The BYU Cougars held their annual Cougar Tip-Off scrimmage on Wednesday evening in the Marriott Center, where the "Blue" team overcame a 23-point first half deficit to beat the "White" squad, 66-60.
Of course, this was an intrasquad scrimmage very early in the season and the Cougars have a whole lot left to work on before the lights go on for real on November 13, so it's important not to read too much into what we saw here.
Nevertheless, there were some notable insights and worthwhile observations that stuck out to me that'll be worth monitoring as the team moves forward. So without further ado, let's take a look at a few things we learned from Wednesday's contest.
1. The injury bug is alive and well
First and foremost, the bad news. BYU has already seen two of its likely starters go down with injuries in camp, Kyle Collinsworth and Corbin Kaufusi. Both sat out this game as a precautionary measure. But things only got worse for the Cougars' health prospects in the scrimmage. Both Chase Fischer (leg contusion) and Jordan Chatman (sprained ankle) left the game early with injuries, leaving Dave Rose with troublesome injuries to grapple with at several key positions — and the season hasn't even started yet. Hopefully none of these knocks end up being particularly serious, but you have to be a little nervous when 40 percent of your projected rotation players are already banged up.
2. Kyle Collinsworth is really important
It was good to see all the guys who were healthy get out there and do some stuff, but there was no escaping one simple fact: this team just doesn't work as well without Collinsworth on the floor. Beyond being their leader and floor general, Kyle simply does everything for this team — he scores, he rebounds, he distributes. His presence makes every single player around him better. And with him sitting on the bench in sweats tonight, everything just felt a little bit disjointed. Hopefully he can make a speedy recovery and get back to doing what he does best — which, again, is everything.
3. The kids are alright
While the "Blue" team was comprised of primarily experienced upperclassmen who are likely to compete for prominent spots in Rose's rotation, the "White" squad were almost exclusively freshmen who hadn't played college basketball in at least two years, if ever. There was a bit of a feeling that the young kids were being sent out as sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered by their more experienced counterparts. And then the game started. White started fast and jumped out to a 23-point lead on their elders in the first half, with several newcomers flashing promise — including Zac Seljaas, Elijah Bryant, Jakob Hartsock and Cory Calvert. They ended up choking that lead away in the second half when the Blue team finally found their bearings, but it was immediately clear that there's no shortage of talent in the Cougars' future.
4. And so are the vets
After looking lost in a haze in the first half, the more experienced Blue team buckled down and showed their polish in the second half — erasing that 20-plus-point lead in a matter of 10 minutes and eventually seizing control down the stretch. While it would've been nice if they'd never dug themselves that big a hole in the first place, it was good to see the veterans battle back and never give up in the face of some (self-created) adversity.
5. Nick Emery is everything we've been promised — or at least he will be
The topic of Nick Emery is a touchy one to discuss, because the expectations for his arrival have been so high for so long that it may not ever be possible for him to live up to what some folks believe he should be able to do right out of the gate. He's simply not going to cure cancer with his jump shot or anything like that, so let's put the craziness on ice for a minute.
That being said, Emery looked really, really good in the scrimmage. Leading the Blue team with 19 points, he showcased the incredible range and quick release that he became known for at Lone Peak, while also getting into the lane with a variety of crafty moves that highlighted his well-rounded offensive game nicely. He also competed on defense, diving on the floor for loose balls on multiple occasions and staying in front of his man on the perimeter.
All in all, it was an incredibly impressive performance, particularly considering he's only a freshman who was playing in his first competitive basketball game in two years. There will certainly be ups and downs to come over the next year as Nick adjusts to the collegiate level, but all the tools are there for him to join the list of BYU greats somewhere down the road.
6. Zac Seljaas is ready to contribute right now
Despite being Utah's Gatorade Player of the Year last season as a senior, Zac Seljaas has kind of flown under everyone's radar. He wasn't particularly highly rated by national recruiting services, so most BYU fans have focused on flashier objects and forgotten about the freshman sharpshooter from Bountiful. That probably ended tonight. Seljaas looked poised, confident and aggressive as he led the White team in scoring, dropping 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting — including 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. If Rose is looking for another perimeter threat to help stretch opposing defenses, Zac showed tonight that he's worth considering as the man for the job. If he keeps stroking it like that, he'll definitely compete for rotation minutes this season.
7. The free throw shooting will need to improve
The two teams combined to shoot a dismal 59 percent from the free throw line in the contest — and there were a lot of free throws. That's not going to cut it moving forward. If BYU is going to win close games against good teams, they're going to have to convert at the stripe at a higher clip than they did tonight. Maybe this was an anomaly — Rose's teams almost always shoot a good percentage on freebies — but it was a bit concerning nonetheless.
8. Kyle Davis is going to bring his lunchpail to work
The Utah State transfer is as blue-collar as they come. Davis posted the game's only double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. He may not do much that's flashy, but he plays hard and uses fundamentally sound footwork to be quietly effective down low. Over the past few years, BYU has lacked a big man who they could throw the ball to in the post and rely on to go get them easy buckets when the jump shots ran cold. That drought seems like it may finally be over with Davis in town.
9. The jury is still out on Jamal Aytes
Aytes is another guy who could hypothetically bring a more consistent presence in the paint for the Cougars — but it remains to be seen how he best fits into BYU's system. He's undersized for a power forward, which might cause him to struggle against taller players down low. Nevertheless, he does have great length for his size and used his body and strength nicely to create separation and score amongst the trees on Wednesday, so perhaps these concerns are unwarranted. It's worth watching how Jamal asserts himself and what role he fills as the team moves into its exhibition schedule, because he could be a valuable piece to Rose's puzzle.
10. Elijah Bryant is a handful
BYU fans won't see him play again for another year, but the Elon transfer gave us something to get excited about in this one. Bryant is a big, strong guard who can play both on and off the ball, and he repeatedly showed his ability to use his size and athletic gifts to attack defenders with the dribble, either getting all the way to the rim or setting up others for open looks. (Not to mention, he has a pretty good stroke of his own too.) Bryant is going to be a matchup nightmare for opponents, particularly when paired on the guard line with other talented, versatile players like Emery and TJ Haws. It should be fun to watch him do his thing in the blue and white over the coming years.