Mark Pope will bring 'unique offense' to Kentucky

Adam Luckettby:Adam Luckett04/12/24

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Explaining Why Kentucky Hiring Mark Pope Is 'Underwhelming' | 04.12.24

BYU head coach Mark Pope is heading home. Big Blue Nation will officially meet its new head men’s basketball coach on Sunday at Rupp Arena. Much of the talk during that press conference will be about style of play. Kentucky is going to get very modern under the 51-year-old head coach with a career .634 winning percentage.

Pope will bring a modern offense to Kentucky. BYU’s five-out style that utilized a heavy amount of zoom action and playing through a five-man at the top of the key while hunting three-point attempts in transition will be something new at Rupp Arena.

“When you to talk to people in the basketball community, they talk about the unique offense he runs and the way he forces teams to defend. He makes them defend all the way out 27×50. They come all the way out, and the way they break it down, and they shoot the threes,” Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart told KSR on Friday. “They were third in the country in made threes.”

“Their offensive efficiency is high level. They were 81 points per game. So when I talk about why, that fits in today’s landscape of college basketball.”

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Last season, BYU ranked No. 1 nationally in three-point attempts per game (32.0), No. 4 in three-point attempt distribution (50.4%), and were top-100 in adjusted tempo. No team in college basketball shot more three-point attempts on a per-possession basis than BYU. Pope’s 2024 offense was the first power conference program to surpass 50 percent in three-point shot distribution. Creighton (48.5%), Villanova (48%), and Alabama (46.5%) were the next closest power conference teams in 2024.

The Cougars had a three-point or at-the-rim shot philosophy that led to a high two-point field goal percentage (57.5%). However, Pope still valued back-to-the-basket post touches where defenses had issues sending a double-team due to BYU’s spacing. The Cougars were a top-15 KenPom offense and a top-five offense in the stacked Big 12. That led to 23 wins and a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Pope is widely considered to be an excellent tactician, and the product on the offensive end is a major reason why.

“I think what Mark does is he brings a little bit of his style as a player when he was here and he’s matched it with some nuances to the offense that I think are really, really cool. We talked technically a lot about three on one side of the court and two on the other,” Barnhart said. “That’s a new move in the NBA and where the NBA is going, and some of the things they are doing. The players like to play that way, and he has already put that in his stuff, and it’s really good.

The 1996 team that won a national championship at Kentucky played fast, used a press defense, and shot a ton of threes. The defensive concerns with Mark Pope are valid after producing just one top-50 defense in five years at BYU but the analytics-based offensive approach could become a new identity for this program. Kentucky is betting on the modern approach to lead to on-court success.

“Mark’s on the cutting edge,” Barnhart said.

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