(In the interest of full disclosure, here is my grading philosophy.)
Dave Rose: A
With a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and four tourney wins in three years, Rose is building one of the best legacies in BYU basketball history. This season wasn't perfect, but to follow up a dream year with a season like this was more than adequate. Rose knows how to recruit, he knows how to motivate and develop players, and he knows how to find a team's identity.
On top of that, Rose is a quality human being. Between the lines in his interviews and press conferences are many indications that Rose truly cares for his players and enjoys helping them succeed. He builds on the positive, and the demeanor of his teams reflect that. This man is the big time, and BYU is very lucky to have him. Long live David J. Rose.
Brandon Davies: A-
Brandon Davies was one of the stories of the year for me, and not just because of what he accomplished on the court. It takes strength to go through what he did last year and choose to come back.
The grade is based on his play, however, and Davies was one of BYU's most consistent contributors this year. Davies provided BYU with a consistent scoring threat inside and played excellent defense - particularly in anticipating ball handlers and drawing charges. I don't remember a BYU player who was better in that regard.
Davies' biggest struggle this year was avoiding foul trouble early in the season, but he improved from midseason onward. He was consistent enough during the latter half of the year that I can't hold it against him.
Davies said after the Marquette loss he is coming back next year, because he has things left to accomplish. I look forward to watching that.
Brock Zylstra: B-
This was the first year we have seen the Junior guard play. Zylstra started the season as BYU's interim point guard where he struggled before moving to shooting guard. Zylstra should get credit for playing the role Abouo played last year: he was BYU's wild card, taking on whatever identity Rose needed, including a brief stint in the post when BYU was shorthanded because of injury and foul trouble.
Zylstra developed a reputation for playing big against weaker opponents and disappearing in critical games and in big moments. He did have an impact on some big wins, scoring six points in the NCAA tournament comeback victory against Iona and eight points in the loss to Marquette in the round of 64, but Zylstra still needs to become more consistent. Let's hope he comes back improved and ready to take on a bigger role.
Charles Abouo: C-
This is the grade I find most painful to give. This was supposed to be the year of Charles Abouo - the year his athleticism and experience combined to make him an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor - the year he showed younger players how to use physicality and conditioning to wear opponents down and dominate in the most critical moments of big games.
At times, Abouo dominated on the glass, and he did hit a few big shots, but unfortunately, he just as often turned the ball over or took an early three pointer against a fast-paced opponent that was playing with the lead. There were several big losses this year in which Abouo made costly mistakes in critical moments. That is the opposite of what I would have expected from the senior. Abouo made many contributions to BYU this year and over his career, and Dave Rose should be grateful. I just can't help but wonder why he didn't improve more than he did from last year to this.
Matt Carlino: B
Carlino came to Provo with a lot of hype. He was recruited by some of the biggest name basketball schools in the country, went to UCLA where he faced an ugly situation with an out of control team and an abusive Reeves Nelson (who was kicked off the squad not long after Carlino left). Carlino decided to transfer and began looking at his options. Enter BYU at the start of Jimmer's consensus All-American senior year. Playing in Dave Rose's offense was apparently too good an opportunity for Carlino to pass up.
BYU fans had to wait until mid-season to see Carlino play. He showed a rare degree of confidence right away, competing hard against Baylor in his first NCAA game. He missed a three towards the end that would have sent the game into overtime. Carlino is the kind of player who wants to make the big passes and take the big shots, and that is good for BYU going forward. This year he was hit and miss. He made a number of gutsy shots and converted some stunning passes, but he also made more mistakes than is ideal for a starting point guard.
A number of opponents successfully pressured Carlino into making errors while handling the ball. Look for Carlino to work on his ball handling (particularly with his right hand) as well as his passing, his shot selection, and his shooting consistency. Carlino can be truly great, but he has work to do.
It is difficult to overstate the impact Hartsock had on this year's team. He is the quintessential BYU player - a balding, mid 20's returned missionary who has the demeanor of a boy scout and yet possesses so much skill and plays with such consistency that he leaves opponents wondering what has happened to them.
Hartsock did not score at will like Jimmer Fredette did last year, but he did just about everything else. He provided a calming influence to BYU's offense by being a consistent scorer, often finding baskets just when the Cougars needed them most. He also played excellent help defense, tying Shawn Bradley for the second most career blocks in BYU history, including six blocks in a loss at Gonzaga toward the end of the season.
Hartsock gets many jokes about his male pattern baldness and general missionary demeanor, but behind it all is unquestioned respect and affection. Jimmer's Shadow? Rejected by Hartsock.
Anson Winder: B
Coming off a redshirt, Winder was a pleasant surprise. He spelled Zylstra admirably at the point guard position until Carlino became eligible, and he had an impact on a number of games later in the season. Rose has quite the complement of guards to rotate in order to give opponents different looks, and Winder gives him a speedy, athletic guard who is good in transition offense and on-the-ball defense. I look forward to watching Winder develop over the next three years.
Craig Cusick: A-
In my opinion, Cusick is BYU's unsung hero of the year. Rose often put him in when BYU badly needed offensive consistency, and he came through many times. The Utah transfer provided BYU with good passing, consistent outside shooting, and above average defense. Rose is lucky to have him both as a changeup option and as an example of sorts for the younger guards. Next to Hartsock, Cusick displayed the most mental toughness of any player this year, and he helped BYU through some of its most difficult moments.
Nate Austin: B+
Austin may have been the biggest surprise of the year. Returned missionaries don't often make an immediate impact upon returning (see: Chris Collinsworth), but Austin provided BYU much-needed depth in the frontcourt. He played with confidence and was productive on the defensive end and on the glass. He also displayed a beautiful outside shot that could become a nightmare for opposing defenses.