With the BYU Cougars heading into February in the now-familiarly precarious position of sitting just on the outside of the NCAA tournament bubble, it seems like a good time to take stock of which players’ recent performances have helped keep the boys in blue in the hunt — and who they’ll need more help from if they hope to get over the hump.
Since these are Power Rankings, we’ll rank each member of the BYU basketball team based on how they’re playing right now. Of course, these rankings are purely subjective and determined solely by a committee of one — namely, myself — based on my perception of player performances in recent weeks. So everything you see here is purely reflective of my own opinions and biases.
Sound good? Let’s get to it.
1. Elijah Bryant
What more is there to say about Elijah Bryant than has already been said? The guy can just flat out play the game of basketball. It’s truly beautiful to watch. His game’s not necessarily flashy, but it’s deadly effective. With an uncanny ability to score at all three levels and create for his teammates, Bryant has been this year’s MVP for me.
The challenge for Eli is staying engaged. He’s a remarkably unselfish player, especially for an alpha scorer, which can sometimes lead him to become too passive on offense. Make no mistake, this BYU team needs him to score in bunches. So while it may seem honorable for him to look out for his teammates, the Cougars can’t afford for him to defer too much.
2. Yoeli Childs
As good as Bryant has been, Childs hasn’t been far behind. While Bryant is my current pick for team MVP, it honestly could have gone either way. These two guys have carried so much of the offensive and defensive load for the Cougars, it’s hard to overstated their impact.
Yoeli’s been battling through the flu which has reduced his minutes some over the past few games, which is why he shows up in the 2-spot here. That being said, when he’s been on the floor, he’s been just as effective as ever. I’d still like to see him get into defenders’ bodies more consistently when making moves in the post rather than fading away, but these are small nits to pick. It’s also worth noting that he’s absolutely anchored BYU’s defense as the team’s lone rim protector — something that doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough.
3. TJ Haws
A month ago, I’m not sure TJ Haws would be sitting in a top 3 spot in these rankings. Heck, I’m not sure he’d even be sitting in a top 5 spot. TJ had a rough first half of the season, to put it mildly, but he’s come on like gangbusters in recent weeks with several virtuoso performances — many in spots where the Cougars have really needed him.
And that will continue to be the case. In order to have any hope for the Big Dance (including making a run to win the auto-bid at the WCC tournament), BYU will need TJ to be firing on all cylinders. While Bryant and Childs have been incredible, they can’t carry this team to the heights it wants to be without a third co-star. Haws is the only player realistically suited to fill that role, and it’s been a pleasure to see him stepping back into it over the last handful of games. More please.
4. Payton Dastrup
Here’s where things might start to get surprising. Dastrup hasn’t gotten a lot of time on the floor, but you can count me firmly as one of the growing number of voices wondering why. If you look at the statistics on a per-100-possession basis (which adjust for playing time and offers the best measure of a player’s efficiency), Dastrup currently sits second on the team in points (25.0) behind Bryant and Childs, and second in rebounds (14.0) behind only Childs. He’s shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor and a staggering 53 percent from beyond the arc. And interestingly enough, he has the best defensive rating on the team (which is admittedly a flawed metric, but one worth noting.)
To be sure, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. I know some have shared concerns about Payton’s ability to effectively rotate on defense, particularly on perimeter assignments, or his distressingly high turnover rate. Those things are all true, although I think we’ve seen improvement on the former in recent weeks. But when you’re fighting for a tournament bid, you need your most talented, effective and efficient players on the floor. Dastrup has been all three when given the chance, so it’s a mystery why he hasn’t gotten more opportunities. Here’s to hoping his number gets called more often this weekend...
5. Jahshire Hardnett
Here’s the thing about Jahshire Hardnett: He’s a good player. He’s solid. He rarely makes mistakes. You know you can put the ball in his hands and it’s unlikely a disaster will occur. And that’s a valuable thing for a team to have. Hardnett has had a few standout games, but mostly, he’s been a picture of consistency: almost always good, very rarely bad. Safe.
But there’s another side to this coin: While seeking safety is good in many situations and undoubtedly raises a team’s floor, does it also ultimately lower its ceiling? For all his strengths, Hardnett is not the world’s most dynamic playmaker. He can run your offense and make the right passes to the right spots, but he’s unlikely to display the creative brand of playmaking that can make an offense truly special.
All of which begs the question: Should the ball be in TJ Haws’ hands more often? Haws has his flaws, but when he’s on his game, he’s inarguably among the most visionary playmakers that BYU has had in the last decade. He sees opportunities for himself and others that few do — and he excels in exploiting them when properly empowered to do so. With that in mind, while Hardnett’s steadiness certainly served the Cougars well during Haws’ journey in the basketball wilderness, with TJ on the come-up in recent weeks, it might be time to hand the keys back over to a more aggressive driver and see what this thing can really do.
6. Luke Worthington
You always know what you get with Luke Worthington: strong post defense, excellent pick-and-roll coverage, great leadership, and a couple two-dribble hook shots per game to keep the defense honest. And to be honest, that’s kind of all you need him to be. He’s not going to be a fit in every matchup, but Luke is the type of guy that every team wants to have — both on and off the floor.
7. McKay Cannon
The curious case of McKay Cannon just gets curiouser and curiouser. After breaking onto the scene in a big way with strong outings in his first few games in blue, Cannon has mostly settled into a unremarkable bench role over the past month or so. He’s definitely showed potential to have more impact, but he may need to look for his shot more aggressively, especially from outside. When he takes them, he makes them at a 42 percent clip, among the best on the team. I’d be fine with McKay chucking up a few more bombs in the weeks ahead.
8. Zac Seljaas
There are few people that love Zac Seljaas’ game more than I do, but it’s been tough to watch him this year. It often seems like he’s simply not comfortable in Heath Schroyer’s new offense, which places a premium on halfcourt actions that get ball-handlers moving toward the basket, at the expense of the types of transition looks and pindown sets of years’ past that used to set up shooters like Chase Fischer and Seljaas to feast on open threes in rhythm. While things seem to have improved slightly in recent weeks with more time on the court and a return to the starting lineup, it remains an open question for me whether Zac’s significant strengths are being fully utilized in BYU’s current scheme.
9. Dalton Nixon
Dalton Nixon epitomizes hustle in all its forms (as evidenced in the photo above). He just wills his way into making a positive impact on the floor. While his minutes and effectiveness have been limited since his return from a prolonged absence, his ability to return to his pre-injury form could play a big part in helping the Cougars find another level in the season’s final month.
Not Ranked: Rylan Bergersen, Evan Troy