Prognosticating, for fun, a bright BYU basketball future (6 items)
Some BYU fans might point out that a bright future does not necessarily have to be two or three years away for the Cougar basketball team. They might mention that this year’s team is not looking too shabby itself with a No. 11 RPI rating through Monday, Dec. 9.
So, beginning with the current team then, let’s take a closer look at the Cougars’ future.
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1 of 6. 2013-14 team
Reasons for optimism: If this season’s BYU team can stay out of foul trouble, it can compete against any team in the country. The talent is there for an NCAA Tournament run. If they can stay healthy, get a top six seed by winning the WCC tournament and get some matchups to fall their way, the Final 4 is not an impossible dream for Tyler Haws and company. Lesser teams have made Final 4 runs in recent years.
Biggest question marks: BYU’s most glaring weaknesses this season seem to be a lack of depth and experience in the frontcourt and a lack of defensive identity overall. Short of Haws or Matt Carlino putting up 40 points on 70 percent shooting per game, if the Cougs want to advance more than one game into the NCAA Tournament they will need: accelerated progression from Luke Worthington, Eric Mika and Kyle Collinsworth; more all-around game from Haws; smarter shot and pass selection from Carlino; better free-throw shooting; and more passion and toughness on defense.
Predictions: 1) Finish second to Gonzaga in WCC regular season and tournament. 2) Make NCAA Tournament as No. 8 seed. 3) Win first game in the tournament and then lose to No. 1 seed.
2 of 6. 2014-15 team
Reasons for optimism: There are no seniors on the current BYU team. The current players will be one year more experienced and confident. Guard play should be very strong.
Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer — rated a 3-star recruit by scout.com out of high school — should be a decent addition to the back court, joining the nucleus of Haws, Carlino, Collinsworth, Frank Bartley IV and Anson Winder. Jordan Chatman will also be back from his mission and could contribute.
Biggest question marks: Mika has plans to serve a mission after the current BYU season, leaving a gaping hole for the Cougars to attempt to fill. The frontcourt, therefore, will likely be even more of a concern than it is currently. Nate Austin will be back. Worthington, who at last check was leaning toward playing four straight years, should be improved and more confident. Isaac Nielson, a 6-foot-10 big man currently on a mission, could challenge for playing time, as well as 6-8 Ryan Andrus, who will be a true freshman. Outside of Austin, Dave Rose will be looking for at least one of these guys to take a large step forward.
Predictions: 1) BYU will play small with Collinsworth at power forward most of the time. 2) Sweet 16 at best, more likely out in the second round again.
3 of 6. 2015-16 team
Reasons for optimism: Collinsworth is a senior. Nick Emery makes his debut. Bartley and Fischer return with more experience.
Barring surprises, BYU’s starting five should look something like this: PG-Emery (Fr.), SG-Fischer (Sr.), SF-Bartley (Jr.), PF-Collinsworth (Sr.), and C-Worthington (Jr.). Challenging for minutes off the bench should be: C-Neilson (So.), SG-Chatman (So.), PF-Braiden Shaw (Fr.), PF Jakob Hartsock (Fr.), SF-Zac Seljaas (Fr.), and PG-Cory Calvert (So.).
Biggest question marks: How ready will Emery be fresh off his mission? Will Worthington and the big guys step up, or will the frontcourt be a disaster this season? How good will Bartley and Fischer prove to be? How much time will the other freshmen and returned missionaries need to regain their legs and confidence?
Prediction: 1) BYU will make the NIT postseason tournament as a No. 2 seed, where it will win at least two games.
4 of 6. 2016-17 team
Reasons for optimism: Michigan had the Fab Five back in 1991. In 2016, BYU will have the Faithful Four as Mika, TJ Haws and Payton Dastrup return from missions to join with Emery, now a year removed from his mission. Bartley is a senior and may prove to be the best player on the team. The Cougs have a lot of talent and depth all over the roster, especially the frontcourt in a sudden reversal.
Projected starting five: PG-Emery (So.), SG-Haws (Fr.), SF-Bartley (Sr.), PF-Dastrup (Fr.), C-Mika (So.). Also challenging for minutes should be: PF-Worthington (Sr.), C-Neilson (Jr.), SG-Chatman (Jr.), PF-Shaw (So.), PF-Hartsock (So.), SF-Seljaas (So.), SG-Jake Toolson (Fr.), PF-Dalton Nixon (Fr.) and PG-Calvert (Jr.).
Biggest question marks: How good will Mika, Haws, Dastrup, Toolson and Nixon be fresh off their missions? Will Bartley provide senior leadership? Will there be enough shots and minutes to go around? Who will redshirt?
This looks to be an extremely talented team that could be very dangerous by NCAA Tournament time if everybody, or even most guys, live up to expectations.
Predictions: 1) Finish second in the WCC in the regular season. 2) Win the WCC tournament. 3) Lose a close game in the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed. 4) After the season, BYU moves into the Big 12, increases pay for the whole staff and begins the next preseason ranked in the top 10.
5 of 6. 2017-18 team (first season in Big 12)
Reasons for optimism: Four ESPN Top 100 players in the starting lineup, all at least one year removed from missions. The Cougs also have incredible depth with several other highly regarded players further removed from missions.
Rabid fan base packs the Marriott Center for each game as the Cougs finally join a “power conference,” much to the chagrin of Ute fans.
Projected starting five: PG-Emery (Jr.), SG-Haws (So.), SF-Chatman (Sr.), PF-Dastrup (So.), C-Mika (Jr.). Also challenging for minutes should be: C-Neilson (Sr.), PF-Shaw (Jr.), PF-Hartsock (Jr.), SF-Seljaas (Jr.), SG-Toolson (So.), PF-Nixon (So.) and PG-Calvert (Sr.).
Biggest question marks: Will any of these guys be so good that they go to the NBA before the season? Will egos or putting on a show for NBA scouts take away from team basketball and success? Will talented players get tired of being overlooked on the bench and transfer?
Predictions: 1) Finish the regular season with only one out-of-conference loss — at eventual Pac 12 champion Utah. 2) Win the Big 12 regular season. 3) Lose on a buzzer beater in the Big 12 championship game to Baylor. 4) Make it to the Final 4 as a No. 2 seed. 5) Fall to Florida in overtime to narrowly miss national championship opportunity. 6) Have Rose named national coach of the year. 7) Begin next season ranked No. 1 in the country after Mika, Emery, Haws and Dastrup return for one more shot together after all being projected as late first to early second-round draft picks.