No. 17 BYU Thriving On Defense As They Prepare To Host Bellarmine

Dec 21, 2023, 11:36 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2023, 1:25 pm

BYU Basketball, Trey Stewart, Defense...

No. 17 BYU basketball gets set to host Bellarmine on Friday at the Marriott Center and they will look to uphold the 'standard' on defense. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – Most of the attention on No. 17 BYU basketball has been focused on the offense.

That’s because the Cougars are the only Power Six team firing up more than 30 three-pointers per game. BYU averages 33.5 attempts from beyond the arc through the first 11 games. The next closest among power conference teams is Alabama at 28.7.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is how BYU performs on the defensive end.

BYU basketball is ninth in defensive efficiency ratings

The 10-1 Cougars are No. 9 in adjusted efficiency ratings for defense by KenPom as they get set to host Bellarmine on Friday night (7 p.m., Big 12 Now on ESPN+, KSL NewsRadio).

BYU boasts the nation’s No. 1 scoring margin, beating opponents by 27.9 points per game. What’s changed on defense for Mark Pope’s team?

“I think the thing I’ve been most pleased with is been our real-time communication,” said Mark Pope. “…So courtesy of the squad and my staff, it was kind of a universal try this summer to be like, we’re not talking anymore. So we actually carved out time, every single possession, every single practice for our guys to huddle up and evaluate and talk to each other and coach each other.”

Pope continued, “We’re kind of in the habit where we’ll huddle up after a possession or a play or a series. And coaches are allowed to stand and listen while the players kind of break it down about what they did well and what they want to do better. It just has become contagious.”

BYU is 13th nationally in scoring defense through the first 11 games, allowing only 61.2 points per game. The quality of opponents will ratchet up significantly next month as BYU gets set for its inaugural run through a Big 12 conference schedule.

“The Standard”

Players are buying into the new approach on the defensive end.

“We kind of talk about this thing where we call our ‘Standard.’ We have the ‘Standard,’ and we’re supposed to uphold the standard,” said BYU guard Trey Stewart. “If we’re down 20, if we’re up 30, it doesn’t matter. The standard is the standard. That’s a phrase that’s been kind of consistent throughout our team.”

Friday night will be a good test for BYU’s improved defense as they face a Bellarmine team with entire possessions where they don’t dribble the ball.

Mark Pope tweaked the coaching staff in the offseason to assign second-year assistant coach Kahil Fennell to be the lead coach of BYU’s defensive efforts this season.

“As we kind of reworked the staff this summer with personnel changes and positional changes; the focus was, yes, we want everybody to share in all of the work. But we want to really focus on bringing out people’s strengths, and Coach Fennell is an unbelievable communicator on our team and has come from different places in basketball, and he has a really great demeanor and rapport with our guys. It’s the right space for him right now and he’s crushing it.”

BYU vs. Bellarmine: How To Watch, Listen

Location: Marriott Center

City: Provo, Utah

Tip-Off: 7 p.m. (MT)/6 p.m. (PT)

TV: Big 12 Now on ESPN+

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

What you need to know about No. 17 BYU Basketball

BYU is off to its best start in a season since the Sweet 16 squad in 2010-11 that also began 10-1.

The rotation for BYU could be slightly different as the leading scorer, Jaxson Robinson, did not practice on Thursday afternoon. Robinson is dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in the first half against Georgia State last week.

RELATED: BYU Basketball Availability Report Entering Bellarmine Game

The senior guard wouldn’t impact BYU’s starting five but would change who comes off the bench first. Robinson has emerged as one of the nation’s top sixth men this season, scoring 18 points per game.

A player expected to be available again off the bench is UC Irvine transfer Dawson Baker. The former All-Big West guard made his debut last week in nine minutes of play against GSU. Mark Pope had some concerns about Baker’s availability due to how his foot responded after that first game action, but Baker is expected to play against the Knights.

Then finally, tonight will be the debut for BYU freshman Marcus Adams Jr. Pope said in his weekly coaches show that he plans to give the Top 50 freshman “a couple of minutes” in his first game action of the season.

Getting to know the Bellarmine Knights

First, let’s get this out of the way since it’s BYU’s first-ever meeting with Bellarmine, you pronounce it, “BELL-er-men.”

The Knights from the Atlantic Sun Conference hail from Louisville, Kentucky.

They are in their fourth season as a Division I program and are 4-9 so far, navigating a road-heavy non-conference slate.

Bellarmine plays its home game at historic Freedom Hall, the former home of the Louisville Cardinals and host of the Final Four six times.

The Knights were last in action against Utah on Wednesday and they fell to the Utes 85-43. But in November, they only lost to Kansas State in Manhattan by single digits.

Turnovers have been a problem for Bellarmine this season, as they average 11.2 per game. Their assist-to-turnover ratio is 14-11.

Knights head coach Scott Davenport was a former assistant at Louisville under head coach Rick Pitino. BYU head coach Mark Pope played for Pitino while at Kentucky.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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No. 17 BYU Thriving On Defense As They Prepare To Host Bellarmine