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Provo • Outstanding post player Brandon Davies has moved on, and so has the BYU basketball team's reliance on the zone defense.
That was Dave Rose's primary theme as the ninth-year coach unveiled his 2013-14 squad to the media during Tuesday's basketball media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building.
"For the most part, the concentration in the preseason, with this group, with our staff, will be on the defensive end," Rose said. "I think we really need to get back to where we can play man-to-man defense as our core defense, and then mix in zone as a way to help us get through [critical] times in games."
The Cougars began practicing Monday, a bit later than most squads, but will still be able to get in the maximum allowed by the NCAA before the Nov. 8 opener at the Marriott Center against Weber State, Rose said.
After the 2012-13 Cougars advanced to the semifinals of the NIT and finished the season with a 24-12 record, Rose and his staff identified the inability to play strong man-to-man defense as the program's biggest weakness, so they challenged players to improve that aspect of their games in the offseason, and brought in a few new faces to help in that regard.
Partly, the Cougars played zone to keep Davies out of foul trouble; He's trying to make the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers these days, while the Cougars try to replace his scoring and rebounding with a serious lack of depth and experience inside.
That means they will try to push the tempo offensively more than ever before, and that's easier done out of man-to-man defense than zone.
"I think down the stretch last year we became a little too predictable defensively, so our staff and our players are extremely focused on that end of the floor, and I think that will be a major emphasis here in the next three or four weeks," Rose said.
With no seniors and seven newcomers, it is easily the youngest team in Rose's tenure, perhaps the youngest in program history. They've added a pair of walk-ons, 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Andrew Johnston from St. George's Snow Canyon High and 6-8 freshman forward Graham Pingree from Cherry Creek High in Denver, Colo.
"So that's going to take a lot of patience, and we will rely on those experienced guys, those returners, to help bring those guys along," Rose said.
Clearly, though, prized freshman forward Eric Mika out of Lone Peak High will be expected to play like a veteran right away.
"The expectation for Eric is huge," Rose said, comparing the 6-foot-9 Mika's arrival to that of former Cougar great Mekeli Wesley, who averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in his freshman season (1997-98). "He's a great runner one of the best we've had" moving up and down the court.
The team's offensive star, though, will still be junior Tyler Haws, who finished seventh in the nation with a 21.7 scoring average last year. Haws, fellow junior Matt Carlino and sophomore returned missionary Kyle Collinsworth were named team captains.
"It is very weird to be the elder statesman," Haws said. "It still feels like I am one of the young guys."
Rose called the return of Collinsworth "terrific" and said the returned missionary who started as a freshman before going to Russia will present many matchup problems for opponents this season.
"Kyle is a hybrid kind of player, capable of scoring 30 points and getting 20 rebounds out of the guard position," Rose said.
Carlino played brilliantly during BYU's NIT run, averaging 18 points and eight assists per game during that four-game stretch, and came back hungry to stamp himself as one of the best point guards in the country, Rose said.
"His biggest improvement has been his conditioning," Rose said of Carlino. "Defensively, he's really made a commitment to become a better defender."
With Haws, Carlino and Collinsworth forming the backcourt, the likely starters in the frontcourt are Mika and junior Nate Austin, who will need to stay out of foul trouble to be effective, Rose said, as the Cougars embark on a very ambitious nonconference schedule that includes Oregon, Stanford, Iowa State, Texas, Utah, Utah State and possibly Wichita State.
"Our guys are excited because the opportunity is there [to get back to the NCAA Tournament] with the type of schedule we have," Rose said.
Cougs go young
BYU's senior-less 2013-14 men's basketball team:
Juniors • Nate Austin, Matt Carlino, Skyler Halford, Tyler Haws, Josh Sharp, Anson Winder, Chase Fischer
Sophomores • Kyle Collinsworth, Andrew Johnston
Freshmen • Frank Bartley IV, Eric Mika, Luke Worthington, Graham Pingree
Note: Fischer must sit out season due to NCAA transfer rules; Johnston and Pingree are walk-ons.