"Jimmer Time" was a fun ride for all of college basketball last season. 2011-2012 will be a year of transition though for the BYU Cougars as they must replace their All-American guard and also make the switch from the Mountain West to the West Coast Conference.
Not only does BYU lose Jimmer but his backcourt mate for the past three seasons, Jackson Emery is also gone. That leaves two huge holes to fill at guard. Replacing Emery will come a little bit easier with Charles Abouo moving from a key reserve to starting shooting guard. He is not a three-point threat like Emery was, but offers more athleticism. DeMarcus Harrison is a talented freshman who should be a contributor off the bench behind Abouo.
There are several candidates to take over the point guard position. UCLA transfer Matt Carlino is probably the most talented of the bunch, but he doesn't become eligible until after the first semester. Head coach Dave Rose played versatile wing Brock Zylstra at the point on the team's summer trip to Greece and was impressed by what he saw, so Zylstra could end up replacing Jimmer in the starting lineup. Seldom used junior Nick Martineau or walk-on Craig Cusick will be the other options.
The frontcourt will provide the stability for the Cougars, especially with Brandon Davies back in the fold. The athletic junior was suspended near the end of last season for violating the BYU honor code but has been reinstated. Steady senior Noah Hartsock returns in the middle and is an inside/outside threat. Chris Collinsworth only played in nine games last season before undergoing knee surgery. He should be ready for the start of the season and is the favorite to round out the starting frontcourt.
The depth up front takes a little bit of a hit with Kyle Collinsworth embarking on his mission trip, but there are still plenty of options. Stephen Rogers was a rotation player off the bench last season but will be asked to take on a bigger role. He is another guy on the roster with good size and ability to shoot the rock. Wing Josh Sharp originally committed to Utah but decided to enroll at BYU after returning from his mission and is another versatile forward who will see minutes.
Nate Austin and Ian Harward return from mission trips as well and will provide more size inside. Harward is more of a true big man, while Austin offers more versatility due to his ability to stretch defenses with his outside shooting.
Unlike the past couple of seasons, balance will be the key for Jimmer-less Cougars. Having the depth and talent to become a group effort will help BYU turn the West Coast Conference into a three-horse race as the Cougars will compete with Gonzaga and St. Mary's for the conference crown and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Brandon Davies, PF
Davies' suspension in early March served as a lightning rod for sports talk shows about the BYU honor code and whether it was fair or not. More importantly, the absence of Davies may have cost the Cougars a possible Final-Four run. The 6-9 forward has righted his wrongs and is back with the team, which is huge since he is their most talented player. Davies will probably emerge as BYU's go-to player during crunch time and is also their most aggressive rebounder.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/11 at Utah State
11/25 vs. Nevada (Chicago Invitational Challenge)
11/26 vs. Wisconsin/Bradley (Chicago Invitational Challenge)