The post-Jimmer transition is officially over. Last year, a lot of players had to step up and fill roles to which they weren’t accustomed, and the Cougars acquitted themselves well. In a season of adjustment, the Cougars had to play with a more traditional look, without the benefit of a lot of fast-break points, or the benefit of someone who could put it up with four hands in his face and one second left on the shot clock with a better-than-even chance of making the shot.
The good part about having a player like Jimmer was that he was almost enough to take the Cougars to the Final Four on his own. The bad part was that he altered the game so much with his transcendence that it was difficult for other players to find their roles on the team. At times, it was the “stand around and watch Jimmer show.”
Last year, the Cougars adapted to their new roles well. They were in the mix for the WCC Championship until the last week, and progressed as the year went on as players found where they fit in with the Cougars. Really, though, last year was expected to be a year of transition, and that’s exactly how it worked out. By the end of the season, though, the Cougars had built a very sound foundation, and we should start seeing the benefits of their development this year.
This year, the Cougars look like a very solid team. They are predicted by most to finish second in the WCC, behind perennial favorite Gonzaga, with St Mary’s in the mix in a three-way race. The Cougars are going to be a very deep team this year, with Tyler Haws returning from a mission, and Juco transfer Agustin Ambrosino expected to contribute to a team that already had a lot of players competing for positions.
At PG, sophomore Matt Carlino has solidified his lock on the position, showing why UCLA recruited him out of high school. He will be backed up by senior Craig Cusick, who does a solid job, and can be counted on to keep the ship steady when Carlino sits.
At shooting guard, sophomore Tyler Haws hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from his mission. He has been selected one of three captains by his teammates. Co-captain and senior Brock Zylstra starts at the third guard, or small forward, depending on what you would like to call it. Sophomore Anson Winder backs up the point on occasion, and the shooting guard position.
It’s tough to really call these positions anything but “wing,” because the Cougars blur the wing positions so much that shooting guard and small forward are almost invalid. Other players who could get into the rotation on the wing include juco transfer Raul Delgado, and freshman Cory Calvert.
In the frontcourt, the Cougars blur the 4 and 5 spots, but third co-captain and senior Brandon Davies is primed to be “The Man” this year, and will be counted upon for both scoring and rebounding. Davies is a rebounding machine who is capable of putting up a fair amount of points, too. Davies will be the center of the Cougars’ inside game, even if he looks more like a power forward sometimes.
Sophomore Nate Austin is back, and appears to be ready to augment Davies. What the Cougars need more than anything is for someone to be a serious threat inside and keep the double and occasional triple-teams off of Davies. A healthy Nate Austin can do that. If Austin falters, freshman Ian Harward is ready to step in. He should see significant minutes in the rotation, and has the potential to be a traditional, back-to-the-basket center.
Sophomore Josh Sharp and Junior Augustin Ambrosino should have plenty of chances to come in from the bench. Sharp is a thumper underneath, while Ambrosino plays a more international game, and is able to hit from a lot of different places on the floor.
If the exhibition games are any indication, the Cougars will try for fast breaks first, and then use a lot of ball movement in the halfcourt game. While they don’t have a player who can take over games by himself, they do have a lot of depth this year, and a good mix of experience and youth.
So, what does that mean for this year? We think it means at least a top 25 ranking for the Cougars by the end of the season. The Cougars are good enough to sweep everyone in the WCC except for Gonzaga and St Mary’s. We would expect splits with both of those teams, and one or two “upset” losses to lesser teams.
Other than that, the non-conference schedule isn’t particularly difficult. A matchup with Florida State in New York for the Coaches vs Cancer Classic will be a great indicator of how the Cougars stack up with teams in the ACC, and a game against either Notre Dame or St Joseph’s will be tough. We are guessing the Cougars go 1-1 in New York.
Rivalry games against Utah and USU are both in Provo this year, and a road game against Baylor should be interesting. A game against Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City tops off the non-conference schedule.
Before the WCC Tournament, the Cougars play 31 games. A record of 25-6 or 26-5 wouldn’t surprise us. When you add a probable 1-1, 2-1, or 3-0 record in the WCC, the schedule stacks up nicely for the Cougars. It should be enough to avoid the dreaded 7-10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which guarantees that you play a 1 or a 2-seed in your second game.
We think it is very possible for the Cougars to make the “Sweet Sixteen” in the NCAA Tournament this season. They have a lot of balance, a lot of depth, and a possible superstar in Brandon Davies, who probably still feels like he has something to prove or atone for in the tournament.
Football has been a bit disappointing this year, but we feel really good about this basketball team.
They came ready to play. They were one of the last teams to make it into the tournament, and know that nobody expects them to do anything. They came out with heart and hustle, and immediately made the basketball world think they might have been wrong to dismiss them. Unfortunately, on Tuesday night, for the first fourteen minutes, that description was of Iona, not the Cougars.
The Cougars were down 25 points, and even their most loyal fans could have been forgiven for changing the channel. Those who did are probably kicking themselves right now. During the last 6:12 of the first half, the Cougars outscored Iona, 16-6, and were down a manageable fifteen points at the half.
Iona briefly got their lead back up to 18 with 7:20 left, but after that it was mostly Cougars. The Cougars would outscore the Gaels 34-10 the rest of the way, and escape Dayton with a victory that wasn’t nearly as easy as many thought it would be.
As usual, it was a team effort. Noah Hartsock was the hero of the game, with 23 points and five rebounds. Brandon Davies chipped in with 18 points and 18 rebounds. Demarcus Harrison contributed a very important 12 points off the bench, and Anson Winder had eight. Craig Cusick came off the bench for 8 assists in 26 minutes, and was a huge steadying influence at PG off the bench.
It seems that a different hero steps up every game for this team, and last night was no exception. Whether it was Cusick’s steady hand, Harrison’s crucial three-pointers, Brandon Davies’ neutralization of the Gales inside, or Noah Hartsock seemingly carrying the team on his back at the end, there was no shortage of heroes for the Cougars.
So, how did the Cougars get so far behind in the first place? There were a number of factors, but three were most important. First of all, the Cougars hadn’t played for ten days and were rusty. The second factor was that the shots just didn’t go down for most of the first half. There is really nothing that can be done about those two factors.
The third factor, though, was solely on the Cougars: they got suckered into playing Iona’s tempo for the first sixteen minutes of the game. This is when a point guard has to take control. This is when a senior has to take control. This is when the head coach has to take control. For some reason, for those sixteen minutes, the Cougars looked like mere passengers while the Gaels were driving the limo. Nobody wanted to be the person who slowed the game down and forced the Gaels to play the Cougars’ tempo.
Finally, something got through. We didn’t have access to the bench, so we have no idea what happened, but the Cougars finally started playing their game. Without a Jimmer Fredette, the Cougars aren’t going to win a full-court, 100-point game with anyone. The Cougars have to patiently run their half-court offense instead of jacking up shots in the first eight seconds of the shot clock. This maximizes the Cougars’ skill set, and also makes it easier to get back on defense, where they can force the other team to run their half-court offense.
Once the Gales were forced to play defense on every possession, once they were forced to run their half-court offense, the maturity and talent of the Cougars finally started to show. This game took a lot longer to wrap up than it should have, but the important thing is that the Cougars got things turned around and played their style of basketball long enough to win and move on.
Now, it’s on to Louisville and a matchup against Marquette. Marquette finished in second place in the Big East, and won 13 of their last 15 regular season games. They would lose to eventual champion Louisville in the Big East Tournament. Seniors Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are the best players for the Golden Eagles this year.
6-6 Forward Crowder was named the Big East player of the year. He averaged 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. 6-2 guard Johnson-Odom averaged 18.3 points per game for second in the Big East, averaged 40.5 percent from the three-point line, and was fourth in the Big East with 2.34 3-pointers per game.
Both players are versatile on offense and defense, and have provided a lot of leadership to the Golden Eagles this season. Crowder could probably play the 1,2,3, or 4 for any team in the country. Johnson-Odom is a lot like Crowder but smaller. When push comes to shove, Crowder will handle the dirty work inside in the half-court offense. Stopping them will be the key to the Cougars’ hopes for an upset.
It’s been a very good season for a team that wasn’t projected to win a lot of games this year, but we are afraid it will end in Louisville. Marquette has a lot of solid role players, like the Cougars do, but the Cougars are going to have a very hard time matching up with Crowder and Johnson-Odom.
If the Cougars are to win and extend their season, somebody is going to have to help out Noah Hartsock and hit a few shots from outside. We think Crowder will be his defender, and Crowder might be the best he has seen all year. On the other end, the Golden Eagles are very good at running their half-court offense.
Outside of Provo, there aren’t a lot of people giving the Cougars much of a chance on Thursday. Since basketball is a funny game, and the rim can be extremely fickle, no team with reasonable talent can be dismissed as having no chance to win.
This time, though, the Cougars are looking at a team that mirrors their own admirable mental qualities, but has a lot more three and four star recruits. We are hoping for the best, but are guessing that the Cougars stay in this one late, only to lose by about ten in the last few minutes.
Either way, it’s been a very good year, and we’ll always have the greatest comeback in NCAA Tournament history to look back on.
We’ll start with the good news. The Cougars had four starters in double figures. The fifth, Noah Hartsock, had only nine points this time around, but added three blocks, three assists, and five rebounds while playing only 23 minutes.
Charles Abouo lead the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds, ending what many saw as a slump with a monster game. Brandon Davies had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Matt Carlino and Anson Winder had ten points each.
The bad news is that the shooting isn’t quite “back” yet, with the Cougars going 27-65 for 41.5 percent from the field, and 12-32 for 37.5 percent from behind the three-point line. Luckily, this time they were able to “out-personnel” the Waves and they didn’t really need a high shooting percentage.
Also, the Cougars once again played very, very well on the defensive end of the floor. The best way to combat spotty shooting is to make the other team shoot worse. The Cougars did that, holding the Waves to 21-63 for 33.3 percent from the floor, and 2-16 for an almost-laughable 12.5 percent from three-point range.
All-in-all, the Cougars took care of business, and now have four games left on their WCC schedule before the tournament. San Francisco is a must-win at this point, and so are Santa Clara and Portland. The game they can afford to lose is at Gonzaga, and it could very well happen that way.
Strange things happen in Gonzaga’s gym, and the calls often go to the home team there. Ever since Gonzaga became one of the first smaller-conference teams to get a reputation as a “bracket-buster,” they have been media darlings. Their victory over St Mary’s this week gave them a spot in the top 25, while the Cougars are still unranked.
At this point, Jerry Palm of CBS, who we feel is the most accurate predictor of tournament seeds, has the Cougars as one of the last four in. We don’t know if he follows football, but he has the Cougars playing UCF in the “First Four.” He has Gonzaga as a six seed, and St Mary’s as a four seed, while the Cougars are a 12 at this point.
This brings up a sad reality of college sports: politics. The WCC is a smaller conference, and it is going to be tough to get three teams in. Due to Gonzaga’s place in the media-dictated food chain, they are going to get the benefit of the doubt over the Cougars, especially the post-Jimmer Cougars. St Mary’s deserves a slot, too. So, it will be up to the Cougars to “earn their way in” over the last few games.
If the Cougars can run the table for the regular season, they should have a berth pretty much locked up with one win in the conference tournament. They should even be able to afford a loss to Gonzaga on the road, but might have to win two games to get a berth.
There are two big roadblocks for the Cougars right now. The first is the possibility of two losses in the next four games. If that happens, they will probably have to win the conference tournament to get in. The other main negative here is that if someone besides St Mary’s, Gonzaga, or BYU wins the WCC Tournament, it will knock one of those teams out.
In other words, there is no way the WCC gets four teams into the NCAA Tournament. San Francisco is dangerous, as is Loyola Marymount. Either of those teams could get hot at the right time and win the WCC Tournament. If this happens, one of the three teams that currently deserve a berth will not get one.
So, who do we cheer for? The obvious choice is for the Cougars to run the table, or at least win the WCC Tournament for the automatic berth. Otherwise, cheer for the trio of St Mary’s, Gonzaga, and BYU to not lose to anyone but each other the rest of the way out.
This brings us to an interesting question. What happens if the Cougars sweep Gonzaga but don’t get in? It isn’t likely, but because of NCAA politics, there is a slight chance that the Cougars could beat Gonzaga twice, only to watch the Zags get a tournament berth while the Cougars play in the NIT.
Would it be fair? Of course not. But stranger things have happened when the NCAA Tournament Committee gets together.
So, let’s take a look at San Francisco. The Cougars dispatched them easily last month at the Marriott Center, 81-56. After that game, the Dons were 10-7 overall and 0-4 in the conference. Since then, the Dons have gone 7-3, for a 17-10 overall record and a 7-6 conference record.
The Cougars can’t afford to underrate or look past this team. We’re sure Coach Rose is drilling that into their heads as we speak, and that the upperclassmen on the team won’t allow it to happen, but the Cougars will have to be at their best to avoid what could be a crushing blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Remember that the Dons will be at home, are playing with a lot more confidence, and have revenge on their minds after losing by 25 points in their first meeting. Of all four games, this is now the most important one, because it is one the Cougars could very realistically lose, and one that would be devastating if they did.
If the Cougars can win this one, they should have enough of a cushion to afford a loss at Gonzaga if it happens. If they lose on Thursday, they have to beat Gonzaga or win the WCC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.
We predict a much closer game this time, with the Cougars pulling it out, 66-60.
After the disappointment of losing to sixth-ranked Baylor by three points on Saturday, the Cougars could have expected to start a bit slow. However, they didn’t expect to start by falling behind 14-3 to Buffalo in the Mariott Center. Luckily, though, the Cougars still had more than enough to finish off Buffalo for a 93-78 win.
Brock Zylstra scored 26 points and Anson Winder came off the bench for 20 points, giving both players career highs. Noah Hartsock was in foul trouble in a scoreless first half, but came back to score 16 points in the second half. Freshman point guard Matt Carlino continued to be a pleasant surprise, chipping in with 10 points and 11 assists. He also added seven rebounds, missing a triple-double by three.
And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, the Cougars went up against the Santa Barbara Gauchos and won 89-75. Even without Jimmer, the gaurds are stepping up and shot 0.400 from the 3 PT line. Thank you Brandon Davies for stepping up and making plays for 17 points!
The Cougars are now 10-3, with a visit coming up from UC San Marcos before the conference schedule begins on December 29 on the road at St Mary’s. We see no reason why the cougars shouldn’t be 11-3 before hitting the road, which is an acceptable start and one that should help ensure that the Cougars make the NCAA tournament in their first year of the post-Jimmer era. Especially if we consider which teams the Cougars lost to.
We don’t think USU would beat the Cougars in a rematch, even though USU has a decent team. The other two losses were to then #11 Wisconsin and #7 undefeated Baylor. The WCC has some good basketball teams to challenge the Cougars but even without the Jimmer, the team has shown it can compete at a much higher level than expected.
Outsiders didn’t give the Cougars much of a chance at getting back into the tournament this year. From writers to oddsmakers, nobody seems to be giving the Cougars much credit. They see the loss of Jimmer as an impossible obstacle. Luckily, coach Dave Rose hasn’t told the Cougars that they can’t win.
When a team has a star like Jimmer Fredette, the tendency, even for teams with a great work ethic, is to stand around and watch the star go to work. And really, it makes sense. When you have a player like Jimmer on your team, he is the person you want taking most of your shots. Sometimes, though, other talented players are overlooked.
This year, the Cougars will have “star by committee.” Nobody is going to come close to what Jimmer did last year, but there will be some pleasant surprises. Sometimes a balanced team that can beat you in more ways than one can outperform a team with a transcendent star. We aren’t predicting a Final Four for this team, but we see no reason they can’t make the Sweet Sixteen this season.
We plan on having fun watching.
Actually, the post-Jimmer era has already begun, but it has been met by resounding indifference everywhere outside of Provo. At the time of this writing, the Cougars are 5-2, with victories over BYU-Hawaii, Longwood, Prairie View A&M, NAU, and Nevada, with losses to USU and Wisconsin.
Really, it’s difficult to get a handle on this team so far. They have squashed tomato cans, and lost to one rival and one elite team. There are two things we do know: that Dave Rose is still Dave Rose and that the Cougars are going to have to lean heavily on Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies, and Charles Abuou, with Anson Winder, Brock Zylstra rounding out the starting lineup. There will be a lot of contributions from the bench this year, with Demarcus Harrison, Stephen Rogers, and Craig Cusick looking like the three main options.
At first glance, the 73-56 loss to Wisconsin looks like a terrible game for the Cougars, but Wisconsin does that to a lot of ranked teams during the course of the season. They play basketball like football, and they are one of the few teams who are consistently allowed to play what is known in the trade as “Duke Defense” without being called for fouls. The result is that they push teams up and down the floor with impunity, play at their own, slower tempo, and make a lot of decent teams look really bad on the scoreboard.
The Cougars learned from the Wisconsin game, and thanks to the seniors, are now stressing toughness in practice, getting ready for NAU. Unfortunately, the practices have been so spirited that Noah Hartsock (ankle) and Stephen Rogers (knee) might not be available for the NAU game. Chris Collingsworth isn’t ready to come back quite yet, so it could be a bit of a struggle against NAU.
Losing a player who scores as many points as Jimmer Fredette did is bad enough, but when that player was also your point guard, it is even tougher. Jimmer scored as many points last year as many starting backcourts do. So far, nobody has really picked up the slack yet. The scoring is coming from Hartsock (16.8), Abouo (13.3), and Davies (12.0) right now, who are scoring 56.3 percent of the Cougars’ 74.8 points per game. Stephen Rogers is contributing another 9.2 per game.
As of yet, nobody in the backcourt has really emerged to do much more than run the offense and contribute the occasional bucket. Until someone does, the Cougars will continue to be a work in progress.
Luckily, the schedule won’t be as demanding as it could. The move to the West Coast Conference should work out well, and the Cougars can develop during the season without having to face a lot of elite teams. They will face some solid teams, but non-conference games against Utah, Oregon, and Virginia Tech look much more demanding than most of their conference games.
If things go well, the backcourt will improve due to more experience, and somebody will emerge as a consistent, double-figure scorer. Brock Zylstra is the best bet, but so far, he has failed to match his 17.3 point average from the trip to Greece. In the meantime, anyone watching tape of last year’s Cougars will now be defending a post-oriented team instead of one that launched up (and made) mostly outside shots.
Football Update – No Vacation in Hawaii
Coach Mendenhall is making sure the Cougars don’t fall victim to “island paralysis syndrome.” This is what happens to many teams who go to Hawaii, decide they are on vacation, and look like it when they step on the field at Aloha Stadium. The Cougars get Thursday to enjoy themselves, but will work hard on Friday, and be fully ready for the game on Saturday.
It is important that the Cougars keep their focus and bring home a ninth win on Saturday. There are still a lot of conference invitations yet to go out, and the Cougars need to make themselves look as attractive as possible, no matter how the conference realignments work out in the end.
If there are superconferences with a playoff to determine a true National Champion, the Cougars need to be attractive enough to get an invitation to one of them. On the other hand, if the BCS continues on its present route, the Cougars need to continue to look good on a yearly basis for the pollsters.
In a perfect world, the polls and the computers would always get it right. The best teams would end up at the top, and every team would to to the bowl it deserves. College football, though, is far from perfect. At the top, where the decisions are made, it is driven solely by money, and the most attractive teams get the most attractive post-season games.
In a way, the rankings are a lot like the world golf rankings, but without the points. Even though every year is a new year and every team is a new team due to the fact that students graduate, teams are often judged on their past as well as their present.
So far, 2011 has been a good first year as an independent for the Cougars. Other than the Utah debacle, they have stayed in every game, and the latter part of the year has been entertaining for the most part. Even the TCU game wasn’t the blowout many in the national media expected.
It is essential that the Cougars finish strong. A victory over Hawaii would put the Cougars at 9-3, setting them up for a possible 10-win season. In the eyes of the national media, the tenth win would be huge. It gives reporters a double-digit number to look at when assessing the team’s value.
Bronco Mendenhall knows this. The players know it. And they know that a tenth win is not possible if they don’t take care of business and get their ninth win on Saturday night.
We are looking for a great performance. There may be a few underthrown balls in the low altitude and heavy air at the beginning, but Jake Heaps should adjust quite well after a couple of drives, and the Cougars should take care of business on the Island for their ninth win.
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