This is the first part of a two-part series outlining the prospects of the BYU men's basketball team 2005-2006 season. (This is also a way for me to predict two wildly different seasons and then if either one is correct I can refer back to the correct portions to show how smart I was.)
For this part, I have put on my prescription Cougar-blue glasses that come standard for each staff member. Therefore, be warned, if you are an eternal pessimist, do not read any further and please wait for part two.
In the Army bullet points is one of the main ways ideas are expressed. If you do not have good bullet points in your memo or power point presentation, it could be misconstrued. Therefore, below are my top ten points as to why the 2005-2006 season will be a very good one for the Provo Boys in Blue.
1. HEAD COACH DAVE ROSE. Coach Rose brings a new attitude to the team. Well, not really new, since he's been with the team since 1997. But new in that his is now the dominant attitude and that attitude is attack. On offense or defense, BYU will be looking to press the issue. They want the other teams reacting to what they do.
2. EXPERIENCE. BYU has four players returning that started 13 or more games. In all, they return 78 starts from last year. Do not underestimate experience. The Utes lost six players from last year's 29-6 team, including three starters and the first two players off the bench. Ask Utah Head Coach Ray Giacoletti how important experience is. He returns 136 career starts, however all but 14 come from two players. The Cougars lost ten games by nine points or less. They have learned their lessons from last year and will know how to finish the close games this year.
3. NEWCOMERS. While BYU is experienced on the one hand, they also have several newcomers who will contribute big-time that were either, one, not on the roster last year or, two, redshirting. Lee Cummard, Trent Plaisted, Jackson Emery, Rashaun Broadus, Fernando Malaman and David Burgess will factor greatly into the success of this year's team. In fact, I would argue that a combination of five of those players could have beaten the 2004-05 Cougs. These new players were not a part of the 9-21 season. They also have a winning attitude about them. They all can and will make plays this year.
4. UP-TEMPO OFFENSE. Gone are the old half-court sets. In is a new system that pushes the ball up the floor looking for quick shots around the basket and on the perimeter. The new offense suits the current roster. There are shooters a-plenty. Austin Ainge, Mike Rose, Cummard, Sam Burgess, Jimmy Balderson and even Malaman can step out and hit the three-pointer. Broadus gives the Cougars the ability to penetrate and dish to effective low-post scorers like Plaisted and Burgess. Look for Keena Young to be an offensive rebounding machine with lots of put-backs.
5. IMPROVED DEFENSE. BYU is a much more athletic team this year. They are also much quicker. Ainge is a good MWC player and guard, but he was over-matched against quick point guards like Jay Straight, Jerome Blassingame, Mark Walters and Michael Morris. Broadus has the quicks to stay in front of those players and shut them down. Jensen was barely adequate on offense last year, and was simply too slow on defense. Dawes, who describes his athletic ability as just above a rock's, did not fare very well either. Both struggled against talented big men like Andrew Bogut, Matt Nelson, Jason Smith, Nick Welch, Marcus Slaughter and Odartey Blankson. This year, D. Burgess (who lost 35 pounds and is much quicker than either Jensen or Dawes), Plaisted and Malaman give the Cougars big bodies that can both bang and guard from 15-feet and in.
6. SCHEDULE. Gone are the ACC teams. Gone are the 5 NBA Lottery picks. Gone are the leading scorers for Wyoming (lost top three), Utah (lost four of top five), UNLV (lost three of top four), TCU (lost two of top three), San Diego State (lost two of top three), New Mexico (lost top two), and Colorado State (lost two of top three). In fact, the only MWC team to return its leading scorer is Air Force. But Air Force lost its best player in Nick Welch to an injury. BYU also only plays outside of Utah twice before conference play. BYU going 8-0 at home in pre-conference and 2-1 on the road is not out of the question. 10-1 is very attainable. With the 16 conference games, the talent and opportunity is there for a 6-2 (or better) home record. Simply splitting on the road (again, remember how much talent the other teams lost) is also very plausible. Giving BYU the potential for 20 wins.
7. TRENT PLAISTED. Buy the hype. Plaisted reported his vertical leap as 41-inches. He has some of the softest hands on the break and runs the floor better than any BYU big man in a LONG time. He will have multiple dunks each game for running the floor. He has added 20-25 pounds of muscle. He is strong enough to get his shot off in traffic as well. Look for him to command a double-team at some point in the season, further opening the outside for the shooters.
8. LEE CUMMARD. Jump on the bandwagon now and secure yourself a good seat. Cummard will win the MWC Player of the Year before his career is done. He can do it all. Dribble-drive? Check. Shoot the three? Check. Rebound? Check. Play defense? Check. Jump out of the gym? Check? Bench press his body weight? I'm not sure. The kid still has work to do with the weights. But on the court he is a lights-out player.
9. RASHAUN BROADUS. The addition of Broadus should not be understated. As previously mentioned, he will be able to lockdown the quicker point men in conference. He has a low, quick dribble that is very difficult to steal. He can cross-over with the best in the league and can get to the hoop, seemingly at will. His shot, while not great, is more than sufficient. BYU has not had a guard who can penetrate and kick like Broadus in a long time. His addition will allow Ainge to see more time at his more natural position, the two-guard. Broadus and Ainge will allow the Cougs to have two good ball-handlers on the court at the same time to push the tempo and keep others involved. His quickness will also help in the overall perimeter defense.
10. TEAM DEPTH. The 2005-2006 Cougars have much more depth this year compared to last. They have more and better shooters than they did last year. They have faster and more explosive post men than a year ago. The athleticism and skill that will be on display will allow Coach Rose to use varied line-ups to create all kinds mismatches. He can play big and strong with a line-up (Dawes, Burgess, Plaisted, Young, Ainge) or big and athletic (Plaisted, Malaman, Cummard, Balderson, Ainge). If he wants to play small, he can do that too (Plaisted, Young, Cummard/Balderson, Rose/Ainge, Broadus). Or if needs quickness on the floor, he can play that way (Plaisted, Young, Cummard, Ainge, Broadus). The team is deep at every position. This increased depth is also going to provide increased competition in practice as players compete for starting spots and playing time. It was also allow for substitutes to play at a high level without much, if any, drop in production
In all, this is going to be a very good season for BYU. Look for them to get out and run time and again. Look for lots of shots to go up and in for the Cougars. Because of the lack of success last year, teams could overlook BYU, allowing them to "sneak" up on a few conference opponents early on. The outlook is definitely "Rose-y" for BYU men's basketball.