The transformation continues: How this team improves from last season.

If the personnel changes were all done by trades, what BYU gets is Nick Emery for Anson Winder and Skyler Halford and a high level big in Kyle Davis for a high level wing in Tyler Haws.

Those trades could amount to a roughly equal deal for 2015-2016.

Anson was excellent in the first half of last year before succumbing to a knee injury during WCC play while Skyler, who had overcome his hip pointer suffered in the SVU game by then, somehow managed to serve credibly at PF and PG and ably fill in for Winder. Emery already owns the best qualities of those two graduates and projects to a much higher level in subsequent years.

BYU may never again have anyone quite like the great Tyler Haws and while we wouldn’t characterize Davis’ game as particularly unique, we do suggest that KD will prove to be the Cougar’s most effective post player at both ends of the court. He plays bigger than his listed height and Nate Austin once called him the smartest big he has been around.

But what could advance this team to the elite level is that Austin, Jamal Aytes, Jordan Chatman, and Kyle Collinsworth return healthy. Last summer (2014), our expectation was that BYU would have these 4 players 100% from the start which would surely have made 28-30 wins plausible. As it turned out, BYU finished the season 2 games better than the prior year at 25-10 and played far more competitively in its losses. Remember, last season only a single loss had a margin greater than 7 points, compared to copious double digit losses in the 23-12 prior year.

Dave Rose might have done his finest coaching job in the face of a season of repeated blows from one injury after another and slower recovery than expected.

Another boost for the upcoming season is Kaufusi’s continued faster than normal improvement as he learns more about the fundamentals of basketball.

One more personnel change that matters and could result in significant near term improvement: Coach Quincy Lewis for the departed Mark Pope. Pope was a proven recruiter; Lewis is a proven defense specialist. Quincy said that he intends to “overhaul” the defense with a new philosophy. In a recent VYPE interview Lewis describes more about what we can expect to see this year at BYU. In describing Lone Peak’s defense, he said:

“We probably played a lot more like a Virginia team, a team that just keeps the ball in front of them and we’re not out denying or getting out of position, we’re not extending defensively. We just kind of kept everything in front of us and make teams shoot jump shots…What we did defensively was kind of the key to the whole thing. Defensively, I thought we were pretty good.”

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What’s more, Lewis has made it clear that he is focused on the single most important defensive stat to measure progress: points per possession (PPP). BYU finished 160th in defensive PPP last year (12th in offensive PPP). Only one other team in Pomeroy’s top 35 ranked worse than 100 in defense (ND at 102).

Virginia was #1!

We’ll gladly take 12th in the nation in offense again. If the addition of 3 capable bigs, Corbin’s improvement, Emery’s stellar defensive acumen, and Collinsworth’s improved quickness, can provide enough for Quincy to weave his defensive transformation into a top 30 team, BYU has another shot at a storied season. Does he have enough time to inculcate his system into the players for this year?

Health is still far and away the big concern. It looks just fabulous in that regard at the moment; but among the top 8 players in the rotation, 6 have a troubling injury history.

Odds are high that Chase Fischer will lead the team in scoring, probably 18-19ppg. The senior SG will be the primary go to guy at the arc along with freshman sharpshooter Emery. Everyone shoots 3s on Dave Rose teams and other youngsters most likely to emerge in that regard this season include Chatman (also an excellent defender), Jake Toolson, Jake Hartsock, and Zach Seljaas. Cooper Ainge and Cory Calvert might be looking for minutes at PG.

Kaufusi remains the biggest, strongest, player with the best hops. But he is still “a babe in the woods” in basketball knowledge and continues to work on improving reliability of his hands. Expect him to be an important part of the team, but still needs more time to develop into a starter on a top 20 team. Whether he starts over Austin is anyone’s guess at this point, but the other four spots may be settled: Look for KC, Fischer, Emery, and Davis to start and lead the team in minutes.

After KC, Davis may turn out to be the consensus #2 best player on this team. Nate Austin is one of the great rebounders in the nation on a per minute basis, and has always been underrated by CBers.

Collinsworth, regardless of how many triple doubles he gets, and he will get them, is MUCH quicker and stronger now that he is 100% healthy.

Aytes, with his turnover proof Kawhi Leonard like hands and oversized bottom, knows how to create space and get to the rim to augment his deadly midrange shot.

My latest guess on players by average minutes:

1. Collinsworth

2. Fischer

3. Davis

4. Emery

5. Kaufusi

6. Aytes

7. Austin

8-10. Look for 6 players to vie for these 3 spots. Chatman and Toolson look to be in front for now.

Lord willing that this team stay healthy, i would be very surprised if they don’t win 30 and challenge strongly for the WCC crown. One close-up observer to the program said in response to the question about how this team compares to last year, “no comparison.”