Because of a high volume of players serving two-year church missions, BYU is continually a program in transition. But even by the Cougars’ standards, 2015-16 is a season of change. A combination of graduation, missions and transfers took away 10 letterwinners from last year’s team, undoubtedly one of the biggest numbers in Division I basketball.
BYU coach Dave Rose is intrigued by the players who are scheduled to join or rejoin the Cougars at various points, with some of them currently on missions. “If you look at our depth chart for the next two or three years, I think we’ve got good, young talent,” Rose says.
Rose’s immediate challenge is maximizing the skills of senior guard Kyle Collinsworth, one of the country’s most versatile players, while trying to replace guard Tyler Haws, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
All West Coast Conference predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Rose has found success with small lineups recently, partly out of necessity and partly because the WCC is a perimeter-oriented league. The Cougars adjusted well last season when center Nate Austin was sidelined by a hamstring injury after 10 games and UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes was unable to play following ankle surgery.
Austin received a medical waiver from the NCAA, so he’ll return as a senior. If he can get healthy, Aytes will increase BYU’s athleticism. Corbin Kaufusi, originally recruited to BYU as a lineman in football, continues to develop as a basketball player. He’s not much of a scorer, but he gives BYU an inside presence that many WCC teams lack.
Kyle Davis, a transfer from Utah State, is eligible this season and should provide scoring and rebounding after starting 27 games for the Aggies in 2013-14. Davis posted 16 points and nine rebounds in USU’s loss to BYU at a neutral site in Salt Lake City that season.
Jakob Hartsock could fit into the rotation as a freshman.
BYU Cougars Facts & Figures
Last season: 25–10, 15–5 West Coast
Postseason: First Four
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
West Coast Projection: 2
Postseason Projection: NIT
The 6'6" Collinsworth is a multidimensional player. He made a remarkable recovery from the knee injury that ended his 2013-14 season, averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.8 steals last year and posting six triple-doubles.
Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer functioned well in BYU’s three-guard offense amid the defensive attention given to Collinsworth and Haws. With Haws having graduated after scoring 2,720 career points to break Jimmer Fredette’s school record, opponents will focus more on Fischer. He averaged 13.2 points and shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range, hitting 10 3s vs. Chaminade.
Several candidates will compete for the role of third guard in Rose’s scheme. Jale Toolson is among the Cougars’ few holdovers from last season, while Cory Calvert has returned from a mission. Nick Emery, Jordan Chatman and Zac Seljaas are freshmen.
“We’ve got not only really talented players, but talented players that fit together,” Rose says. “The core of the group is really diverse.”
Key Losses: G Tyler Haws, G Anson Winder, G Skyler Halford
Top Players: G Kyle Collinsworth, G Chase Fischer, G Jake Toolson, F Jamal Aytes, C Corbin Kaufusi
BYU’s list of newly arrived players is usually long and complicated because so many players serve two-year church missions before or during their college careers. That’s the case again in 2015-16, with the added element of transfer Kyle Davis (Utah State). A group of freshmen and returned missionaries (some fit both categories) figure to be in the mix at guard, including Zac Seljaas, Nick Emery, Jordan Chatman and Cooper Ainge.
BYU has played in the NCAA Tournament in eight of Rose’s 10 seasons, but the Cougars have advanced to the Sweet 16 only once. They’re scarred by a First Four loss to Ole Miss last March, which Rose hopes will motivate the returning players.
Even with the loss of Haws, who averaged 22.2 points, BYU will find ways to score after averaging 81.1 points in conference games last season. The biggest issue is defensive improvement. The Cougars weren’t bad on that end of the floor, but they will need to be better — they ranked fifth in the 10-team WCC in defensive efficiency in league games — to contend for a conference title.
Like every school in the WCC, the Cougars are chasing Gonzaga. BYU has not won a tournament title in the WCC, with its most recent postseason championship coming in 2001 in the Mountain West.
The program remains popular, with its average attendance of 16,125 ranking No. 9 nationally. Construction of a new practice facility, renovation of the Marriott Center and a five-year contract extension for Rose have BYU well positioned for the future.