Despite the early departure of dominant inside presence, Eric Mika, the BYU Cougars aren’t expected to take much of a step back during the 2017-18 campaign.
While most prognosticators don’t anticipate that the Cougars will compete for an NCAA Tournament berth or the top spot in the West Coast Conference, they do see BYU as one of the top three or four teams in the WCC and a top 60 to 100 program in the country.
Matt Norlander of CBS Sports has the Cougars rated the highest, coming in at No. 62 in his ranking of the 351 men’s Div. 1 college basketball teams.
Speaking of the Cougars, he wrote, “Think I’m relatively high on the Cougs. TJ Haws is going to put up 20-plus points per game, and Yoeli Childs is only known in league circles, really, but he’ll be a top-10 player in the WCC. Nick Emery will be a top-15 player in the league. There’s enough here. Still a solid No. 3 team in the conference. ”
Dab Hanner and Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated had the Cougars as the 80th ranked team overall and the third best team in the WCC. They also ranked the Cougars as the 47th best offense in the country, but just the 134th best defense.
John Gasaway of ESPN had the Cougars ranked the lowest, landing at No. 87.
Like Norlander, Will Maupin of Mid-Major Madness has the Cougars as the No. 3 ranked team in his West Coast Conference preseason power rankings.
Speaking of the Cougars lineup this season, he wrote, “Dave Rose’s teams are always talented and experienced. With nine players on the roster having played meaningful minutes in a BYU jersey, this year is no different. Shooting guard TJ Haws (13.8 ppg) was an all-WCC first-teamer last year, and forward Yoeli Childs (9.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) made the all-freshman team. The pair of sophomores give BYU a strong one-two punch that should elevate the program for seasons to come.”
The West Coast Conference coaches also expect a lot out of Haws and Childs as both were picked to the preseason All-WCC First-Team. Haws, a First-Team all-conference selection a season ago has already shown through much of his freshman campaign that he has the game to be an impact player.
As for Childs, he has been a force for the Cougars through the team’s scrimmage and two exhibition games this season. Not only has he shown the ability to finish at the basket with some rim-rocking dunks, but he has also developed a more consistent outside shot that should open up more scoring opportunities. He is also an elite rebounder who will be counted on as the Cougars defensive backbone because of his ability to protect the rim.
But for the Cougars to step forward and contend for a Tournament berth and anything other than third place in the league, they need to have guards Elijah Bryant and Nick Emery step up.
Bryant is an excellent ball bandler who can score from both inside and out. He had a solid season in 2016-17, but was slowed with some injuries that limited him.
At this point, there is no telling what kind of impact Emery will have during his junior campaign. He could never find any consistency during a rocky sophomore year. He would score 30 one night, then score in single digits the next three games. Even with those struggles, he is a proven scorer who is just one of four players in BYU history to reach the 1,000-point scoring plateau as a sophomore.
But none of that matters if he isn’t on the floor. And he may miss some time thanks to an NCAA investigation involving improper benefits.
While those are by far the most proven players on the Cougars’ roster, there are plenty of other returners who should make a difference. Back from missions and expected to contribute right away are Luke Worthington, Zac Seljaas and Dalton Nixon.
Worthington is an inside presence who was solid on the glass and on defense during his first two years, but didn’t provide much offense. That may change this season, as he has shown some nice touch around the rim and from the foul line.
Seljaas is one of the best shooters the Cougars have ever had, at least that was the case during his freshman year when he connected on 50 percent of his 136 attempts from beyond the arc. If he can return to form, the team’s outside shooting should be much improved
Nixon didn’t see much time during his first season with the Cougars, but showed during the exhibition season that he is ready to contribute.
Another player to watch will be newcomer, Jahshire Hardnett. Hardnett is a tough nosed lead guard who can run the offense and play really solid defense. He originally signed to play at Fordham out of high school, but after redshirting, ended up playing his freshman year with Chipola College.
While he will play a big role either way, he will be counted on much more if Emery has to miss any games.
Other new faces who should see some time are wings Kajon Brown and Rylan Bergersen while the front court will be bolstered by returnees Payton Dastrup and Braiden Shaw along with returned missionary, Ryan Andrus.
With a talented roster and a softer than normal non-conference schedule, the Cougars should reach the 20-win mark for the 13th year in a row, but anything past that will depend on how the team gels early on and if they can avoid the losses to less talented conference foes that have plagued them the last few seasons.