The change in the WCC schedule has created a tough situation for the young BYU Basketball team as they have to deal with travel fatigue and playing in opponents’ gyms.
Photo Courtesy of BYU Photo
The BYU Basketball team has been forced to battle through growing pains during the 2016-2017 season. The Cougars are a young team. In fact, this is one of the youngest teams BYU head coach Dave Rose has led during his tenure as the BYU head coach.
Ten of the fifteen players on BYU’s roster are Freshmen or Sophomores. The Cougars lost one of their two seniors – Kyle Davis – for the season due to a knee injury. The other – LJ Rose – wasn’t on BYU’s roster last season.
The lack of leadership and experience in the program has created some difficulties for the Cougars, not only on the court, but also in preparation for games. Part of that preparation comes in understanding how to juggle the various duties of a student-athlete while dealing with the fatigue of hitting the road for games. The new formatting for West Coast Conference schedules hasn’t made that any easier.
Prior to this season, teams in the West Coast Conference were assigned a travel partner. Most weeks, they would either be on the road for two games, or home for two games. But prior to this season, the coaches voted to have that changed. The result, most teams will play one home game and one away game per week. Through five weeks of conference play, BYU has traveled after each Thursday game. The additional travel has limited the amount of recovery time teams have between game one and two in a given week.
“It creates a little bit of a challenge,” said BYU Head Coach Dave Rose. “The travel takes a little bit out of you, but we need to still have a preparation day.”
Coach Rose compared the new situation and finding the right mix of rest and preparation to the movie, Secretariat.
“The big question after he won the first two legs were was, ‘What do we do with the horse? Do we rest him or run him?’ They trainer decided to run him. When they got to the Kentucky Derby, he won by 31 lengths. It’s kind of the quandary that I feel, except I don’t have one horse, I got a lot of horses and we have to find the mix of what to do with these guys.”
The Cougars a 6-3 record in conference play. They are 4-0 at home and 2-3 on the road. Two of the three losses came in games that the Cougars were favored – San Diego and Santa Clara. But the Cougars were unable to find a rhythm in those games. Playing on the road is very difficult at the college level. Teams will enter an uncomfortable environment and often struggle to come out on top.
Comparing BYU’s results at home and on the road, the Cougars average 91 points per game in the Marriott Center while holding opponents to 66.5 points per game. They outscore teams by an average of 24.5 points per game. On the road, BYU averages 70.8 points per game and give up 73.6 – a margin of -2.8 points per game.
BYU is a team that has a target on its back in the WCC due to its widespread fan base. BYU fans will pack opponent’s gyms – often outnumbering the home team’s fans – creating an electric atmosphere and providing a chip on the shoulder of players, and fans. When opponents find some momentum, they are able to build on the energy and it’s often difficult for the Cougars to overcome, especially in unfamiliar territory.
This combination of youth has added to the struggles for the Cougars. Veterans have the experience to overcome adversity on the road while younger players are more susceptible to failure in similar situations.
The 2016-2017 season became a perfect storm of chaos for the Cougars roster. While this may be the most talented team – on paper – the Cougars have ever featured they lack experience at the college level. BYU’s starting lineup features five former ESPN 100 players, but only one – Nick Emery – was even on the roster last season. Two – TJ Haws and Eric Mika – were on missions, one – Yoeli Childs – was in high school, and the last – LJ Rose – only played 27 minutes due to injury.
BYU has the talent to compete for a WCC championship in the years to come. Despite several set backs, bright spots have come through from this team’s young players. The core group -along with additions of talented players returning from missions – will continue to grow and develop as they battle together on the court and become more comfortable with basketball at the college level.