Brandon Davies crucial to BYU's success

August, 29, 2011
08/29/11
2:20
PM ET
In case BYU didn't get a stark enough reminder in March of what life is like in the paint without Brandon Davies, the Cougars were reminded with force during their recent tour of Greece.

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Brandon Davies
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireBrandon Davies was able to take part in the MWC title celebration, but his absence severely hurt the team's Final Four chances.

Having Davies might not have changed the outcome against the talented Greek and Italian national teams (BYU lost to Italy by 39 points), but there's no question the return of Davies will change everything for the Cougars in the post-Jimmer Fredette world they are set to embark upon in the West Coast Conference. Friday, Brigham Young University announced it was reinstating Davies, who was issued a much-publicized season-ending suspension March 1 after a violation of the school's honor code.

"Jimmer is impossible to replace, but Davies gives them a great go-to guy in the post,'' said New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who doesn't have to face the Cougars this season since BYU left the Mountain West for the WCC. "He is a very talented, hard-working post guy. He should be close to a double-double guy.''

BYU was ranked No. 2 in the country and in line for a possible No. 1 seed after beating San Diego State on the road by 13 Feb. 26. Davies had a modest statistical game with six boards and four points but helped neutralize the Aztecs' bigs. He was averaging 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds before being dismissed from the team in the days after the SDSU game after having admitted to pre-marital sex, which is strictly prohibited at BYU.

The program didn't just toss Davies to the curb. Instead, the Cougars and their fans embraced him, and he was a fixture on the bench, cheering on the team throughout the rest of the regular season and during the postseason, which ended in an overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16.

But could BYU have gone even further and made its first Final Four appearance if it had its only true frontcourt presence on the court during the stretch run? We'll never know. But we do know the Cougars would not have been blown out by New Mexico and San Diego State late in the season with Davies patrolling the paint. His importance to this team is simply not up for debate.

"He means everything to them,'' said Colorado State coach Tim Miles, whose Rams had trouble containing Davies in multiple meetings last season. Davies had 15 boards and 14 points in a win over the Rams three days before the Aztecs game. "BYU went zone to protect the perimeter guys and Brandon would end the possession with a big rebound. It's just a matter of time before they should be able to run their offense through him. He should be a first-team All-West Coast Conference player.''

If the plan being drawn up in Provo proves successful, Davies might even have a shot at WCC Player of the Year.

BYU coach Dave Rose said the Cougars will go back to the way they played a few years ago when Trent Plaisted was manning the post.

"The ball went into Trent four out of five possessions, and then the past two years we changed things because of Jimmer,'' Rose said. "We'll go back to playing the majority of the possessions with the ball going in the post first."

BYU FansDouglas C. Pizac/US PresswireEven though his loss hurt, most fans in Provo still embraced their hometown favorite.

Clearly, Davies is a critical part of that strategy.

"The one thing that was difficult in those last two games on the trip was to play through our post guys,'' said Rose, who was also without big men and recent missionaries Nate Austin and Ian Harward. "We were a little bit undersized and had to play Noah [Hartsock] at the 5. With Brandon, he can go back to being a 4. There's no question our offense will work better. Brandon's experience with what he's been through will definitely help.''

The Cougars got stellar play out of junior Brock Zylstra on the four-game trip, as he averaged 17.3 points and six rebounds. Zylstra didn't get much time behind Jackson Emery on the wing last season, but he has loads of experience and is on the seven-year BYU plan after redshirting then going on a two-year mission.

Charles Abouo averaged 14.8 points on the trip to give the Cougars a solid backcourt presence, and freshman Damarcus Harrison averaged 9.3 points, just behind Hartsock's 10.8 and forward Stephen Rogers' 12.3 a game.

• According to a number of sources at the school, nearly everyone involved with BYU is looking forward to beginning play in the WCC and as an independent in football. The Cougars were waiting to get the chance to play on their own in football and once there was no chance they would be with Utah, which joined the Pac-12, they jumped at the opportunity.

That's why there is no movement, according to sources, to be a possible replacement for Texas A&M in the Big 12 if the Aggies go to the SEC. BYU is not an easy addition for conferences with its restrictions on playing on Sundays. The Cougars do have their own television network and a new deal with ESPN, and the football team has had no issues scheduling for the upcoming season. Sources said the Cougars want to see how this plays out before joining a conference such as the Big 12 that may have some stability issues.

Meanwhile, according to a number of sources, the SEC is more than likely going to pause for a bit if it adds the Aggies. There is clearly a movement within the conference members to block any in-state additions such as Georgia Tech (by Georgia), Florida State (Florida) and Clemson (South Carolina). Big East member Louisville (by Kentucky) fits into this as well. Blocking in-state schools in the same conference has gone on for quite some time (think Utah-Utah State, New Mexico-New Mexico State).

Virginia was never enamored with Virginia Tech joining the ACC, but politics forced the two together, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for the Hokies to leave. The one new intriguing name out there is North Carolina State, which is very similar to Texas A&M in the Big 12. The Wolfpack are the constantly overlooked "little brother" in the shadow of the all-consuming Duke-North Carolina rivalry.

One thing that is certain is no one wants to leave the comfort of the SEC (see: Arkansas). Missouri's location and TV markets make it a more realistic alternative than Big East teams such as West Virginia or Pitt. But one certainty is that the SEC will take its time on what to do with a possible 14th school and could easily go with 13 for a year rather than rush into a decision.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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