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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Player Improvement

Richie Saunders, Jaxson Robinson
Jaxson Robinson and Richie Saunders have been key contributors off the bench / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

One of the key factors to BYU's rise has been its player development. Jaxson Robinson has embraced his new role off the bench to become the Cougars' leading scorer and the best sixth man in the Big 12. Richie Saunders is BYU's X-factor, sparking his team's energy with his hustle and scoring contributions at key moments throughout the season. Noah Waterman (who will be returning for another year after his medical redshirt waiver cleared) has been an excellent rebounder and sneaky weapon from long-range. Across the board, players have been embracing their roles and working together for the common goal of winning.

Many of the Cougars' best players are coming off the bench this season--like Saunders and Robinson as I mentioned before--which has made BYU's depth one of their greatest strengths. They're happy to run the floor and fire away to keep the defense on their toes for 40 minutes a game. Among BYU's bench contributors is junior big man, Fousseyni Traore. With the arrival of Aly Khalifa, Traore has seen his minutes take a significant cut. If that bothered him, though, he doesn't show it. Fouss has been a dominant force in the paint. Despite his 6'6" height, his strength and wingspan has erased any disadvantage and he continues to provide the Cougars with excellent defense and an inside scoring presence.

Seeing BYU's improvement this year has been exciting for fans across the nation, and even those who may have stopped caring about BYU since the Jimmer years. Seeing tweaks made in the right places make me optimistic about the future of this program. And as sleeping dragons Marcus Adams, Dawson Baker, Collin Chandler, and more are set to contribute next season, this isn't looking to be a one-and-done season.

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