2007 Basketball Blue Ribbon Preview: BYU

COACH AND PROGRAM

Entering the third year of coach Dave Rose's tenure, giddy BYU fans must be wondering what's next. Rose, a co-captain on Houston's famed 1983 team of Phi Slamma Jamma fame, has returned the Cougars to their place among the Mountain West elite.

Rose inherited a team that won just nine games in the 2004-05 season and had little returning. All he did in year one was orchestrate the nation's biggest turnaround, leading BYU to 20 wins and setting the stage for last season's success.

In 2006-07, Rose, who won league coach-of-the-year honors his first two seasons, led BYU to 25 wins, the second most in school history, and its first outright conference title since 1988. The Cougars were seeded eighth in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, their first appearance since 2004, before losing a 79-77 heartbreaker to Xavier in Lexington, Ky.

The Cougars finished the season nationally ranked (No. 24 in the Associated Press poll) for the first time since 1988. Duplicating that success won't be easy. BYU lost five seniors, including MWC Player of the Year Keena Young (17.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.5 apg), off a team that led the conference in scoring (78.1), field-goal percentage (.491), three-point field-goal percentage (.415), rebounding margin (+6.1) and assists (542).

But finding reasons a Rose-coached team won't succeed probably isn't the best idea considering the success he's had. Despite heavy losses, which include guards Jimmy Balderson (8.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Austin Ainge (7.9 ppg, 4.4 apg), the Cougars return a solid nucleus.

''Our expectations are the same,'' Rose said. ''We want to play a tough preseason schedule, win a league championship, get to the NCAA Tournament and advance. In the couple years our staff has been together, we have created those expectations with our players.''

PLAYERS

The expectations aren't unreasonable with 6-11 junior Trent Plaisted (12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 bpg) returning.

A second-team All-MWC selection last season, Plaisted is among the most athletic big men in the nation with his 41-inch running vertical leap and 4.6 40-yard dash speed. Those numbers, along with a 245-pound frame, have caught the attention of NBA scouts.

In the short term, Plaisted, who can play power forward or center, will be the focal point of the BYU attack. He is a good offensive player, shooting 54.6 percent from the field, but he shot a woeful 49.2 percent from the free-throw line, a number that must improve as his touches increase.

''I think Trent is going to continue to get better,'' Rose said. ''The best thing about Trent is he loves the game and he continues to work hard at it. He is 6-11 and he is the best runner on our team as far as time and distance. He is extremely athletic. The more time he spends and the more experience he gets the better he will become. There are very few people that come and watch him play that aren't impressed by his athleticism.''
What has yet to be determined is who will be playing alongside Plaisted. Senior Vuk Ivanovic (2.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg), a 6-10 native of Serbia, will get the first shot at the position. Playing be-hind Young and Plaisted, Ivanovic saw limited minutes in his first season in a BYU uniform, averaging less than eight minutes in the 24 games he played.

Like many Europeans, Ivanovic, who played NAIA ball at Seton Hill before transferring to BYU, is a skilled big man who passes the ball well out of the high post. Ivanovic could be poised for a breakthrough season, but his minutes are far from guaranteed.

Returning to the team, after a two-year LDS mission in Oregon is 6-11 sophomore Chris Miles (2.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 2004-05). Miles started 6-of-28 games as a freshman and led the team in blocked shots (30), despite limited playing time.

''It's a different situation for every player that goes through [a mission],'' Rose said of Miles' return. ''I expect Chris, because of his work ethic and how tough he was his freshman year, to get back in shape and be in a position to help this team.''

In addition to his success on the court, Rose has been equally productive on the recruiting trail, landing the last two MWC Freshmen of the Year. Chris Collinsworth, a 6-9 freshman, has the talent to make it three in a row. Collinsworth (14.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.3 apg), led Provo High School to a state runner-up finish and was a three-star national recruit, according to Rivals. He could see time at either forward position.

Junior Gavin McGregor (1.2 ppg, 0.5 rpg), a 6-9 center, and 6-11 freshman James Anderson from Page (Ariz.) High School, will provide depth.

Junior Lee Cummard (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.7 apg) will pace BYU's perimeter attack. The 6-6 Cummard, a third team all-conference selection, is the team's best returning three-point shooter. He shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc last season and made 40 threes, a number that should increase.

But Cummard isn't a one-dimensional shooter. The strength of his game is versatility. He's an excellent rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass, and he was the team's best defensive player on the wing a season ago. ''He is a complete player,'' Rose said. ''He is a great passer into the post and he can help break pressure in the backcourt. He is going to be a real good player in this league.''

Sophomore Jonathan Tavernari (6.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.6 apg) could step into a starting backcourt position alongside Cummard. The reigning MWC freshman of the year, Tavernari had a productive summer. The 6-6 Brazilian worked hard to diversify his game, which was very dependent on the three-pointer last season.

He was a deadly shooter off the bench as a rookie, making a school-record six consecutive three-pointers during one torrid stretch against TCU. He proved capable of big offensive games, scoring a career-high 18 points on three occasions, but he will play a much more vital role this season, so consistency will be a must.

Senior Sam Burgess (3.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg) will also compete for an expanded role. A deadly three-point shooter -- he made 15 of his 31 attempts (.483) last season -- the 6-3 Burgess could step into void left by the graduation of Mike Rose, the team's designated bomber off the bench. It's not out of the question Burgess could earn a starting spot, but his ability to shoot and defend might make him a perfect sixth man.

Junior college transfer Archie Rose (12.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), no relation to the coach, could figure heavily into the backcourt rotation as well. Rose, who was recruited by Oklahoma, LSU and Texas Tech out of high school, was a standout at Northeastern Colorado Junior College, where he averaged 12.2 points and 6.1 boards as a sophomore. Freshman Michael Loyd (16.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 apg), a 6-2 combo guard, led Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas to the Sunset Northwest League title and should have a very productive career at BYU. The challenge for Loyd this season will be finding minutes. He won't be ready to run the team on a consistent basis as a freshman, and there are a lot of experienced players competing for minutes at shooting guard.

The biggest area of concern entering the season is at point guard, where experience is lacking. Senior Ben Murdock (1.5 ppg, 1.0 apg) was the primary backup last season but saw limited action, playing a total of eight minutes in the MWC championship game and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-2 Murdock, who has two seasons of junior college experience, will begin practice atop the depth chart but he will have to fend off challenges.

Rose signed junior Lamont Morgan (8.7 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.0 spg) from Saddleback (Calif.) College, to compete for immediate playing time. The 5-10 Morgan will bring great quickness to the BYU backcourt.

The most intriguing point guard prospect could be high scoring combo guard Jimmer Fredette (29.3 ppg as a junior), a three-star prospect from Glens Falls, N.Y. The 6-2 Fredette has the outside shooting stroke and playmaking ability to be a standout in Provo. Nick Martineau, a 6-0 freshman point guard from Kaysville, Utah, will also compete for minutes.

BYU won't have long to get the point-guard position settled with games against Louisville and possibly North Carolina on the schedule before Thanksgiving. Rose also scheduled games against Michigan State and Wake Forest before the beginning of league play.

The Cougars will enter the year with questions, but it's worth keeping in mind that they've won 10 of their final 11 regular-season games in each of Rose's first two seasons.

''Our staff's biggest challenge is integrating a lot of new players into the system, even though we have a handful of experienced players,'' Rose said. ''The type of chemistry and leadership we get out of the group will probably determine how good we will be. I don't know if we will be as good a shooting team, but we will be a little more athletic. I hope we will be a better defen-sive team.''

BYU's graduation losses were considerable, but the talent level is still high. Plaisted and Cummard both have first-team All-MWC potential, and Tavernari was the league's best freshman last season. Plaisted, in particular, could be a star.

The returning talent says nothing of Rose's sterling track record.

There are legitimate questions about who will play the point and who will start alongside Plaisted, but every other team faces just as much uncertainty. If BYU needed any more help, a 10-day, five-game trip to France in August should provide some, giving Rose a chance to set his rotation well before the season begins. Expect the Cougars to be a serious contender for their second consecu-tive league championship.

BYU Cougars
Last Season 25-9 (.735)
Conference Record 13-3 (1st)
Starters Lost/Returning 3/2
Coach Dave Rose (Houston '83)
Record At School 45-18 (2 years)
Career Record 45-18 (2 years)
RPI Last 5 years 25-36-217-71-20

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B-
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: A

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