Alex Barcello showing improved defense for No. 12 BYU men’s basketball

Senior guard came into the 2021-22 season vowing to be more impactful on the defensive end.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13), Utah Utes forward Riley Battin (11) as the Utah Utes host BYU, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Provo • Alex Barcello has the biggest role on offense for the BYU men’s basketball team. He’s one of only two players averaging double figures at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken the most 3-point attempts. He averages the most minutes on the team at 31.1.

But the senior guard from Chandler, Ariz., has taken it upon himself this season to improve on the defensive end of the floor. Coach Mark Pope said recently when his star guard decided to return to BYU this season, one of the things he wanted was to have more of an impact on defense.

The way Barcello has helped the undefeated No. 12 Cougars do that so far is being locked in on learning what sets an opponent will run and calling it out to his teammates, he said last week. If he’s guarding a player with the ball, he wants to try getting a deflection as often as possible.

Pope said Tuesday that in the previous two seasons, Barcello was in the bottom 10% in the NCAA in spot-up shooting defense, which measures how many points per possession a defender allows while closing out to a shooter. BYU has tracked that advanced statistic since Pope took the job, he said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU coach Mark Pope in the final minute of the win, as the Utah Utes host BYU, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Currently, Barcello is ranked 19th in that defensive statistic, Pope said. His improvement in that specific aspect was showcased when the Cougars played Utah and he had to guard David Jenkins Jr., who is a prolific shooter.

Barcello held Jenkins to zero points in the first half of that 75-64 win.

Barcello’s increased attention to defense has made an impact on his teammates as well. Junior guard Spencer Johnson alluded to how important it is that Barcello, who is considered the team’s best player, is willing to fight on both ends of the court and take on the challenge of improving in an area in which he may not have been as comfortable last season.

“It’s huge,” Johnson said. “It really sets the tone for the whole team.”

Senior guard Te’Jon Lucas said Barcello is one of the many heads of the BYU men’s basketball snake, and he’s also been pleased to see his backcourt mate’s increased focus on defense.

“When he’s out there throwing his body on the line and guarding for 40 minutes a game, we all want to take part [in] that,” Lucas said. “So it’s just great to see him out there doing other things.”

BYU is tied for 40th in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing 59.5 points per game. The Cougars have plenty of long-armed big men who are helping with that, but Barcello making it the improvement on that end his mission this season has given the team a potentially higher defensive ceiling.

“He’s taken a really big step,” Johnson said of Barcello. “It’s been really fun to play with him and he’s been awesome.”