Apr 2, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Brigham Young Cougars players react during the second half of the NIT Tournament semifinal against the Baylor Bears at Madison Square Garden. Baylor won the game 76-70. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
At this very moment, millions of BYU faithful are counting down the hours until football season gets underway in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t one of them. It’s going to be really nice to have a functional offense with a functional quarterback again. Amidst the giddy anticipation of football season, however, the Cougars’ recent whiff on the recruiting trail of California recruit Jamal Aytes has kept BYU basketball fresh on my mind.
Let’s take a look who will suit up for BYU next season –
Frank Bartley G Matt Carlino G Kyle Collinsworth G Chase Fischer G (redshirt transfer) Skyler Halford G Tyler Haws G Anson Winder G Josh Sharp F Luke Worthington F/C Eric Mika F/C Nate Austin C
That counts only 11 guys, with 10 of them eligible to play this season. Only four players have the size to bang down low. And even that may be generous. I spotted Josh Sharp at a waterpark recently (not joking), and unless he’s packing pure muscle on that frame (he might be – I’m no doctor!), he looks the same as he did last season. Given that first person sightings at a waterpark don’t exactly qualify as the pinnacle of empirical evidence, though, what exactly can we comment on about the outlook on this season’s frontcourt?
The Cougars will rely on Eric Mika and Luke Worthington… a lot.
Brandon Davies, Bronson Kaufusi, Augustin Ambrosino, Ian Harward – all gone. Any depth in the frontcourt flitted away with Ambrosino’s transfer and Harward’s back problems. Looking at the two bigs left… Sharp lost his minutes to Kaufusi. Austin often got into foul trouble.
Now, to focus on the positive of the situation.
Sharp and Austin have another offseason under the tutelage of assistant coach Mark Pope. Eric Mika provides BYU with an athletic big man that can play above the rim. Luke Worthington, although a below the rim guy, will provide a wide body and toughness down low. And he understands what he can provide the most – physicality and size. In his words, via The Digital Universe : ““The team needs good, consistent rebounding from the big men and more physicality down low on defense — big physical play down low.” If Sharp can’t provide an added measure of defensive toughness, one can safely bet that Worthington will happily check in and assume Kaufusi’s role of enforcer on the court. After all, Worthington did have some offers to play football at Wisconsin and Stanford, among others.
Kyle Collinsworth will need to be the more athletic doppelgänger of Tyler Haws
As an extension of the lack of depth in the frontcourt, where will BYU turn when injuries, foul trouble and fatigue limit the big men? When they turn to 3-guard or 4-guard line-ups, who will step into the 3 or 4 position? That role will most likely be heaped upon 6’6 guard Kyle Collinsworth. Much like Tyler Haws from last season, Collinsworth returns from service as an LDS missionary. Both played solid minutes and posted good numbers as freshmen prior to their missionary service. With much of Haws’ energy being focused into getting buckets a la Jimmer, Collinsworth will need to step up on defense and on the boards. At 6’6, 210, with a healthy dose of hops, “Big Russia” will be depended on to be that guy for the Cougars. When they have to go small, he’ll have to play big. And when opposing teams go small, he’ll have to then create mismatches. Can he consistently be that guy that stepped his game up and pulled down 15 boards in the Sweet Sixteen against Florida? Cougar fans certainly hope so.
Collinsworth’s nickname is “Big Russia.” No joke. That’s where he’s been the last two years, and the nickname kind of just stuck.
The Cougars desperately need Matt Carlino to be consistently good
Matt Carlino has shown flashes of being a game changing point guard for BYU. He’s got great court vision. He’s a great passer. His jumpshot would make an emotionally closed off middle aged man without tear ducts cry on account of its pure beauty. On the flipside, he’s a fan of the heat check. His shot selection and decision making have left fans scratching their heads on many occasions. He likes to attempt the risky play on defense. And while sometimes it all works out for him, a lot of times he makes unnecessary mistakes.
Without legitimate and proven low post threats, the Cougars need another consistent playmaker aside from Tyler Haws. Carlino is that guy. Carlino is expected to be that guy. Anybody else that steps up would be a pleasant surprise. But with teams pressuring the perimeter, they’ll need to space the floor in order to get any open looks. The best case scenario would be for Austin or Mika to become a legitimate scoring option down low. If that doesn’t happen, though, Carlino will need to be consistently effective in order for BYU to score as many points as they are accustomed to. His shooting and passing are good enough, but will he deliver with more regularity? Every BYU fan wishes they had that answer.
Will BYU find depth in unusual places?
Last year, it came as a pleasant surprise that former Timpview two-sport standout Bronson Kaufusi decided to lace up the sneakers for a season. And while he may not have stuffed the stat sheet, he offered a measure of size and physicality that none of the other BYU big men other than Brandon Davies could provide.
Yesterday, BYU athletics sent out this conspicuous tweet:
— BYU Cougars (@BYUcougars) August 29, 2013
Maybe it’s more common than I’m aware of, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a public advertisement for basketball walk-ons until that tweet.
If nothing else, they’ll need guys to hit the practice floor with some intensity. But could the opening yield an unlikely source of frontcourt depth? BYU rugby, lacrosse, track & field and volleyball all consistently contend on a national level; there are elite athletes all over campus. But how many of those elite athletes are 6’6 or taller? Of course, the chances are slim of finding a diamond in the rough that can contribute a few minutes this season, but as faithful fans do, we channel our inner Justin Bieber and never say never.