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BYU Basketball Power Rankings, Week 0: The Golden Age of Cougar hoops is finally here

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The reunited Lone Peak Three headlined the Cougars’ preseason play in a big way.

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Welcome to the BYU Basketball Power Rankings — the weekly feature where we rank each member of the hoops team based on how they’re playing right now.

We’ve done this in past years (and for football!), and I figured there was no better way to properly process and analyze the inevitable ups and downs of the impending 2016-17 season — which, lest we should forget, Cougar fans have been patiently waiting for for more than five years now. This is a big deal, and we should savor this new era of BYU hoops as much as we can.

Let’s kick things off by setting a baseline with some preseason rankings just hours before the boys in blue take the court for the first time for real against Princeton. This week’s rankings are inclusive of player performance in the exhibition games against Seattle Pacific and BYU-Hawaii, and everything you see here is purely reflective of my own opinions and biases. Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own peril.

Now let’s get to the rankings...

14. Zach Frampton

Frampton was a full-time missionary a little over a month ago — and unsurprisingly, he looks a bit like a guy who hasn’t played much basketball for a few years. He’s a step slow and not particularly confident, and that’s to be expected. He mostly just fades into the background most of the time, which I suppose is better than standing out in a negative way. But it’s going to take some time for Zach to work his way back into playing form, so I wouldn’t expect to see him get many rotation minutes moving forward.

13. Jamal Aytes

Aytes has really struggled to find his rhythm thus far — and it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Coach Dave Rose has given him opportunities to show what he can do, and has even praised his play in practice, but it just hasn’t translated effectively to game situations yet. His shooting touch has been off, and he has managed to rack up an incredible amount of fouls in fairly limited time on the court. Hopefully Jamal can turn things around quickly as the games start to count.

12. Davin Guinn

Rose has raved about Guinn’s progression over the summer, and even rewarded his hard work by inserting him in the starting lineup for the Seattle Pacific game. For whatever reason, we have yet to see the fruits of that work evidence themselves on the court in a game setting. That’s not to say that we won’t — Rose is a smart basketball mind and he knows what he’s seeing in practices and workouts — but Davin hasn’t asserted himself as of yet.

11. Elijah Bryant

I don’t expect that Bryant will spend much time this season in the double-digit portion of our rankings, but this is where he starts. The Elon transfer is working his way back from meniscus surgery and was only recently cleared to play in game settings. He suited up for a few minutes against BYU-Hawaii and the results were... not great. He looked out of sorts and unsure of his game, which led him to pass up open jump shots and opt to repeatedly drive into congestion in the painted area.

Don’t get me wrong: Elijah is a very good basketball player who will play a major role on this team for the next several seasons. But he’s very clearly still overcoming the interconnected mental and physical challenges that come with an athlete learning to trust their body again after injury. Expect his role to be somewhat reduced over these first few games as he continues to get comfortable with being back on the court.

10. Payton Dastrup

Dastrup is another guy who recently returned from his LDS mission and is still rounding back into shape. You can tell he’s not quite there yet, but his feel for the game is unmistakeable. He moves quite well for a man of his size and we’ve already gotten a few flashes of what he’ll be capable of once he’s up to speed. Payton was a Top 100 recruit out of high school for a reason. It’ll just take a bit of patience to see all of his abilities on full display.

9. Braiden Shaw

Here’s a guy who has certainly made the most of his limited opportunities thus far. In just 17 combined minutes through two exhibition games, Shaw has scored 13 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and grabbed 11 rebounds. That’s some insanely efficient production. Now, it’s worth stating the obvious caveat that the vast majority of these minutes came late in blowouts against the other team’s bench-warmers — and we should note that these were Division II bench-warmers, so take all of this with a hefty helping of salt.

But what Shaw’s solid start shows us is the value of continuity. Braiden didn’t play much last year, but he’s now been back from his mission and engaged in basketball activities for well over a year, and he’s seeing the fruits of that effort. He’s probably less talented than a guy like Dastrup overall, but Dastrup is still working his way back through the post-mission haze, while Shaw is doing more with less because he’s been in the program for longer and has benefitted accordingly. This is great for Braiden, but it also bodes well for Dastrup and other recently returned missionaries as a sign of an upward future trajectory.

8. Colby Leifson

If you’re looking for the surprise of the season so far, Leifson is it. The Georgia native was a late addition to the squad after he blew up on the AAU circuit over the summer and delayed his mission plans to walk on for a year in Provo. He’s been nothing short of a minor revelation in his games so far.

Many wondered how BYU would replace the sharpshooting of the recently departed human safety valve Zac Seljaas, and it appears Leifson is up to the task. The kid can just flat out shoot. Part of this is because he’s always ready and in position to fire when he catches the ball, and he’s got an extremely quick and efficient shooting motion. He hasn’t shown much outside of spot-up jump shooting yet, which might make him easier to game plan for (Seattle Pacific held him without a shot), but if opponents lose track of him, they should be prepared to pay the price.

7. Steven Beo

Speaking of surprises, Beo has also turned quite a few heads in the earlygoing. A prolific scorer in high school, he didn’t come to Provo with much fanfare — in fact, he was originally slated to join the team as a walk-on until transfers opened up an additional scholarship. But Steven has made the most of his opportunities so far, looking remarkably poised and under control for a freshman. He’s shown the ability to score at all three levels (at the rim, in the midrange and from long-distance), while keeping the trains running on time for the Cougars’ second unit. While Emery, Haws, Rose and Bryant will likely dominate the lion’s share of playing time on the guard line, there will be a handful of minutes to be had for someone who can slot in as a competent role player — and Beo appears well positioned to scoop them up.

6. Yoeli Childs

If you didn’t know already, you certainly know now: Yoeli Childs is a big time talent. The true freshman has asserted himself quite nicely in his first few games as a Cougar, laying the groundwork for what should be a very special career to come.

Childs is an absolute rebounding machine, vacuuming up any and all loose balls in his vicinity. His body is strong beyond his years, and his next-level athleticism brings a new dimension that BYU hasn’t seen in quite some time. He relentlessly hammers home dunks — either out in transition or off putbacks — and once his perimeter shot starts falling more consistently, he will give Dave Rose yet another deadly weapon on the offensive end. Like many a youngster before him, he’ll need to figure out how to guard at a Division I level without fouling, but there’s no question the future is exceptionally bright for Yo.

5. Kyle Davis

BYU fans were up and down on Davis throughout his first season in Provo. There were times when he was offensively dominant down low, and there were times when he didn’t move the ball quickly enough and missed a lot of easy baskets. (Then there was the rest of the time when he was an absolute sieve on defense.)

Some of those kinks appear to have been ironed out over the summer. Davis is certainly passing the ball better, looking to kick passes back out to open shooters on a more consistent basis, which is a big step in the right direction. He had a big game against BYU-Hawaii, scoring 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting, which seems to indicate the type of ceiling Davis can have.

Of course, some of the tough stuff is still there. He still missed easy buckets in the paint, as evidenced by his middling 1-for-5 shooting performance against Seattle Pacific, and he’s still not a great team defender. But nobody’s perfect and, all things considered, Kyle should be positioned to contribute positively as a senior leader this season. If nothing else, having Yoeli Childs breathing down his neck should incentivize some continued improvement.

4. LJ Rose

Rose has spent most of the preseason on the injured reserve with a bum ankle, but he finally made his BYU debut in the final exhibition game — and he did not disappoint.

The Houston transfer racked up 10 assists and 8 rebounds, showing himself to be just the kind of experienced and unselfish floor general that this young team full of dead-eye gunners needs to keep everyone fed. His ability to probe weaknesses in the defense, draw help and distribute to open teammates — either cutting to the basket or spotting up on the perimeter — truly is a sight to behold.

Injury troubles have marred his collegiate career to this point, but if LJ can stay healthy, he looks to be a vital piece for any success the Cougars hope to have this season.

3. TJ Haws

I think everyone pretty much expected that TJ Haws would be good at basketball. I mean, look at the bloodlines, look at the storied high school career, look at the highlight videos — seems like a given. But I’m not sure any of us we’re prepared for him to be this good this fast.

I don’t know if it’s something in their DNA (or just their father Marty’s coaching), but the Haws boys just never look like they’ve missed a step after their mission. Tyler was a beast immediately upon returning from the Philippines a few years back, and TJ looks like he’s ready for a similarly quick (read: non-existent) readjustment period.

The “Ginger Mamba” has looked polished in virtually every aspect of his offensive game — both getting to the hoop through crafty moves and bombing away from deep. He’s also been one of BYU’s most reliable perimeter defenders, a commodity which the team sorely needs. He’s still skinny as a rail and may always be, but that doesn’t seem to hold him back on the court. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that we’ll have many, many memorable nights of watching TJ Haws scorch opposing defenses ahead of us.

2. Eric Mika

As good as TJ has been, it should tell you something about these last two guys that he still only came in third. Mika has been the epitome of consistency in the preseason, averaging 19 points and 9.5 boards in the exhibitions. He has shown an expanded game in the low post, including a deadly left hand that he certainly didn’t have as a freshman two years ago. He’s also improved his range, enabling him to step out and hit jumpers out to 10 feet, which should do wonders for BYU’s spacing when they play two bigs.

A few questions remain for Eric, like whether or not he can avoid foul trouble long enough to make this kind of impact on a real game, but the early returns say this is a bigger, stronger and better version of the already very good player we bid adieu to a few seasons back. Mika will anchor this team in the low post and ensure that the Cougars don’t revert to the one-dimensional, perimeter-only attack we’ve seen the past few years.

1. Nick Emery

And here we are. Number one, with a bullet. (Or at least with a punch forearm shiver to Brandon Taylor’s head shoulder.) Nick Emery is the true leader of this BYU team. Yes, he has two senior co-captains who also carry the official mantle of leadership — but the heart and soul of the Cougars beats in the surgically repaired chest of its scrappy sophomore firebrand. He will occupy this spot on principle until someone supplants him by sheer force of will.

You can love or hate how the kid carries himself (many opponents will undoubtedly pick the latter, but I’ll go with the former), but you have to respect his ability to give 100 percent on every single play. You never doubt whether Nick is going to come ready to play. The results may very from time to time (although not by much), but he’s going to compete like his life depends on it on both ends of the floor either way.

But this isn’t just about effort. Emery is really, really good at basketball. There’s a reason he was recently ranked as the 82nd best player in the entire country by SB Nation. He can fill it up on offense in any way you like — from deep, off pull-ups or attacking the rim, you pick your poison — while always keeping his head on a swivel to find an open teammate. His tenacity on the defensive end is second to none and will go a long way toward setting an improved tone on that end of the floor — an absolute must if BYU is serious about its NCAA tournament aspirations.

This is a highly inexperienced team, and Emery is one of the few Cougars with significant experience playing in Dave Rose’s system. When things get tight down the stretch and BYU needs a basket, you can bank on the ball finding its way into Emery’s hands — and you can also rest easy knowing that he’ll be ready to rise and fire when it does.