The BYU men’s basketball team enters its first season in the West Coast Conference and expects to make an immediate impact.
“Whatever conference we’re in, our expectation is to win the championship,” junior captain Brock Zylstra said. “That’s not something that’s going to change because we’re moving conferences. We think we’re a great team and we think that we can win a lot of games and so we’re looking at winning the conference just like any other year.”
Dave Rose enters his seventh season as BYU’s head coach. During his six previous seasons, Rose has guided BYU to five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 appearance last season. He was also named the Mountain West Coach of the Year three times while leading the Cougars to four MWC titles.
While Rose and the Cougars had great success in the MWC, playing in the WCC may be a more difficult task. Gonzaga has won the WCC regular season title 11 straight seasons and has advanced to the NCAA Tournament 13 straight years. Saint Mary’s has become a regular in post-season tournaments, even advancing to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in 2010.
“Coming into a league that has not only great basketball tradition, but might be as good as the league’s been from top to bottom for a long time, is exciting for us,” Rose said at the WCC media day. “We’re looking forward to a new challenge.”
In the preseason poll voted on by WCC coaches, BYU was picked to finish third behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga received seven first place votes, while Saint Mary’s and BYU received one each.
BYU played both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the 2010-11 season: Saint Mary’s in non-conference play and Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, with BYU coming out on top in both games.
The Cougars won the games mostly behind the play of the 2011 National Player of the Year award winner, Jimmer Fredette. With Fredette graduated, BYU will need to look to new faces to lift them to wins over Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. According to Rose, those players come from his returning starters.
“We’ve got a lot of experience with Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo,” Rose said. “Those three guys have played in big games and have won a lot of games for us and they’ve made winning plays in big games. We’ll rely on those guys a lot.”
Davies is the Cougars’ leading scorer among returners from 2011, after averaging 11.1 points per game. He also pulled in 6.2 rebounds per game and recorded 27 blocked shots in 29 games. CBSsports.com named Davies one of the top 100 players in the country and WCC coaches voted him as a preseason All-WCC team member.
In non-conference play, the Cougars will also face tough competition in games against Utah State, Oregon, Baylor and may even face Wisconsin in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
If BYU can win the majority of these games, the difficult non-conference schedule, along with a talented WCC, should be helpful to the Cougars as they hope to extend their consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament to six.
“We’re going to have a really good year,” senior captain Noah Hartsock said. “I don’t think it will be a down year or a disappointment. I think we’ll contend for another conference championship and go back to the NCAA Tournament.”
BYU opens its season Friday night in Logan as it takes on Utah State. The game can be streamed online at ESPN3.com.
For a more in depth look into the upcoming season, watch the BYUtv Sports special: Men’s Basketball Season Preview, tonight at 7 on BYUtv.