For the past four years Anson Winder has been with the Cougars, he has been a hard man to peg. His playing time has been inconsistent and he's battled constant injuries. His sophomore year, he only averaged eight minutes and struggled with a nagging ankle injury that limited his effectiveness.
But as the phrase goes, this year is a new year. Near the end of last season, he proved himself to be a catalyst for a young Cougar team. He shot better than 57 percent in six of his last seven games, displaying an affinity for hitting timely shots as the season wound down. I expect to see Dave Rose further utilize Winder to help carry another relatively young team.
Despite the presence of five seniors, this team still lacks experience. It's also huge: there are 17 players on the active roster, a significantly higher number than last season. With so many guys on the team, competition will be high and those players who do have experience will be very valuable. Winder's experience and versatility should give him the leg up on a lot of the new guys.
Winder's strengths can sometimes go unnoticed. He isn't the go-to scorer that Tyler Haws is. He's not going to put up 25 points a night. Teams aren't going to gameplan to stop him the way teams do to stop Haws. He also isn't a do-it-all type of player like Kyle Collinsworth. KC is a triple-double waiting to happen every night. Winder isn't even really the type of guy who's going to catch fire and take over a game, like Matt Carlino was from time to time.
BYU's best players are guys that fill up a stat sheet. It's easy to see the effect Haws and Collinsworth have on the game. What Winder brings may not always show up in the stats, but his contributions should not be ignored.
(That's not to say that Winder isn't capable of getting stats of his own. Against Loyola Marymount last year, he had 16 points and six steals to go along with two rebounds and three assists on 8-for-8 shooting from the charity stripe. Earlier in the season, he also posted 22 points, six assists, three boards and shot 86 percent from the field against Mount St. Mary's.)
Most importantly, Winder is one of the best on-ball defenders on a team that is not known for having a good defense. (Well, that's an understatement — BYU is known for having a terrible defense.) The Cougars' defense consistently draws the ire of the fan base. Usually that is offset by a high-octane offense, but that's not always the case. Last year, the Cougars scored 96 points against Massachusetts, but gave up 105 and lost. They also scored 96 at No. 13 Oregon, but ended up losing in overtime because the defense couldn't get stops. One of Winder's primary roles will be to help lighten the defensive load.
Haws will play a very similar defensive role to the one Jimmer played — the "stay out of foul trouble" role. Winder does a good job of staying in front of his man. He's strong enough to take on bigger guards and quick enough to guard the smaller ones. If BYU is going to improve upon next season, the defense is going to have to step up. Winder can be the man that sets the tone.
Anson isn't just going to be a perimeter stopper this season though. Dave Rose's teams have always been reliant on great guard play. This team isn't likely to be any different. There are a bunch of big — but mostly untested — bodies to battle it out for frontcourt time, but this Cougar team is still going to live and die by its backcourt and wing play.
Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth will grab all the headlines, but to truly be contenders, the Cougars will need a third man to support the two stars. This could be fulfilled in a couple ways.
With the logjam at the guard line, as there often tends to be at BYU, Winder will undoubtedly have stiff competition. Newcomer and co-captain Chase Fischer should be Winder's primary rival for minutes. Those two are expected to battle for the other starting guard spot alongside Haws and Collinsworth. But regardless of who starts, both Winder and Fischer are likely to see big minutes and be crucial to BYU's success. That could be with Winder leading the second unit or being the third guy in Rose's three-headed offensive attack. Either way, it's going to be fun to watch.
We've all been waiting for Anson Winder to step up and be a primary contributor. He showed near the end of last season that he possesses the ability to do that. With an increased role and workload, I expect Winder to put up career numbers across the board. While there may not always be enough touches to go around, Anson will find a way to affect the game in multiple ways and help make this BYU team better than they were a year ago.