How BYU improved from last year's WCC team

BYU basketball has taken a major leap this season. With many of the same players returning, what changed?

Fousseyni Traore gets a layup over two UCF defenders
Fousseyni Traore gets a layup over two UCF defenders / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages
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BYU's jump into basketball relevance took many by surprise this season. One season removed from a 7-9 conference record, the Cougars improved to 10-8 through their conference slate. In typical circumstances, this would not be a big story. Teams improve or decline from year to year--that's just the natural flow of things. But this was no simple 3-game improvement, it was a complete overhaul of offensive systems and talent levels spiking upward across the roster.

The WCC was great to BYU. When the first round of conference realignment (ah, simpler times) hit the college sports landscape, BYU abandoned the MWC ship to pursue football independence. Without their home in the Mountain West, the WCC jumped at the chance to host the Cougars until greener pastures presented themselves. While a top-heavy league with legitimately great programs in Saint Mary's and Gonzaga, the WCC was never BYU's long-term plan, evidenced by the Cougars pouncing at the opportunity to join the Big 12. The level of competition was far inferior below the two WCC powers, yet BYU seemed to get worse every season in the league, dropping games against teams that most fans felt the Cougars should have been leagues ahead of. With their below-.500 record in conference in their final year with the conference, optimism was low for the programs first years in the Big 12.

Then, the miracle.

BYU is having one of their best seasons in memory, which makes no sense as they've been competing in the toughest conference in college hoops. Mark Pope's squad didn't change drastically from last year, yet the difference between these two teams couldn't be more drastic. But what happened? Who improved, and what differences can we see between this year's team and last year?