Dave Rose has brought BYU to the postseason every year since he took over as head coach prior to the 2005-06 season. The Cougars have also won at least 20 games in all 13 seasons and at least 10 conference games every year in that span. Since joining the West Coast Conference in 2011, BYU has never finished worse than third.
On the other hand, BYU has been to the NIT the last three years and has not advanced past the Round of 64 since 2011.
The Cougars have enjoyed (or endured) a long run of barely relevant success, consistently falling just short of the national spotlight.
The opportunity to take that next step is there in 2018-19, and that became even clearer this week when Yoeli Childs announced he would return to Provo. Childs had previously declared for the NBA Draft without an agent.
BYU will lose Elijah Bryant, who has hired an agent, but returns four of its five starters from a 24-11 squad that knocked off Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament before falling a game short of the Big Dance.
Childs leads the way, complete with his 17.8 point-per-game scoring average to go with 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Those stats were good enough to put the sophomore on the all-conference first team.
TJ Haws and Nick Emery — yes, that Nick Emery — will provide a balanced core that will be called on to put up big numbers. Haws averaged 11.7 points per game last year, was fourth in the WCC in steal percentage (2.6), and tenth in assist rate (24.3). He was, however, inconsistent offensively, and that reflected on the team. He failed to reach his season scoring average in nine of the Cougars’ 11 losses last year.
Then there’s Emery, who withdrew from school prior to the start of last season amid allegations of wrongdoing both by the NCAA and the BYU honor code office. The honor code office has since cleared him and, while his status with the NCAA is still hazy, he is back working out with the team and intends to compete next season.
Emery, who has two years of eligibility remaining, was an all-conference selection as a freshman. He struggled at times as a sophomore, but still managed to score better than 13 points per game and shoot over 37 percent from three.
Those three are the keys to BYU’s season, but whether the Cougars truly go from “good” to “relevant” will depend on whether there is a supporting cast that can help them. No other returning player averaged more than 6.0 points or 3.0 rebounds per game, and the player who put up those totals, Dalton Nixon, missed significant time due to injury.
But there’s help on the way. Four-star recruit Gavin Baxter is back from his mission and has given BYU fans plenty to be excited about. At 6’9, Baxter appears to have the size and athleticism to make an instant impact in the WCC. He could team up with Childs and create one of the top front courts in the league, and probably the most athletic.
This year’s edition of the Cougars will be challenged immediately. Fan Rag’s Jon Rothstein reported recently that BYU would travel to Nevada to open the season on Nov. 6 and kick off a home-and-home series between the two teams. If the Wolf Pack return their full team, they could be preseason top-10 nationally and a trendy Final Four pick. BYU will also play UNLV in the Las Vegas Showcase, and has games scheduled against Utah, Houston, and Mississippi State.
It should provide the Cougars with a good chance to build an at-large resume in a year where that may be more important than ever. Gonzaga is the runaway favorite in the WCC and should have a top-15 team. But with Saint Mary’s likely looking at a rebuilding year, there won’t be many opportunities for the Cougars to pick up signature wins in their league. That could make November and December a make-or-break period for their tournament chances.
The Cougars haven’t had enough firepower in the past to matter in March. The potential is there now if they can put it together.