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Scouting the Cougars

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Finally. Basketball season tips off for real this week. This Wednesday Coach Howland's Pac-10 Champions start the regular reason against an upstart BYU Cougars at Pauley. This is not going to be an easy game for our Bruins. BYU is starting this season with high expectations of their own as they will be gunning for a MWC title and a spot in the Big Dance. From Sportsline:

Rose (BYU second year coach Dave Rose) guided the Cougars to a 20-9 record as one of the nation's biggest surprise teams. He was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year after reviving the BYU program that had stagnated under former coach Steve Cleveland.

What the amazing turnaround has done is create lofty expectations for the Cougars. A second straight NIT bid will be doubly disappointing this March as only an NCAA tournament berth will be cherished.

BYU returns the talent to build on its 20-win season. Center Trent Plaisted (13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds per game) was the conference's freshman of the year and should be one of the top players in the league this season.

Senior point guard Rashuan Broadus was an upgrade and that turned former starter Austin Ainge, son of BYU legend Danny Ainge, into a role player. Senior forward Keena Young (10.3 ppg) is a nice inside complement to Plaisted and junior guard Jimmy Balderson (10.2) can score from the outside.

Sophomore guard Lee Cummard and senior forward Fernando Malaman are solid contributors as is the aforementioned Ainge. Vuk Ivanovic, a junior from Serbia who red shirted last season, adds inside depth.

The Cougars' only key loss was guard Brock Reichner, the team's second-leading scorer a year ago at 10.4 points per game.
I am sure Coach Howland and his staff are concerned about the matchup problems Trent Plaisted will pose for our Bruins. Right now we don't have a strong post presence.  Mata is recovering from a surgery (he may be available on Wed. night, but not sure how effective he is going to be). I have not seen either of our two exhibition games. But from the reports it sounds like Aboya and Wright are still figuring things out in the post. So the Bruins may have huge matchup issues inside. More on Plaisted:
Plaisted was named to the Freshman All-America Second Team after leading BYU in scoring and rebounding in 2005-06. He averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game over the season while being selected national freshman of the week three times. An All-MWC Second Team pick, Plaisted was also named the MWC Freshman of the Year and was one of only three freshmen in the nation to receive USBWA All-District recognition, being named to the District VIII Team.

During MWC action, Plaisted set the conference's freshman scoring record by a center, breaking the mark of former Utah center Andrew Bogut, who became the 2005 National Player of the Year as a sophomore. Plaisted had the top rebounding game ever by a BYU freshman and also set the MWC freshman record for rebounds in a league game when he grabbed 18 boards at TCU. Plaisted led BYU with six double-double outings while recording a team-leading 25 double-figure scoring games during the season.
So Aboya and Wright will have their hands full. I don't think it will be a surprise if Coach Howland tries out a number of different combinations on the floor trying to neutralize Plaisted's with Aboya, Keefe (recovering from strained neck), and Wright. This game will also be a great opportunity for Wright to make a statement early in the season making his case for more time in Howland's rotation.

Besides Plaisted Cougars have couple of other pretty good balers on their roster. Sporstline mentioned Rashuan Broadus who is a pretty decent pg. In addition to Broadus, Keena Young is a solid compliment to 6-11 Plaisted's game in the front-court.  Young is around 6-6, but he provides a tough presence on the glass with 5.8 boards per game, and is also a decent scoring thread averaging 10.3 points a game.

Cougers also have some new comers in their rosters including JC transfer Ben Murdock, who could contribute as a backup, and freshman Jonathan Tavernari of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, who led the state of Nevada in scoring last season at 22.1 points per game. Here is Provo Pride blogger Mitch's observations from BYU's intra-squad game:
Jonathan Tavernari is a player that can fill up a box score.  Tavernari led all scorers with 17 points and led in rebounds with seven.  Tavernari is a talented scorer, with a smooth three-point shot.  Shows a lot of passion as well on the court, seemed to be a bit upset over his Blue squad blowing the lead and the game.  "J-Tav" will be a great contributor.

Austin Ainge who has always been known for his great dribbling and passing skills, showed more leadership out on the floor and played under control.  Had a few nice outlet passes to Malaman and Ivanovic.  Ainge who I believe is better suited coming off the bench has started in the two pre-season games this season.  Him and Broadus are two good Point Guards to have.

Vuk Ivanovic:  This was the first time I actually saw Ivanovic play, and I was quite impressed.  Has good size at 6'10, and has some nice low post moves.  Plaisted has his way on offense against Vuk, but Ivanovic will only get better from playing someone like Plaisted day in and day out.  Like the potential.

Ben Murdock: Murdock the Point Guard transfer from Dixie State College looks to be a nice 3rd option at Point Guard.  Has good ball handling skills which is what he was brought in for, and even had a nice three-pointer from around the top of the key.

Jordan Cameron:  I'm really excited about Jordan Cameron, he has phenomenal athleticism, he can leap out of the gym.  Cameron reminds me of Travis Hansen, has great athleticism for white guy standards, has the jersey hanging out, and his dribbling style looks like Hansen as well taking it hard to the basket.  Cameron is a True Freshman out of Newbury Park, California, his sister, Brynn is the mother to Matt Leinart's baby. [...]

Jimmy Balderson: Balderson in warmups seemed to be nursing his wrist. Apparently, going up for a dunk he hit his wrist on the rim and seemed to be nursing it. Seemed fine in the scrimmage. Balderson will need to play consistent this season, usually when he scores over 13 points a game, BYU wins.
Yes Bruin Den, please take note of Jordan Cameron.

Anyways I am sure we will have more on this game later this week. I should be able to watch this game via FSN's sport package. I cannot wait to see Westbrook, Keefe, and all of our returning boys in action. This will be a very tough game. But we have no fear with Coach Howland in charge.