The BYU basketball program is enjoying unprecedented success these days. The Cougars finished up the 2011-12 season by making its sixth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, the longest streak in school history.
After not winning a single game at the Big Dance for 17 years, the Cougars are 4-3 in the tournament over the past three seasons. They have won their first round game in each of their last three trips as well.
As another 25-plus win season concludes, it's time to take inventory and see where the program is headed for the 2012-13 season.
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The Cougars will need to replace departing seniors Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo next year. The two veterans combined to average nearly 28 points and just over 11 rebounds per game. Defensively, BYU also loses its second all-time leader in blocked shot in Hartsock, and one of the most versatile defenders in school history in Abouo.
Hartsock consistently improved his game each year and developed himself into a leader and a go-to scorer. His mid-range, turn-around jump shot was a thing of beauty and helped make Noah BYU's leading scorer and one of the most reliable offensive players in the West.
Abouo was often an enigma on the offensive end, but he was always a player that BYU could count on for a key stop on the defensive end of the court or come up with a big rebound when needed.
Both players should be able to extend their playing careers overseas if they decide to pursue basketball as a profession.
BYU will also say goodbye to Damarcus Harrison for two years as he makes plans to depart on a mission. Harrison didn't have mission plans when he arrived in Provo, but had a change of heart during his true freshmen season.
As a much-heralded recruit, Harrison did not have the kind of season that he would have hoped for this year. He average less than nine minutes per game and saw his time on the court diminish as the Cougars got deeper into West Coast Conference play.
He did however have a break out game in the first round of the NCAA tournament when he scored 12 points in 21 minutes against in the Cougars' comeback win over Iona.
Though there will be some big holes to fill in the Cougar roster, BYU figures to be right back in the thick of things next season in the WCC race, and should make another run at a bid in the NCAA tournament in 2013.
Here's a look at the players expected to be on next season's roster, what roles those athletes may play and what improvements each of them will likely be focusing on during the off season.
Brandon Davies (6-9, 235 Sr.)
Davies was the second leading scorer behind Hartsock averaging 15.2 points per game this past year. He also led the team in rebounds with just under eight boards per game.
He will be relied on even more next season to pick up some of the scoring slack along the front line created by Hartsock's departure. If he wasn't already the preeminent post player in the WCC, he certainly will be next year, with Gonzaga's 7-0 center Robert Sacre having used up his eligibility.
Brandon bounced back from his honor code suspension at the end of the 2010-11 season to have a fine 2011-12 campaign. He may have been even more effective had the Cougars had more experience and consistent play from the point guard position.
As a senior next season, Brandon needs to focus on improving his free throw shooting. He shot 66 percent from the line this past season after hitting 67 percent as a sophomore. As a freshman he made just 57 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. He really needs to work to get that number over 70 percent next season.
Davies also needs to focus on gathering himself offensively under the rim. There are times that he tries to play too fast in the paint and gets out of control. Sometimes he just needs to slow down, take his time and stay under control. He also needs to understand when he doesn't have the advantage down low against double and triple teams and be willing to kick the ball back outside to open teammates.
Another year under the tutelage of assistant Mark Pope should really help refine his game and make Brandon one of the best post players in the country next season.
Matt Carlino (6-2, 175 So.)
Carlino has "star" written all over him at point guard, but he was still a freshman this past year. Freshmen are well known for being inconsistent and Carlino was no exception to the rule.
Matt's up and down season ended on a down note during tournament time when he often gave way to walk on and stabilizing force Craig Cusick. Over the final nine games of the season he committed 38 turnovers compared to dishing out just 17 assists. For the year he shot just 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from the arc.
But when the kid was on his game he was spectacular.
In his first appearance in as a college player, after missing the first 10 games of the season due to NCAA transfer rules, Carlino scored 18 points against No. 6 Baylor. He poured in 22 points against Santa Barbara, 21 points against Santa Clara and 30 points against San Francisco. He also scored 18 points in both regular season games against Gonzaga.
Carlino's ceiling is obviously very high. The question is, just how much progress he can make in his sophomore season?
A lot of that will depend on how he improves as a quarterback on the court, and if he learns to play under control, consistently make good decisions and gets his teammates more involved. He will also need to improve his consistency from the floor and better recognize a good shot from a bad one.
Matt has a great deal of confidence and swagger, he just needs to learn how to channel it a little bit better. All indications point to him being a great player for the Cougars over the next three years.
Tyler Haws (6-5, 200 So.)
BYU fans are very much anticipating the return of wing player Tyler Haws from his mission this off season. Haws had one of the best seasons for a true freshman in program history.
He scored 11 points and pulled down four rebounds per game in his first season as a Cougar. He shot 50 percent from the floor, 37 percent from the arc and 91 percent from the free throw line.
BYU will no doubt look to Tyler to fill much of the leadership and scoring void created by the graduation of Hartsock. Assuming he can get his legs back from his mission, Haws is poised to become part of a big three next year, teamed with Davies and Carlino.
Nate Austin (6-11, 230 So.)
True freshman Nate Austin was the biggest surprise of the basketball season for BYU. His performance off the bench lessened the blow of not having Chris Collinsworth on the floor once again this past season.
Austin's energy and effort made him a fan favorite. He averaged four points and four rebounds in less than 13 minutes per game. He was second on the team in field goal percentage at 54 percent and showed the ability to step out and hit mid-to-long range shots.
With the departure of Hartsock, Nate's role will increase next year. He may even get the starting nod at power forward. The primary concern about his game is his tendency to get into foul trouble. The Cougars will need him to stay on the floor next season.
He also needs to continue to add strength and bulk to his body.
Brock Zylstra (6-6, 210 Sr.)
Zylstra was second on the team in three point shooting, hitting nearly 38 percent this season. He averaged over eight points and four rebounds per game in his first season seeing significant playing time.
Brock started 28 games this season and played every position from point guard to power forward. His versatility, energy and blue collar work ethic earned him an average of 28 minutes per game on the floor in the first post-Jimmer and Jackson Era.
His liability during the season was on defense. Opposing teams routinely attacked Zylstra in both BYU's zone and man-to-man. So his focus this off season will be on improving his defensive play and learning how to get into a defensive stance better and move his feet.
Stephen Rogers (6-8, 195 Sr.)
Roger's season was cut short by a knee injury and subsequent surgery in December to repair a torn meniscus. He never fully recovered and spent March Madness on the bench in street clothes.
Stephen was supposed to play a major role, providing fire power off the bench as the Cougars' sixth man. He shot 35 percent from three and 46 percent overall. His length also helped make him a surprising good defender, especially in BYU's match up zone. He also came up with some key rebounds in games.
Assuming that he is able to get healthy, Rogers will be a strong candidate to end up as the starter next season at small forward. He will no doubt look to improve his shooting for next season, and, like most of the Cougars, he needs to spend more time in the weight room and add some strength.
Craig Cusick (6-2, 185 Sr.)
All you need to know about Cusick is that he had an assist to turnover ratio of 3-1 this past year. He came in for Dave Rose and took care of the ball in games were Carlino struggled.
Craig isn't flashy and he'll never be confused with being a spectacular athlete, but he had a calming influence at point guard this season. He led the team in three point percentage with a 38 percent success rate, just nudging out Zylstra for the honor. He did struggle from inside the arc though, making just 35 percent of his two-point attempts.
His role next season could be diminished with the expected development of Carlino. However, Rose knows that he has a solid insurance policy to turn to if needed. For a walk-on, Cusick was an especially valuable asset for BYU this season.
An improvement in his mid-range jump shot over the off season could make him even more valuable.
Anson Winder (6-3, 195 So.)
Combo guard Anson Winder was one of four freshman that made contributions during what has to be considered a rebuilding year at BYU.
Anson's played fairly well at the point over the first several games of the season while Carlino waited for his opportunity to play.
He showed particularly well on defense and turned out to be a good rebounder for a guard, especially on the defensive end. Those qualities helped him earn 15 starts this past season as a redshirt freshman.
The weakness in Winder's game currently is his shooting. Opposing defenses were able to play off of him when he was in the game because he made just 37 percent of his shots, and a paltry 30 percent of his threes.
If Winder can improve his shot to the point where teams have to respect his ability to shoot the ball, the former Bishop Gorman star will demand even more time on the court next season.
Josh Sharp (6-7, 215 So.)
Sharp had some mission rust that he dealt with this year. The former Utah transfer did play with passion and energy in his limited time on the court though.
He played in 28 of BYU's 35 games, but averaged just seven minutes per game. He did average 1.4 rebounds in those seven minutes however.
It's unclear just how much of a contribution Sharp may be able to make to this program. It's unlikely that he will be starter for BYU anytime soon, but by improving his overall game he can provide BYU with some good depth in the front court.
Josh definitely needs to work on his offensive game. He shot 39 percent from the field and just 20 percent from three.
Chris Collinsworth (6-9, 235 Jr.)
Collinsworth spent the entire season recovering from microfracture surgery on his knee. Some players never return from the procedure and many that do are not the same player there were before the surgery.
Right now is looks maybe 50/50 that Chris will be able to continue his career at BYU. It would be a shame if he is unable to come back and play. He is a very talented player that would make BYU very formidable along the front court if he can get back.
For now his focus just needs to be on getting healthy and working himself back into shape.
Ian Harward (6-11, 215 Fr.)
Harward redshirted last year after returning home from a mission. At 6-11 he will give Dave Rose additional height on the interior.
Although Ian and Nate Austin are similar in height and build, Harward's game is different from Austin's in that he is more of a back-to-the-basket kind of player and doesn't have the same kind of range from the outside that Nate has.
Harward ran a 5:17 mile last fall just a few weeks back from his mission, so conditioning is not a problem. But he does need to add some bulk to his frame.
Raul Delgado (6-2, 190 Jr.)
Delgado comes to BYU from Western Nebraska Community College as a combo guard who is known as an excellent defender. Though not as big as Charles Abouo, Raul is expected to fill the role as BYU's shut down defender on the perimeter.
The former Springville High star also brings a strong offensive game to Provo. He averaged over 19 points per game and made over 40 percent of his three point attempt last season at WNCC.
Delgado is expected to thrive in BYU's up tempo offense.
Nick Martineau (6-0, 170 Sr.)
Nick has not been able to find a way to contribute much during his time at BYU. He averaged less than three minutes per game this past season.
He appeared in 19 games in 2011-12 after playing in 25 games the year before behind Jimmer Fredette.
He did hit three of his five three point attempts this year.
Best-Guess Starting Lineup for 2012-13
Nate Austin or Chris Collinsworth
Stephen Rogers or Brock Zylstra