After completing one of the most memorable seasons in program history in 2006-07, this year's BYU men's basketball team is preparing to again make some national noise. The reigning Mountain West Conference Champions, who finished last season ranked No. 24 in the final AP Poll, look to defend their title and return to the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08.
The Cougars compiled a 25-9 record last year that included the program's first outright league championship since 1988, its first national top-25 ranking since 1993, its first season sweep over rival Utah since 1994 and its first NCAA Tournament invitation since 2004, including its highest seed since 1995. On the record books at BYU, only two teams (1951 -- 28 wins; 1988 -- 26 wins) won more games in a season than the 25 victories achieved by the Cougars in 2006-07.
This year's squad returns two starters among seven lettermen from last year's outright league leaders (13-3 MWC record) as well as returned missionary Chris Miles, who made six starts as a freshman in 2004-05. Headlining BYU's top returners in 2007-08 are MWC Player of the Year candidate Trent Plaisted, a two-time All-MWC Second Team selection in his first two seasons; versatile junior guard Lee Cummard, who earned All-MWC Third Team honors one year ago; and sophomore sharpshooter Jonathan Tavernari, who followed Plaisted's lead the prior season by being named the MWC Freshman of the Year in his first campaign as a Cougar.
The 6-foot-11 Plaisted was the team's second-leading scorer (12.6) and rebounder (6.2) and top shot blocker (1.4) as a sophomore in 2006-07. He scored in double figures 21 times, topping 20 points in six games, while posting three double-doubles.
Cummard started all 34 games as a sophomore after earning 14 starts his freshman season. The 6-foot-7 wing's value to BYU's 25-win success last year is evidenced by his logging more minutes than any Cougar as his fill-the-stat-sheet style of play was hard to not have on the floor. The team's top perimeter defender, Cummard led BYU in steals (1.5) and averaged 9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.9 bpg while shooting .553 from the field, .435 on threes and .794 from the line with three double-double outings.
Tavernari led all MWC freshmen in scoring last year, averaging 6.5 points in 12.3 minutes, and set the MWC freshman record for single-game three-point percentage (.857) when he went 6-for-7 from behind the arc against TCU. Capable of scoring in bunches, the 6-foot-6 forward is a tough competitor and solid rebounder who should play a much larger role for the Cougars in his second season in Provo.
A trio of seniors also return from last year's title team, including shooting guard Sam Burgess, point guard Ben Murdock and forward/center Vuk Ivanovic. Burgess shot 55.7 percent from the floor, including 48.4 percent from behind the arc, coming off the bench last year. Murdock and Ivanovic both saw action off the bench in their first seasons on the floor for BYU. Murdock backed up Austin Ainge at the point during the team's run to the outright conference title while Ivanovic saw time behind Plaisted in the post. The 6-foot-10 Serbian added the European Championships to his experience this summer after earning a spot on the Serbian National Team.
The Cougar post also returns 6-foot-10 junior Gavin MacGregor and the 6-foot-11 Miles, who returned in August from two years of missionary service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Miles averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds while logging 13.6 minutes with six starts as a freshman in 2004-05.
Eight newcomers join the roster in 2007-08, including junior college transfers Lamont Morgan, Jr. (5-10, Jr., G) out of Saddleback Community College (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and Archie Rose (6-5, Jr., G) from Lee College (Baytown, Texas). Six freshmen becoming Cougars are Jimmer Fredette (6-2, G) from Glens Falls, N.Y., Michael Loyd, Jr. (6-1, G) out of Las Vegas, Chris Collinsworth (6-9, F) and Matt Pinegar (6-0, G) from Provo, Utah, James Anderson (6-10, F/C) from Page, Ariz., and Nick Martineau (5-11, G) from Fruit Heights, Utah.
A team outlook by position follows:
The Cougars will be without the services of All-MWC honorable mention point guard Austin Ainge this year but return senior Ben Murdock, who saw action as the back-up point guard last season. Murdock, who averaged 1.0 assist in 7.3 minutes per game in 2006-07, averaged 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting a team-best .474 from behind the three-point arc during the team's five-game foreign tour of France in August.
Murdock is expected to compete with newcomer Lamont Morgan, Jr. for playing time. One of two junior college transfers on this year's roster, Morgan is an extremely quick player with good ball-handling and leadership skills. He helped Saddleback Community College advance to the state semifinals last year while starting every game at the point, averaging 4.4 assists per game. MWC Preseason Freshman of the Year pick Jimmer Fredette and fellow freshman Michael Loyd, Jr., both recruited as combo guards, could also factor in at the point guard position along with walk-on additions Nick Martineau and Matt Pinegar.
After getting some good experience as a freshman, Lee Cummard broke out with a strong sophomore season last year that made the 6-foot-7 guard one of the Cougars' most valuable players. As a junior, he has the potential to be among the most valuable players in the Mountain West Conference. A top perimeter defender, he could significantly add to the 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game he averaged last year. During the team's five-game trip to France in August, Cummard recorded three double-double outings and nearly posted a triple-double while averaging 14.4 points and 9.8 rebounds. He added 4.6 assists per contest while shooting 60.9 from the floor.
Senior Sam Burgess will help fill the void left by the graduated Jimmy Balderson. Burgess, who averaged 3.6 ppg last season while shooting .557 from the floor, is an excellent shooter and good defender. He connected on 48 percent of his three-point attempts, including a season-best three triples against Final Four qualifier UCLA and Portland. In France this summer, he took advantage of increased playing time by scoring in double figures in every contest, including 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting to lead the team in its last game. Burgess averaged 15 points, 3.6 rebounds and a team-leading 5.2 assists while shooting .615 from the field and .421 from long range during the trip.
Sophomore Jonathan Tavernari also took advantage of more playing time during the team's summer tour. He paced the team in the scoring column, pouring in 21.4 points per game, while making a team-high 15 triples. He added 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Last season he saw most of his minutes at power forward while being recognized as the top freshman in the MWC. A scorer with deadly range from behind the arc, the 6-foot-6 Brazilian should play a bigger role on the perimeter this season after averaging 6.5 points in 12.3 minutes last year.
Three newcomers should also be in the mix on the wing as Archie Rose, Fredette and Loyd make their Cougar debuts. Rose is an excellent shooter who averaged 12.2 points at Lee College (Baytown, Texas) while leading the team with 46 three-pointers in his last season on the court in 2005-06. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder shot .428 from the field and was second on the team with 6.1 rebounds per contest while chipping in 1.9 assists per game. Fredette averaged 28.8 points last year while leading Glens Falls High School to a 25-2 overall record and the state title game. A two-time first-team all-state selection, the 6-foot-2 combo guard is known for his outside shooting and playmaking ability. A solid overall performer, Loyd brings his 6-foot-1 combo guard skills from Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas where he led the Sunset Northwest League in steals and assists, ranked second in scoring and three-pointers made, finished third in blocks and was fifth in rebounds. Among all players in Nevada he ranked in the top 10 in steals, top 20 in scoring and top 25 in assists.
While replacing MWC Player of the Year Keena Young in the post will be difficult, the Cougars have the fortune of returning Young's potential successor as the league's top player in junior Trent Plaisted. The 6-foot-11 forward/center has already earned Freshman All-America honors and twice been tabbed a second-team All-MWC pick. With his combination of athleticism and size in the post, the preseason All-MWC selection will be a central figure in all the Cougars do this season after averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds last year, second only to Young in both categories. In France this summer, Plaisted averaged 20.6 points over the first three games before an injury-shortened (ankle sprain) outing dropped his average 17.5 points for the trip. He converted a blazing 65.1 percent of his field-goal attempts and pulled down a team-best 10.3 rebounds per game. The Cougars also return 6-foot-10 senior Vuk Ivanovic and 6-foot-10 junior Gavin MacGregor in the post while gaining the services of 6-foot-11 sophomore Chris Miles, who averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.6 minutes with six starts as a freshman for BYU in 2004-05 before departing on a two-year Church mission.
Miles is an excellent shot-blocker and defender who runs the floor well. MacGregor brings a tough inside presence (10.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, team-high .710 shooting in France) while Ivanovic (2.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg in 7.8 minutes last year) earned a spot and played on the Serbian National Team this summer. Freshman James Anderson out of Page, Ariz., adds his 6-foot-10 shot-blocking size to the mix as the Cougars boast some tall timbers. Anderson has also served a two-year mission since completing his first-team all-state prep career in Arizona, where he set the state record with 14 blocks in a game.
Freshman four-man Chris Collinsworth out of nearby Provo High School has a strong outside game and the size at 6-foot-9 to be a contributor in his first season. Collinsworth, like Tavernari, is a tough competitor at power forward with outstanding range on the perimeter. An athletic player known for his versatility and soft shooting touch, Collinsworth was named the Gatorade Utah Boys' Basketball Player of the Year last season.
The Cougars' 2007-08 schedule features dates with Louisville, Michigan State and Wake Forest as well as a potential matchup with North Carolina. In all, the Cougars' nonleague slate includes 15 games against teams from 12 different conferences, including the Big East, Big Ten and ACC. BYU will play an additional 16 Mountain West Conference games for a total of 31 regular-season contests.
"We are excited about our schedule," BYU head coach Dave Rose said. "We look forward to playing some very good teams and participating in this year's Las Vegas Invitational. The challenges of our nonconference schedule should help us grow as a team and prepare to defend our Mountain West Conference title."
The Cougars own an 559-379 (.600) all-time record against their 2007-08 opponents. BYU will play eight games against teams that qualified for last year's NCAA Tournament and 12 contests against teams that achieved 20-win seasons.
Excluding exhibition opponents, nine teams -- Long Beach State, Jackson State, Hartford, Louisville, North Carolina, Old Dominion, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Wake Forest -- are new to BYU's nonconference schedule in 2007-08, while seven opponents -- Idaho State, Portland, Weber State, Michigan State, Lamar, Southern Utah and Boise State -- return to the schedule after taking on the Cougars last year. Jackson State and Hartford are both facing BYU for the first time.
MWC games will again follow a primary Wednesday-Saturday schedule, with some contests being played on Tuesdays for television. Including the MWC slate, the Cougars play 18 games in the Marriott Center during the season and also take on Michigan State at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.
A minimum of 17 Cougar contests will be televised. Beginning with a nationally televised broadcast against Michigan State at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Dec. 8, the MWC television schedule features two Cougar games on Versus, two on CSTV and 13 on the MountainWest Sports Network (The Mtn.). Twelve of BYU's conference contests will be televised along with five nonconference matchups. In addition to Michigan State, BYU's nonconference games being broadcast by MWC television partners include Lamar (Dec. 12, The Mtn.), Pepperdine (Dec. 15, The Mtn.), Southern Utah (Dec. 21, The Mtn.) and Loyola Marymount (Jan. 3, The Mtn.).