COMMENTARY – I call myself a realist, always making an effort not to get too high over success or too low over defeat. So let me try and drop the rose-colored glasses as well as the nay-bob attitude and analyze BYU’s basketball season, which ended Tuesday night in the semifinals of the NIT.
First of all, let’s all stop saying that playing in the NIT was an honor. It was not an honor, but a consolation prize. If you win on “Jeopardy!” you get a bunch of money. If you lose, you get a $1,000. If you win on “Family Feud” it could mean 20 Grand. If you lose, you get a refrigerator. That’s the way it is.
BYU got a refrigerator for an above-average season.
Now don’t get me wrong, the NIT was a good thing for BYU. After all, a free fridge or a thousand large is nothing to sneeze at. True BYU fans got to see their team play four more times. The players got an extra two weeks of NCAA-legal, in-season practice. Young players like Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino got more experience against decent opponents.
No doubt, the NIT was a bonus for the BYU hoops program, but please don’t call it an honor.
The only honor any college hoops team cares about is the honor of playing in the real tournament, the NCAAs. And that streak ended at six in a row for BYU this season. BYU also fell one short of winning 25 games for the seventh straight year as well.
So what happened?
Well, that’s just it. Nothing happened, it was just a rebuilding year for the Cougars.
BYU fans had to know that with Noah Hartsock (points and rebounds) and Charles Abouo (defense and hustle) gone, the Cougars were going to struggle a bit. Especially when it was discovered early in the year that shooter Stephen Rogers and big man Chris Collinsworth were not going to be able to play.
Back in November, fans who looked closely saw BYU coming in with a decent big man in senior Brandon Davies, a loose cannon point guard in Matt Carlino and an inconsistent forward in Brock Zylstra who seemingly took every other night off. It was anybody’s guess on whether or not newly-returned missionary Tyler Haws was going to be able to contribute at all.
Now, fast forward five months and look what’s happened. Davies was exactly what we expected, a good big-man who could dominate at times, but lacked the size to really compete with the best in the country. Carlino and Zylstra were also what we expected, dynamic (even dominant) at times, but downright exasperating at others.
Josh Sharp was a little better than expected, Nate Austin a little worse. Craig Cusick was just there, while all the young bench players played like young bench players.
Which leads us to Haws. Marty’s boy came off his mission to the Philippines about four months before basketball practices started. He didn’t immediately go basketball crazy, instead focusing on getting his strength and conditioning back. More hours in those first few weeks home were spent in the weight room and on the track than in the basketball gym.
Then he started shooting. And shooting. And shooting.
Haws had one of the top five seasons ever for a BYU shooter, leading the West Coast Conference in scoring. He had 780 points, fifth all-time for a BYU player in a single season.
Haws had only two games all year in which he scored less than 12 points. He had 29 points in the first half against Virginia Tech, finishing with 42, one basket more than his dad’s personal best of 40.
He shot 48.3 percent from the floor, an excellent number for a shooting guard. He also made 38.1 percent of his 3-pointer, including a season-high six in that outburst vs. Virgina Tech.
I guess what I’m saying is, BYU was poised to have a .500 season. Even with Davies, the Cougars were ill-prepared for the WCC this season. A 16-15 year (or something similar) was a likely scenario. BYU would have lost to Utah State and maybe to Utah as well. There were holes all over the floor for BYU.
Instead, the Cougars went 24-12 and made it to the semifinal game in the NIT in Madison Square Garden.
Mostly because Tyler Haws was as good as he was.
As we look ahead, BYU has more holes to fill, especially in the low post. But with Haws’ consistency and the potential for Kyle Collinsworth to also step in and contribute heavily (Collinsworth played every night like Zylstra did on his good nights), the Cougars should be better.
If this year was BYU’s rebuilding year, I’ll take a 24-12 and walk away with a smile.
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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