It is official that BYU Basketball has hired Mark Pope, but what can we expect from him?
When we think of great coaches across college basketball, we tend to think of the coach and the players as separate entities. We don’t always connect the fact that a coach actually controls the game plan and the players execute it.
With the announcement that Mark Pope will be the next Head Coach of BYU Basketball what kind of game plan can we expect? It is actually a bit more complicated than you may think.
Lack of Sample Size
Mark Pope has been at UVU for the past four seasons. In that time, we have been able to see some recruits come in, however similar to BYU, missionary service throws a wrench in things. Four of the current or graduating players served missions and many of the senior and junior classes were committed to UVU prior to Pope arriving.
UVU is also unique because it is a step up and step down school for many transfers. Of the 15 players listed on the official roster, 10 of them are transfers from other schools that range from Oklahoma State to Salt Lake Community College. How much Pope influenced these players is debatable as UVU is already a stepping stone naturally for so many players.
Getting the Most Out of His Players
Being a transfer destination for so many of the players and certainly not the first choice for many players, Mark Pope is known for getting the most out of them. The reality is, most players at UVU wanted to play for BYU or another D-1 school before settling for the Wolverines. That isn’t a knock against UVU, but a reality when BYU is literally just up the road. For many players this would be something that would limit a career and cause there to be a lack of production, but the Wolverines have a lot of team pride.
In 2017, UVU Basketball actually held tight with Duke and Kentucky for quite a while before falling behind in the second half. At one point, the Wolverines were leading Duke 17-15 and against Kentucky they actually led 37-25 in the second half of the game.
BYU fans don’t have to think hard to remember that UVU beat BYU in 2016 and even last season the Cougars found themselves trailing 54-53 with seven minutes left in the game.
Turning a Program Around, Slowly but Surely
Unless you hire Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari you can’t expect a team to pull a 180 full turnaround in one season. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably shouldn’t be a sports fan because you will find yourself more times than not unsatisfied.
That being said however, great coaches are able to consistently make a team better, and that is something Mark Pope did with Utah Valley. Pope inherited a 11-18 program that had just finished 5th in the seven team WAC. That season, they didn’t have a single win against a team with a record better than .500.
Although it was a slow and steady turnaround after Pope arrived, the Wolverines improved every season going 12-18, 17-17, 23-11 and 25-10. It should also be noted that every season the team’s schedule got more and more difficult adding more P5/P6 teams as well as more WCC and MWC teams.
Unknown Playing Style
There is a lot of questions about the playing style of Mark Pope. The offense wasn’t quick, however it also wasn’t Virginia slow. Overall they shot the ball smart making 48.3% of their shots good enough for 17th best in the country. They were 19th from three point range at 38.3%.
To this point with my analysis, I would have to say that Pope isn’t necessarily set on having a particular playing style. It appears that he tries to get the best players that he can and then brings the best out of them. More times than not however, his top few players have been guards.
Pope also plays team ball. Over the past three seasons, no player has averaged over 14 points per game. With that however, multiple players every season seem to loom around the 9-11 PPG average. To give perspective, this year for BYU Basketball, Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws averaged 21.7 and 17.3 PPG respectively and Zac Seljaas was the next best contributor with 7.1 PPG (Hardnett didn’t play in enough games to be considered a top scorer). Looking at his numbers at UVU, Pope had four or five players every season average at least nine points per game.
Defensively, Pope seems to run a hybrid man defense. In a few games I watched, I noticed that although they play man defense, Pope had his players in sort of a box zone towards the top of the key that would allow for easy switches and recoveries. It is a different style but it seemed to work alright as the Wolverines were 68th in defensive scoring last season.