BYU basketball eyes new year hoping for increased success
The last time the BYU men’s basketball team made the NCAA Tournament was in 2015, when it was a First Four entrant and lost to Ole Miss.
Three straight trips to the NIT has the fan base grumbling about a stagnant program. But being as this is the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, all things are possible, including improvement from the Cougars.
Here are some of the more intriguing stories that took place during 2018:
More than a smack on the wrist
BYU likes to believe it runs a clean program, but the Cougars went on NCAA probation in October after an investigation into Nick Emery’s association with several boosters and alleged improper benefits. BYU has appealed the penalty, which includes forfeiting the wins that occurred while Emery was deemed ineligible. Emery was suspended nine games and returned in early December. But the repercussions are still to be felt in the program.
For the second straight season, BYU lost in the first round of the NIT. In 2017, it was a home loss to UT Arlington. This time it was on the road in Palo Alto, where a last-minute comeback fell short in an 86-83 decision at Stanford. An even bigger hurdle for the postseason is the WCC Tournament, where the Cougars have been to the championship three times since 2011 without a win.
So hard to say goodbye
How does a 2018-19 roster with Eric Mika, Elijah Bryant, T.J. Haws, Yoeli Childs and Nick Emery look to you? We’ll never know, because Mika left the program for a pro career after his sophomore season in 2017 and Bryant did the same thing last year after a strong junior campaign. Both players said their age was a factor but the fact is both are playing overseas and nowhere near the NBA. That says a lot about the BYU program and how those players feel about it.
Getting by the Gaels
BYU had lost five straight times to Saint Mary’s, including a maddening 74-64 overtime defeat in the Marriott Center. Finally, the Cougars bested the Gaels when it mattered: In the WCC Tournament semifinals. Childs (33 points) and Bryant (25) combined for 58 points to lead the Cougars to an 85-72 victory and a berth in the WCC Finals. One night later, Gonzaga raced past BYU 74-54.
Yoeli comes back
After testing the NBA waters, Childs announced in May he was returning for his junior season. He’s married now and averaging 22.3 points and 10.1 rebounds through 15 games. If BYU doesn’t make the postseason, why would he delay a pro career and come back as a senior?
The college basketball scene is more transient than ever. Last season, nearly 800 players left Division I programs for perceived greener pastures. BYU is no exception to this trend. Junior college transfer Kajon Brown left the program last winter after just six months in Provo. In the offseason, Bryant elected to begin his pro career and Payton Dastrup exited for Oregon State. Ryan Andrus and Braiden Shaw were forced to give up basketball due to injuries. On the plus side, BYU gained former Utah Mr. Basketball Jesse Wade, who transferred from Gonzaga.
Jimmer, the ‘Lonely Master’ in China
Meanwhile, a world away, former Cougar Jimmer Fredette is dominating the Chinese Basketball League playing for the Shanghai Sharks. He’s averaging better than 36 points per game and the Chinese basketball fans love him like he’s one of their own. Fredette led his TBT team to the semifinals this summer, averaging better than 30 points per game. There doesn’t appear to be an NBA future for BYU’s most beloved player, but he seems to be doing just fine where he is.
Signing on for more
Despite a three-year drought from the NCAAs, Dave Rose received a contract extension in 2018 that keeps him locked up until the 2020-21 season. A slow start to the 2018-19 season and three straight NIT appearances has BYU fans wondering if that was the right move.
To the defense
Heath Schroyer returned to the program in the summer of 2017 as an assistant coach with a promise that the Cougars would play better defense. The emphasis on that end produced some better defensive numbers in 2017-18 but ultimately no better finish for the program. Schroyer left after just one season to take over at McNeese State.
The biggest mystery over the past couple of seasons is the poor 3-point shooting displayed by the Cougars. Last year, BYU made just 35 percent from beyond the arc and this season it is connecting on only 30 percent.
BYU has had two full summers to explore the wonders of having its own practice facility. However the Marriott Center Annex has been utilized, the results have been less than stellar. One of big advantages of building a practice facility was so that players could go in and shoot whenever they wanted. So far, it isn’t helping.
The only tangible advantage of the MCA is that the Cougars don’t have to compete with Christmas Around the World for practice time. Maybe they should go back to practicing in the Richards Building, the Smith Fieldhouse or even a local stake center to get their shooting touch back.