BYU held their annual Cougar Tip-Off at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, signaling the ceremonial beginning of the basketball season.
There's not usually a ton one can take from these organized intrasquad scrimmages. It's early in the season. Everyone's rusty from not playing in real games for six months. Not everyone even plays. Those who do are essentially playing against mirror images of themselves, running the same sets and defensive schemes. It's all kind of perfunctory.
But all that aside: Why not attempt to draw some sweeping conclusions from 40 minutes of meaningless basketball with exceptionally limited bearing on the season to come whatsoever? What's that you're saying? I don't even know what a small sample size is — I didn't get an "A" in Statistics 121. Let's just trot out the ol' "eye test" and throw out some initial observations (based entirely on watching BYU play against themselves) that could feasibly change at any time in the very near future!
Sound good? Let's do this.
1. Three-man weaves are boring.
In a feat of supreme planning and coordination, the referees weren't present when the Cougar Tip-Off telecast went live, so BYUtv viewers were treated to several minutes of the team running through a three-man weave drill. Riveting stuff.
Look, I liked this drill as much as the next guy back when I played competitively. It's a great way to loosen up and get the blood flowing at the beginning of practice. But it's just not exciting — it's not an event made for television. Of course, I suppose the alternative was watching the players sit around and look at each other, and that seems much worse.
Big lesson here: referees are important elements of a game. Make sure they show up.
2. BYU doesn't have a backup point guard.
One of the greatest mysteries of BYU's season at this point is who will seize the role (and attached minutes) of backup point guard. Kyle Collinsworth has his name etched in stone as the starter (so long as he's healthy), but there's no clear option when he needs to take a break. Several candidates have been floated, but none looked particularly promising in the scrimmage. Not that they're not good players — they're just not Division I point guards.
Jordan Ellis probably came the closest to not giving me an ulcer when he brought the ball up the floor against even token pressure, but he's athletically limited and doesn't provide much of a threat in the halfcourt offense. Frank Bartley and Skyler Halford are both fine players in other roles, but watching them dribble in transition is like riding a roller coaster when the safety bar is broken: It's only a matter of time until you can't hold on any longer and you fall to a swift and painful death. (Too dramatic?)
The problem is, even with 17 guys on the roster, I don't know if there are any legitimate options. I'm not sure there's a single player on the roster who's capable of handling a legitimate press (something which the Cougars are incapable of applying on themselves in a scrimmage) and also contributing in the halfcourt on both ends. Hopefully someone will step up and prove himself worthy over the next few weeks. Otherwise, BYU fans better pray that Collinsworth's knee heals properly and that he's ready to handle a significant minutes load all year long.
3. The jury is still out on the posts.
The Cougars have a lot of new faces down low. That's a bad thing in that Eric Mika is gone (for a good cause!), but a good thing in that Dave Rose now has a lot of options once his starting forwards inevitably pick up two fouls apiece in the first few minutes of every game. So there are a lot of big bodies — the problem is, we still don't have any indication that they're any good.
Corbin Kaufusi was the subject of most of the breathlessly optimistic preseason speculation (primarily because no one could disprove anything you said with actual evidence, because no one had ever seen him play), but he looked raw and unpolished in the scrimmage. The physical tools are there, but they seem a ways away from being ready for prime time.
Isaac Neilson flashed some nice moments offensively, including a pretty stroke from the outside — but both he and Kaufusi got manhandled in the post by the much smaller (albeit seemingly talented) Kyle Davis. Not a great indication of future success against the likes of Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski or St. Mary's' Brad Waldow.
Luke Worthington still uses his strength better than anyone to defend effectively on the block — so long as you can keep him out of foul trouble. He picked up three quick ones on Wednesday, all of which would result in him sitting on the bench in a real game. One bright spot for Luke? He figured out how to shoot a jump hook! Worthington scored with both hands and from both sides of the floor after catching on the block, an encouraging development in his game that could prove valuable moving forward.
And oh yeah, Ryan Andrus was there too. He actually exceeded my expectations, but that was mostly a function of me expecting he was a mortal lock to redshirt this season. He didn't look too out of place and had some nice moments, but he was still clearly the weakest of the available post options.
All in all, the competition to start alongside Nate Austin is wide open, and the Cougar Tip-Off didn't get us any closer to finding an answer. We'll just have to stay tuned.
4. Tyler Haws is even better than you remember.
If there was a knock on Tyler Haws following his stellar junior season, it was that he didn't shoot enough threes to be considered a legitimate NBA prospect. After a summer of working on his range, it looks like Haws has succeeded in fixing that problem.
The All-American candidate persistently looked for long-distance opportunities all night long — and converted them when he found them. He finished 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, racking up a total of 35 points in 33 total minutes. Needless to say, the man can score, y'all. (Also, Haws almost got legitimately killed by Neilson on a hard foul in the first half. Don't do that, Isaac. We kind of need him.)
Adding a consistently lethal long ball to his already deadly arsenal of mid-range wizardry (seriously, he never misses) should help Haws take yet another step forward with his game. I didn't know if it would be possible for him to get much better, but after 33 meaningless minutes, I'm anxious to be proven wrong when the real games start.
5. BYU still doesn't look all that interested in defense.
For all the preseason talk of the Cougars really wanting to buckle down and focus on defense this season, their first opportunity to show off that new mindset was a decidedly high-scoring affair. Overall, both teams combined to give up 162 points during the two halves. That's an average of 81 points per team per 40 minutes — almost exactly in line with the 83.2 points per game that BYU gave up to opponents last season.
It's still very early in the season and, of course, this is only one meaningless scrimmage. There's plenty of time for the Cougars to make good on their promises to be a stronger defensive team. But based on how they broke out of the gate on Wednesday night, things don't look particularly promising so far.
6. But they do like taking charges!
Most people generally don't attempt to draw offensive fouls in preseason scrimmages. It's just not a thing that is done. The collisions are too forceful and the potential for injury too great to risk trying to take a charge in a game with literally no significance whatsoever. In general, guys just kind of take it easy on that stuff until the games really count.
Not BYU and not on Wednesday. Several players put their bodies on the line throughout the two halves in an attempt to draw charges — and some of them even succeeded in this hair-brained scheme!
Full disclosure: I love charges. I made a living in my high school days out of getting run over by other players. (Yes, that was my one elite skill. Not a great one to have, admittedly.) There's not a single play in basketball, outside of a massive dunk, that has the potential to change the momentum of a game so significantly and so immediately as a well-timed charge. They have the potential to shift the very outcome of entire games — and that makes them exceptionally valuable and worth pursuing.
So it makes me pretty happy to see BYU trying to take them — in a scrimmage no less! With so many guys fighting for so few minutes, I imagine a lot of this is the result of players trying to find every opportunity they can to showcase their hustle and toughness to the coaches. They want to earn that playing time, and putting your body on the line is usually a good way to prove your commitment to the cause. It may not be particularly wise — again, people get hurt doing this stuff — but I won't knock them for giving their all. Now if they could just apply that same attitude and focus to other defensive areas, too...
7. The Cougars love jumping to pass.
If there's one play that will drive any basketball coach absolutely nuts, it's when a player jumps to pass. Nothing ticks them off more, with the possible exception of poor effort. The jump-pass is the bane of their existence.
Why, you ask? Because so many things can (and usually do) go wrong once a player is suspended in mid-air with limited (and always decreasing) time and options to get rid of the ball safely before creating a guaranteed turnover. For example, if you were to jump in the air to make a pass to a teammate that you thought was open, but his defender stepped over to close off that passing lane at the last second (as they often do), you would now be stuck in the air with the ball and only a split-second to locate and pass to another suitable receiver before hitting the ground again and committing a traveling violation. That's a tall task — and one that most players at virtually every level struggle to accomplish consistently.
That's why coaches hate the jump-pass. So many thing have to go right (including some, like defender positioning, that are out of your control) for it to work — and when those things inevitably don't go right, it leaves you in a heavily compromised position that often produces unnecessary turnovers. But BYU? Based on the Cougar Tip-Off, BYU loves the jump-pass. In fact, I believe I saw one on nearly every other possession.
To be sure, there is occasional value in jumping to pass — it can open up passing angles that might not otherwise be available. But regardless of the potential benefit, it always carries with it considerable risk — a risk I would prefer to not see go against BYU in the closing moments of a close contest once the games actually matter.
So for an intrasquad scrimmage? Sure, jump-pass to your heart's content. But let's hope Dave Rose can drill this small but toxic bad habit out of his squad before things get going for real.
8. Chase Fischer is more than just a spot-up shooter.
The 411 on Fischer has always been that he's a 3-point marksmen — a catch-and-shoot specialist that lives on the perimeter. And that's a perfectly fine thing for him to be, because it's a role that BYU desperately needs to fill if they want to be successful in the coming season.
However, based on Wednesday's early returns, it appears that Fischer has expanded his game to become much more than a stationary jump-shooter. Chase was in attack mode for the full 40 minutes, looking to get all the way to the rim and convert whenever possible. He also showed off an impressive array of head fakes that successfully drew his defender off-balance and enabled him to take one dribble past for a pretty pull-up jumper.
Don't get me wrong: Fischer did plenty of outside shooting too, including a 28-foot bomb that was vaguely Jimmer-esque in its distance. He'll need to do a lot of that this season to serve as BYU's crucial third option to complement Haws and Collinsworth. But if Chase can continue to apply himself as a dynamic scorer with a variety of tools in his belt and get buckets in multiple ways, he'll make that job a whole lot easier on himself — and make life harder on his defenders.