The BYU men’s basketball team will tip off its season with a relatively soft schedule as it looks to form a solid starting lineup.
The Cougars will host coach Mark Pope and the Utah Valley University Wolverines on Nov. 13 before traveling to California to take on the Long Beach State 49ers as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon on Nov. 16. Then BYU will return to Provo for Adams State (Nov. 20), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 25) and Belmont (Nov. 28).
Junior forward Kyle Davis said the team will be focused for each and every game this season.
“You want to play the big games,” Davis said at Media Day. “The Utah game, the Gonzaga game, but those games won’t matter if you mess up early. So we’re focused.”
There will likely be a bit of a learning curve for the Cougars this season. They’ll need to replace Tyler Haws’ 22 points points per game and head coach Dave Rose will need to settle on a consistent rotation. The latter task will be difficult considering the Cougars depth this season. The team welcomes in six new players (five to the active roster) and each could very well be vying for minutes.
Rose said he welcomes the competition between teammates.
“I’m really excited about this team,” Rose said at Media Day. “I’m really excited about the depth of this team. I love competition. I think competition is the key to success. If our team can compete with each other I think we’ll find a real solid group that can compete for championships.”
Fortunately for the Cougars, they should be more than able to afford some lineup experimentation early on. Their November schedule projects to be quite favorable before things ramp up in December (at Utah, at Colorado, and the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic) and January (West Coast Conference play).
Utah Valley University
The Wolverines went 11-19 last season (5-9 in the Western Athletic Conference). Former BYU assistant coach Mark Pope was hired to be UVU’s head coach in the offseason. Pope has 10 upperclassmen on his 18 man roster, including junior guard Hayes Garrity. Garrity was named to the All-WAC Second Team this year after sitting out last season due to injury. He averaged 8.7 points per game in 2013-2014 on 39 percent shooting.
UVU finished 342nd in points per game last season, averaging just 58.6 points on 40 percent shooting. They allowed an average of 64.1 points per game to opponents and finished sixth in the WAC.
Long Beach State
The 49ers fell to the Cougars in Provo 95-90 to open up their 2014-2015 season. They finished the season with an overall record of 16-17 (10-6 in the Big West Conference) and averaged 66.3 points per game.
Head coach Dan Monson is tasked with replacing all five of his starters from last year’s team, including three-time All-Big West First Team guard Mike Caffey, but he does have a crop of incoming transfer players that could carry the load.
The Grizzlies finished the 2014-15 season with a 19-9 record (14-8 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference). They’re led by senior guard Shakir Smith. Smith was named to the All-RMAC Second Team last year and is Adams State’s lone representative on the All-RMAC Preseason Team. He averaged 15.1 points per game last season on 42 percent shooting.
The Grizzlies have a new head coach in Russ Caton, who was named to the position after Louis Wilson departed for a coaching position at Utah State University.
Mississippi Valley State
The Delta Devils were a lowly 6-25 (5-13 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference) last season. They averaged 63.9 points per game while allowing 80.1 points per game. Jordan Washington—who led the team with 12.9 points per game last season—will look to build on his solid freshman season.
Mississippi Valley State averaged just 10.6 assists per game last season and saw their assist leader (and second-leading scorer) Jeffrey Simmons graduate.
The Bruins compiled a 22-11 record in 2014-15 and earned an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. They averaged 74.5 points per game on nearly 48 percent shooting and 15.4 assists per game.
Head coach Rick Byrd will return four starters this season, including preseason OVC Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw. Bradshaw averaged 18.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting last season as a junior. NBC Sports predicts Belmont to win the OVC East division.
The Cougars will be looking to compile an undefeated month before taking on the rival Utah Utes in Salt Lake City on Dec. 2.