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Matt Haarms has become an integral part of BYU’s offense. Here’s how the Cougar center has improved.

The Purdue transfer still plans on leaving after this season, but is taking as much knowledge from the Cougar staff as possible and translating it on the floor

BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) celebrates after BYU defeated San Diego State in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Provo • When it came to choosing where to wrap up his collegiate career, Matt Haarms ultimately picked BYU because of how much the coaching staff relies on analytics.

BYU coach Mark Pope broke down Haarms’ stats and pointed out where the grad transfer could improve. For the 7-foot-3 big man, the offer was enticing, particularly because he hopes to play professionally and was looking for a way to continue growing his game.

That development has been showcased lately.

Most recently, at Loyola Marymount on Saturday, Haarms shot a season-best 87.5% from the field, along with a career-best 7 of 9 showing from the free throw line. He also recorded other career highs in blocks (5) and minutes played (32), and tied his career-best assists stat (2).

“In a real simple sense, his efficiencies have gone way up just in terms of his points per possession,” Pope said. “They’ve kind of skyrocketed over the course of the season and it’s been the best he’s ever been. He’s well over a 1.00 right now.”

BYU VS. SAN FRANCISCO

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Pope said only about the top 18% of players are over the 1.00 point per possession mark, and what has helped Haarms improve has been the senior’s ability to trust finishing shots without creating contact every time.

Haarms has also learned to use his big shoulders and stay rooted to the floor longer, helping avoid foul trouble. All of that has led to the senior making a “massive jump in the last few weeks,” Pope said.

“You think about it, here he is a senior in college and he’s still growing at such a fast clip, which is really exciting for him because it means his upside is significantly higher than even where he is now,” Pope added.

While Haarms agrees that his performance at Loyola Marymount was an improvement, he doesn’t believe he’s had an overall leap in performance. The game before that, at Pacific, he was “solid,” but was disappointed with his work against Gonzaga, he said.

When the Cougars hosted the Zags Feb. 8, Haarms was unable to score, even struggling to find a shooting opportunity, and finished the night 0-1 from the field, with one rebound, one assist and one block.

That’s not good enough for Haarms, who’s sticking to his original plan and not taking advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver to come back for another season. Barring any postponements or cancelations, Haarms has about a month left as a Cougar.

“This is my last year, this is it for me,” Haarms said. “... It’s just about sustaining this performance and continuing. I’ve just been doing everything the coaches ask of me, not really taking the challenge of being more physical to heart. But it’s been one really good game, and that’s got to continue. And I’m doing everything I can get through that.”

With his collegiate career coming to an end soon, Haarms is taking full advantage of BYU’s analytics.

Assistant coach Chris Burgess will ask Haarms if he wants to go over film and the pair will break down the senior’s efficiencies. It helps Haarms realize where he is being successful (which he doesn’t always realize at times) and where he can improve.

By breaking down the numbers into specifics, like points per possession in the post — which Haarms has been really strong at — it can give players a boost. It’s one thing to be told they’re doing a good job at something, but it’s another to see the numbers for themselves, he said.

While the Cougars only have two games left on the regular-season schedule, the team could potentially play in two WCC Tournament matchups and an unknown amount of games in the NCAA tourney. Pope is excited to see how Haarms can continue to improve the remainder of the season.

“He’s just got so much promise in his game,” Pope said. “And clearly, he’s a special player, both on the offensive, defensive end. But his ceiling is still way, way in front of him, which is pretty cool.”

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