Provo • A couple of exhibition games and some rather candid comments from coach Dave Rose revealed one thing about the BYU men’s basketball team: the Cougars will play differently in 2013-14 than they did last year.
Whether that gets them their first West Coast Conference title in their third year in the league and a trip back to the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen.
The Cougars, who went 24-12 last year and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT after failing to make it to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006, open the season on Friday night in the Marriott Center against in-state foe Weber State (7 p.m., BYUtv).
In short, the Cougars believe they are quick and athletic enough to play more man-to-man defense than they have in recent years when since-graduated big man Brandon Davies anchored the middle.
“I think we are getting better at that,” Rose said, after noting at the end of last season that the Cougars had become too reliant on playing zone defenses, especially at the end of games, and that it was harming their ability to push the ball up the court as much as they wanted. “I think we’ve got some really improved on-ball defenders that can really help us.”
Offensively, they will rely more on dribble-penetration because guards Matt Carlino, Kyle Collinsworth, preseason All-American Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford and Anson Winder are skilled at driving to the basket.
They won’t shoot as many 3-pointers, although Rose insisted Saturday night after the Cougars went 2 of 15 from beyond the 3-point line in a 99-68 win over Alaska Anchorage that he still believes it is “a good 3-point-shooting team.”
And they won’t dump the ball as much into a dominant post player such as Davies and run the offense through him as much as before, although much-hyped freshman Eric Mika may be able to step into that role as the season progresses.
“We have put a real emphasis on dribble-penetration,” Rose said. “Except in the Jimmer [Fredette] years, our penetration has always come through our post feeds, where we have thrown the ball into the post and teams have collapsed and we’ve taken 3-pointers. This year I think we are going to be a little more diverse.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is to dethrone No. 15 Gonzaga for the WCC title and make a decent NCAA Tournament run. BYU is picked to finish second in the WCC, behind the Zags and just ahead of Saint Mary’s, another team that has mostly had its number.
If the Cougars can’t win the conference tournament title, Rose believes he has assembled a strong enough nonconference schedule to keep BYU in the conversation as an at-large candidate, with the likes of Stanford, Iowa State, Oregon, Texas, Utah State and DePaul or Wichita State on the slate this month and in December.
“Maybe the [strongest] we’ve had in my nine years,” he said.
The coach is still tinkering with his starting lineup, but it is apparent that Haws, Carlino and Collinsworth will be the mainstays in the pregame introductions. Mika, the ultra-talented recruit from Lone Peak High, started the first exhibition game, but not the second.
Winder also got the start against Colorado College, but Rose went with freshman Frank Bartley IV instead of the defensive specialist against UAA. Nate Austin got the starting nod vs. the Seawolves, but Mika was the star off the bench with 17 points and 14 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
“We have eight or nine guys that we could start,” Rose said. “I think our guards are really set for now, and our front line, we will just kind of decide [in the next few games].”
Haws, the nation’s seventh-leading scorer last year with a 21.7 average, didn’t do as much offensively in the two exhibition games, but Rose said he’s not concerned.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Ty,” Rose said. “I think he’s in a great spot.”
BYU men’s baskeball schedule
Friday Weber State, 7 p.m.
Monday at Stanford, 9 p.m.
Nov. 15 Mount St. Mary’s CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 Colorado Mesa, CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 7 p.m.
Nov. 20 Iowa State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 25 Texas at CBE Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City, 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 26 DePaul or Wichita State at CBE Hall of Fame Classic, TBA
Nov. 30 Utah State at EnergySolutions Arena, 7 p.m.
Dec. 3 North Texas, 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 UMass at Springfield, Mass., 11:30 a.m.
Dec. 11 Prairie View A&M, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 at Utah, 8 p. m.
Dec. 21 at Oregon, 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 28 at Loyola Marymount, 2 p.m.
Dec. 30 at Pepperdine, 8 p.m.
Jan. 4 San Diego, 7 p.m.
Jan. 9 Pepperdine, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 Loyola Marymount, 7 p.m.
Jan. 16 at San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Santa Clara, 8 p.m.
Jan. 23 at Portland, 8 p.m.
Jan. 25 at Gonzaga, 8 p.m.
Jan. 30 Pacific, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 Saint Mary’s, 8 p.m.
Feb. 6 Santa Clara, 9 p.m.
Feb. 8 San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Pacific, 9 p.m.
Feb. 15 at Saint Mary’s, 6 p.m.
Feb. 20 Gonzaga, 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 Portland, 7 p.m.
March 1 at San Diego, 2 p.m.
March 6-11 at WCC Tournament, Las Vegas
Best case • Returning inside players Josh Sharp and Nate Austin can improve offensively, and freshmen Frank Bartley, Eric Mika and Luke Worthington can make up for the loss of Brandon Davies. BYU’s guard trio of Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth is solid enough to produce a conference title and NCAA Tournament bid if they get some inside help.
Worst case • The Cougars don’t become a better outside-shooting team, and don’t defend the 3-point line better in 2013-14 than last year. They will need outstanding perimeter play to offset lack of experience and depth inside.
Watch out for • Mika, who has been deluged with preseason hype and expectations. The 6-foot-10 forward had 17 points and 14 rebounds in just 17 minutes on Saturday against Alaska Anchorage to show he’s capable, but also showed he’s prone to foul trouble.