BYU men's basketball vs. Portland

BYU guard TJ Haws drives to the basket during the 96-70 Cougar win over Portland in the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2020.

Let’s take a dive into college basketball statistical analysis.

Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. It won’t be a deep dive. There won’t be a quiz later or anything like that.

The BYU men’s basketball team has put up some pretty impressive offensive statistics through 24 games in 2019-20.

The most impressive to Cougar coach Mark Pope?

“I shouldn’t say this, but I’m super proud that we’re No. 1 in points per possession on Synergy,” Pope said. (Synergy is a basketball statistical software program). “For six years now — two years at BYU and four years at Utah Valley — we’ve been crunching and selling and agonizing over and trying to scheme around this general idea of points per possession. Now we’re the No. 1 team in American in points per possession.”

Points per possession numbers are determined thusly: Points divided by field goal attempts plus 0.44 times free throws attempted minus offensive rebound totals plus turnovers.

BYU’s mark this season is currently 1.044 points per possession.

That’s really good.

What’s even more amazing is that the Cougars are posting that number without a significant contribution from the foul line.

BYU is ranked 330th (out of 350 teams) in free throw attempts this season (315) and didn’t even shoot a free throw against Saint Mary’s until the final four minutes on Saturday.

So how is BYU doing this? With some generational type numbers is some other key categories.

The Cougars are No. 2 in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (42.4 percent) and No. 4 in overall field goal percentage (50.5 percent). In addition, BYU is No. 3 in assist to turnover ratio (1.57).

So to sum up: The Cougars really take care of the basketball and they can really shoot it.

KenPom has BYU as the No. 5 team in the country in adjusted points per possession, which takes into account strength of schedule.

Gonzaga is No. 1 and Saint Mary’s is No. 3. The Cougars were 55th in this category last season.

“It’s not because we’ve had an easy schedule,” Pope said. “It’s because we have great players, guys who can really play. That’s a little gratifying for us because we work so hard at it. I can’t tell you how many recruits we’ve had come in here and then go into a coma after 90 minutes of us just trying to sell the analytic part of the game to them.”

The Cougars — 6-3 in West Coast Conference play and 17-7 overall — has shot 50 percent or better from the field in seven straight games.

On the court

For the first time this season, BYU sophomore forward Gavin Baxter took a pass from a teammate in practice, rose up high in the air, dunked the ball with two hands and did a chin-up on the rim.

Baxter was practicing in a red jersey on Tuesday after being cleared by his doctor to participate. Baxter suffered a torn labrum and had surgery in early October.

“He’s been cleared in terms of his shoulder being healthy, but strength-wise we’ll have to see where he can get to the point where he is actually better,” Pope said. “He ran up and down a little bit but I didn’t let him get tired. I don’t want him on the floor right now when he’s tired. I told Rich (Harward) that he wasn’t allowed to touch him and Rich kind of forgot a couple of times. That scared me to death.”

As to when or if Baxter would play in 2019-20, Pope said on his coaches show on BYUtv that he and his staff will proceed cautiously.

“We’ve talked about this a lot over the last several weeks,” Pope said. “Gavin is pretty adamant he loves this team so much and he’s so excited to compete with this group of guys that if he can get healthy and get to a point that he can help the team, I think he really wants to do it.”

Senior guard Jake Toolson rolled his ankle in the first half against Saint Mary’s but continued to play. He missed practice on Tuesday as he recovers.

“He’s good,” Pope said. “I don’t know what he’s going to be. He’s limping around. He threw a football with me before practice. His arm is great. He was freaking throwing a laser.”

Sophomore guard Connor Harding missed practice on Tuesday as well due to illness.

“Connor was throwing up last night and this morning,” Pope said. “Hopefully it’s just a little food poisoning. These college kids eat all kinds of crazy stuff.”

Pope said Harding — who is wearing a knee brace — has been on a modified practice schedule to save wear and tear.

“It worked really well for us last year,” Pope said. “He was more mobile this past weekend than he’s been the last month and we need that from him.”

Scouting Report

BYU routed Portland 96-70 in Provo on January 11 without Yoeli Childs in the lineup due to a finger injury. Zac Seljaas was 5 of 5 from the 3-point line and scored 21 points in the win.

The Pilots have lost 12 of their past 13 games, but their only win was against San Francisco (76-65 on January 4). Portland led Gonzaga at halftime before losing that game.

“Clearly they are an incredibly dangerous team,” Pope said. “My biggest concern is if my guys think that a 20-point win that we had here against Portland is going to replay itself there, they’ve lost their minds,” Pope said. “That’s not how this works.”

Last week the Pilots were blown out twice (86-64 vs. Saint Mary’s and 85-61 vs. Santa Clara). Senior graduate transfer Isaiah White leads Portland in scoring at 12.3 points per game followed by guard Jo Jo Walker at 10.8. The Pilots have struggled defensively in WCC play and are last in scoring defense (79.6 points allowed per game), field goal percentage defense (48 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (40 percent).

BYU returns home on Saturday for a another shot at San Francisco, which beat the Cougars 83-82 on January 25.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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