 19 at 6-0. 

BYU won’t play outside the state of Utah until Jan. 9 — 40-plus days — and are favored in every game between now and then. The Utah game will be a huge challenge, especially if Traore is not ready to play. The remarkable thing in wins over San Diego State, North Carolina State and Arizona State is how consistent the Cougars have been in rebounding, shooting and defending the 3. This is a team that will live or die with the 3, a strategy Pope took on knowing he’d face the toughest competition in the NCAA in the Big 12. The 3-pointer is the great equalizer and he can put four or five sharpshooters on the court at the same time.

The encouraging things that could help BYU stay ranked is that this team ranks first in scoring margin and 3-point field goals made and attempted per game. But what’s been impressive is that BYU is not necessarily a tall team but ranks second in rebound margin.  Rebounding is not only a physical thing but a mental effort. Pope’s team is extremely tough upstairs. But that they play so well with one another is key. It reminds me of that Jimmer Fredette team that lost to Florida in overtime deep in the tourney.

Cougar tales

BYU’s women’s soccer team pulled off a miraculous 4-3 comeback win over No. 3 North Carolina and will play Stanford in the Final Four of the College Cup in North Carolina this week. BYU’s women’s basketball team is also undefeated heading into a key game with a tough Utah squad on Saturday. BYU confirmed that football coaches Darrell Funk (offensive line) and Steve Clark (tight ends) have been relieved of their coaching duties following the loss at Oklahoma State.

In football, BYU could not hang onto a 16-point halftime lead at Oklahoma State in the season finale and ended the season 5-7.  Jay Drew wrote how the loss to OSU was a reflection of BYU’s campaign this season.

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Comments from Deseret News readers: 

I wouldn’t have fired the TE coach. When the O-line is suspect and you don’t really have a running game to speak of, BYU has shown that targeting a talented TE is one of the simplest and most effective ways of hiding those flaws and letting the line develop some breathing room. Utah did this and even now has a tough and talented TE (King) who helped them so often this season. Isaac Rex helped the Cougars many times when they couldn’t get anything else going. Also, consider that the best recruit that the Cougars have coming in is very connected to Clark and I couldn’t blame him were he to decide to transfer. The only thing that will improve BYU’s situation is if they can somehow begin to recruit better players and you just sent a strong message to the best one you had coming in.

— xert

If media reports are correct that Aaron Roderick is keeping his job as OC after the worst BYU offensive season since Ty Detmer’s offense was a major factor in a 4-win season (after which HC Kalani Sitake fired Detmer), then it appears that Sitake is hitching his future to Roderick. This decision is the worst Sitake has made as HC. It will likely cost him his job. Roderick is simply not up to the task of leading an offense in a Power 5 conference. He runs the offense, not the O-line coach or the TEs coach. Is this move by Sitake to protect his cousin, the WR coach Fesi Sitake. Isn’t WR failure as much to blame as TE issues? Does Sitake not have the courage to fire ARod? Whatever the reasons, Sitake will rue the day he decided to leave ARod in despite failures just as egregious as Ty Detmer’s, which led to Detmer’s firing. It breaks my heart to see such wimpi-ness from Kalani. ARod failed at Utah as co-offensive coordinator and Kyle Whittingham fired him. He has failed at BYU and Kalani does not look like he will do what should be done, and fire ARod for his failure. It is a sad day because I fear this will lead to Kalani losing his job after another dismal season next year with ARod running the offense.

— cy1951

Up next

  • Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 | TBA | Swimming | Toyota U.S. Open | @ Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Dec. 1 | 6:30 p.m. | Women’s soccer | NCAA College Cup | Stanford | @ Cary, North Carolina
  • Dec. 1 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | Fresno State | @ Salt Lake City
  • Dec. 1 | 7 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | NCAA Tournament First Round | Weber State | @ Provo
  • Dec. 2 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | Utah | @ Salt Lake City

BYU guard Dallin Hall drives into San Diego State Aztecs guard Darrion Trammell as BYU and San Diego State compete at BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. The Cougars are now ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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