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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Big 12 Expectations, Team Health, Recruiting, and More

The latest in the BYU Basketball world as Big 12 play begins.

Wyoming v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

After a 12-1 start to non-conference play that blew away even the most realistic fans’ expectations, BYU begins its Big 12 journey Saturday when Cincinnati comes to Provo.

Lot going on right now in terms of health, Big 12 expectations, rotations, and more, which I touch on below in my latest BYU basketball mailbag.

What’s your prediction for Fouss the rest of this season?

BYU has been without Fousseyni Traore since he hurt his hamstring/knee November 24 versus NC State. The junior big man has started 60 of 72 games in his career and was arguably BYU’s best player coming into the year. Fouss was Second Team All-WCC last year when he led BYU with averages of 13 points and 8 boards per game.

Mark Pope has said he hopes to get Fouss back Saturday in BYU’s Big 12 opener versus Cincinnati. Based on people I’ve talked with, I expect Fouss back on the floor this Saturday barring any setbacks. BYU will be very careful and mindful to not rush him back, but he just fully participated in practice for the first time since his injury.

This is my prediction and not sourced — once he’s healthy I think he’ll come off the bench behind Aly Khalifa. Regardless of who starts between the two, I think that’s fairly negligible since their minutes should be similar. I have a hard time seeing them play on the floor together since they would pose defensive deficiencies with their lack of lateral movement. Fouss would ideally be a four man, but I just don’t think he can guard most fours in the Big 12. He’s going to mainly play the five.

Khalifa I think has brought this offense to a new level with his floor spacing and passing ability, but having a low-post scorer like Fouss will be great to give defenses a different look and give BYU’s offense another option when the shooting goes cold. Fouss has struggled against bigger opponents in his career and he’ll have games where he’s quieter, but he’s undoubtedly a a big boost for an already hot team.

Do we expect Dawson’s role to continue to increase?

I’m a huge Dawson Baker fan. He’s an accomplished college player and who I think is BYU’s best scorer off the dribble. On a team full of long-range snipers, Dawson gives another wrinkle with his ability to create off the dribble.

Health is my biggest concern for Dawson. He had foot surgery over the summer and it just hasn’t fully healed right. Dawson has alluded to his foot in interviews where he’s said he’s wishing for a clean bill of health. Dawson is playing through pain but he’s not in an ideal state.

The UCF game January 16 is an important deadline to keep in mind. That is when Dawson would have to decide if he will medically redshirt. Sources close to the situation have told me that Dawson is mulling over whether to get foot surgery now and medical redshirt — which would give him two years of eligibility after this season — or judge if he can play through the pain effectively enough for the rest of the season. January 16 is an important date because that is game 16 of 31 for BYU, right after halfway point of the regular season. In order to medically redshirt, a player must meet 3 criteria: 1) suffer an injury that is deemed “season ending” 2) the player can’t play after the halfway point of the season and 3) the player can’t play in more than 30% of the games.

I think Dawson will play the next two games versus Cincinnati and Baylor and then make a decision for his future. It would be a bummer to lose a player like Dawson for the remainder of the year, but a silver lining is that he’d still be able to play two seasons after this year. BYU has shown already that they are a great team even without Dawson.

What happens if we drop a few games in a row? Think they will be able to recover?

This question is a good transition into what I think should be expectations for BYU heading into Big 12 play. BYU will have a losing streak this season — maybe multiple! Kansas had a three-game losing streak last season in Big 12 play and was a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State and TCU were 6 seeds and they each had 4-game losing streaks in Big 12 play. West Virginia was a 9 seed and started Big 12 play 0-5.

EVERY team goes through bumps in Big 12 play. There are no layups. West Virginia is 5-8 and the lowest ranked Big 12 team in KenPom and NET. So that could be a breather game for BYU, right? Oh no. West Virginia has loads of talent that they are getting back. Arizona transfer Kerr Kriisa missed the first 9 games and is playing now. They just brought in two high level transfer guards that became eligible in late December after the NCAA ruled all multi-time undergrad transfers could play. Syracuse transfer Jesse Edwards is arguably the second best big in the conference and should be healthy when BYU plays at West Virginia. And that team is at the bottom of the league now!

BYU often got up for big WCC games and struggled to get up for all the lower ones. The challenge now will be to keep up the intensity for 18 consecutive conference games. How will BYU respond if they lost consecutive games to Iowa State and Texas Tech and have Houston and Texas coming to the Marriott Center the next week? That could be a real scenario in two weeks. Every team in the conference has to deal with that reality. BYU will be one of four teams dealing with it for the first time.

How good will Cougs be on the road? I’m a bit worried.

It’s hard to win on the road in college basketball. It’s harder to win on the road in conference play. And the Big 12 is just about the hardest league to win on the road. Let’s look at numbers from the past two seasons. Each of the last two seasons, Big 12 teams are 58-32 on the road in conference play, good for a 64% win clip. Taking that the other way, road teams won in conference play 36% of the time. Last year The Big 12’s home winning percentage in conference play was third highest of any league, the year prior is was second nationally.

Every gym is hard to win in. Some are harder than others depending on how the team is doing, but BYU won’t have places where 40% of the gym is BYU fans like it was for some of the WCC teams.

BYU plays 9 road and 9 home games. If BYU can win at least 2 or 3 road games, I think they can win 6 or 7 home games, which would safely put them in the NCAA Tournament and likely a single-digit seed.

What will the toughest 3-game stretch be in conference play?

Throw a dart at the schedule and you could make a case for those three games. Late February sticks out to me. BYU’s last 3 games of February are a home game versus Baylor and then road games at Kansas State and Kansas. Kansas State went to the Elite 8 last year and the other 2 won national titles in the last seasons. Brutal. Texas Tech, Houston, and Texas to end January is really tough, but the Houston and Texas games are in Provo. BYU doesn’t have a stretch in conference play with 2 consecutive road or home games.

The “easiest” three game stretches are probably the first three or last three. BYU opens with Cincinnati, Baylor, and UCF; the last two are on the road. BYU ends with TCU, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State; TCU and OSU are in Provo.

Do you think Marcus Adams will have a role? I know he’s talented but I’m struggling to see who’s minutes he takes / how he fits in with the current rotation?

How do we see the rotation be in BIG 12 play? Will we continue playing so many guys or will minutes going down for some?

I’ll combine these two together. Marcus Adams Jr is no doubt talented. Bill Self wanted him at Kansas for a reason. He has the size of big NBA wings that can score in bunches. I wrote a few weeks ago that my hope for him would be to turn into a guy that plays 8-10 minutes a night and really owns his role. That is realistically my best case scenario for him this season. Marcus had a lower leg injury to start the year which hurt his conditioning and ability to assimilate himself into the team. Freshmen just typically don’t make a big impact in this league, even some really good ones. Marcus has only had a few weeks to practice on a team that relies on continuity, being in the right spot, and sharing the ball. Marcus’ strength is scoring in isolation situations, which can work in the frame of BYU’s offense, but would require Marcus to play in the flow of the system and BYU to tweak things for him. For those reasons, anything BYU gets from Marcus this season is a bonus in my mind. I think 2024-2025 is where we can really see his impact.

For rotations, BYU could have all 12 scholarship players healthy if Fouss is ready to go Saturday. The rotations might work themselves out some if Dawson has to shut it down, Marcus takes a small role, and any other injuries that happen over the next few months. The 5 spot is one I am really watching. I touched on it after the first question, but Aly, Fouss, and Atiki realistically can only play the 5 and likely won’t be on the floor much together. Aly is the best passing big man in the country, Fouss is BYU’s best low block scorer, and Atiki has played really well the last two games as a rim runner and protector. The luxury BYU has is that they all three can play different roles depending on matchups. The downside is that there are only 40 minutes to go around for three guys. I think Fouss and Aly will get the bulk of the minutes, and Atiki probably averages somewhere between 6-8 minutes and will play more depending on foul trouble and matchups. You could split each guy about 14 minutes apiece, but that doesn’t seem realistic. Aly and Fouss should be on the floor close to 20 minutes each game, and Atiki unfortunately probably gets the shorter end of the stick.

Because of COVID years and medical redshirts, it’s getting a little tricky to figure out exactly how much eligibility everyone has left. Who all could potentially return to BYU next year and who do you think will?

Spencer Johnson is the only player that has zero eligibility after this season. Noah Waterman is listed as a senior, but he has a medical redshirt available from his freshman season at Niagara if he decides to use that. Jaxson Robinson is in his fourth year and listed as a senior, but his freshman year was the “free” COVID year that didn’t count against eligibility, so he could return next year as well. If Jaxson is a possible first round pick like some are already projecting, I think he is for sure gone — and deservedly so! This seems to be a weaker draft class and Jaxson will only get a year older, so I would anticipate him leaving if he has a legitimate shot to be drafted.

What’s the latest with recruiting? There was a big man from Eastern New Mexico on the radar for a while. Not sure if he committed anywhere.

BYU offered 7-foot-2 JUCO transfer Anton Bonke in early November and are still recruiting him. He recently visited Providence and should visit BYU before he signs with a school in April. BYU has a good shot to land him. He’s the only 2024 player BYU is recruiting now. BYU will likely add a player or two from the transfer portal depending on departures.

Any change to Collin Chandler’s commitment?

Nothing has changed from what I’ve said previously. Here is a picture posted to social media last week. Does that logo look familiar to you? (hint: it’s BYU)