As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
3. BYU Cougars
Don't blink, you will miss something. The Cougars have ranked in the top-ten nationally in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, in all four years since moving to the West Coast Conference. They've been top-15 nationally in scoring for the past six seasons. The high-octane attack shows no sign of slowing, and why should it? BYU has made five NCAA Tournaments in those past six years. Their one year off during that span (2013) saw them run to Madison Square Garden and the NIT semifinals. Not bad.
How to replace Tyler Haws, BYU's all-time leading scorer, is the most obvious question facing Dave Rose and his staff this season. What's a bit more hidden is that they have to replace not only his 22.2 points per game but nine other players as well, and a whopping 62.2% of their scoring from last season.
With Cousy Award watch list finalist Kyle Collinsworth running the show for the Cougars that task isn't actually all that daunting. The 6-foot-6 senior point guard is a triple-double machine. He tallied six triple-doubles last season, which set the NCAA single-season record and tied the career record. Plus, he's older than a typical senior, thanks to spending two years in Russia on his LDS Mission. He is the only Cougar on the roster to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament — as a freshman he and Jimmer Fredette made the 2011 Sweet Sixteen — so he should be looking to bookend his career with deep runs in March.
But, without Haws, who will Collinsworth be passing the ball to?
That would be Chase Fischer, Collinsworth's backcourt running mate. The former Wake Forest Demon Deacon knocked down 103 triples last season, good for second all-time on BYU's single season mark. He's both consistent and explosive from long range, as evidenced by a 10 for 13 night behind the arc against Chaminade.
After those two things get a bit more murky.
Last season, somewhat by necessity, the Cougars often employed a four-guard lineup. However, only two of the six guards who played significant minutes last year are back (see above).
So, by necessity, the frontcourt will be more involved.
Six-foot-11 forward Nate Austin was granted a medical hardship waiver and is back for a redshirt senior year. When he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury ten games into last season the Cougars lost their only capable big man. This year they not only have Austin back, but support around him.
Kyle Davis, a 6-foot-8 junior transfer from Utah State brings both experience and a history of productivity which should mean meaningful minutes from the start. As a sophomore for the Aggies in 2013-14 he started 27 games and nearly averaged a double-double with 9.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Behind those two are two young bigs who received interest from high-major programs. Corbin Kaufusi, who struggled early but came into his own late, and started the final 13 games of the season, seems to have fully adapted to Division 1 basketball — the 6-foot-10, 255 pound sophomore was recruited for football by Stanford. Jamal Aytes was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school who then spent one semester at UNLV before transferring to BYU. Aytes sat out last season with an ankle injury but is now healthy and eligible from the get-go.
Among BYU's freshmen, Nick Emery is the favorite to win the WCC newcomer of the year award.
The 6-foot-2 Emery isn't just one of the most accomplished players to ever come out of Lone Peak High School, which he led to a 26-1 record as a senior in 2013, but is also the younger brother of BYU's all-time steals leader, Jackson Emery.
Everything is in place for another 25 win season in Provo. BYU is clearly a step ahead of Pepperdine and Saint Mary's but still a step behind Gonzaga in the WCC standings. That said, a WCC regular season title is not an outlandish expectation. A share of it, anyways.
With the best guards in the conference and a frontcourt that is better than any outside of Spokane, the Cougars should be favored against every WCC team except Gonzaga. However, BYU has failed to show consistency against lesser foes in conference play since joining the league. Those hiccups, normally on the road but occasionally in the expansive Marriott Center, have forced BYU onto the bubble for four consecutive seasons. Avoid bad losses in conference and this team won't need to sweat on Selection Sunday.
Another solid non-conference slate stands between the Cougars and WCC play, presenting ample opportunity for resume building wins.
Two teams from the Mid-Major Madness Preseason Power 15, Belmont (receiving votes) and number 15 Central Michigan, will pay visits to Provo. The holy war between Utah and BYU takes on added significance as the Utes enter the season ranked 16th in the coaches poll. A potential match with preseason number eight Oklahoma looms on Oahu, should the teams meet in the Diamond Head Classic championship game.
They've got the players, the schedule and the incredibly entertaining up-tempo system. Time in the top-25 en route to a 25+ win season is the expectation.
This could be the year they capture their first WCC title. Though, honestly, comfort on Selection Sunday might just be enough for Cougar fans.