After coming on strong over the course of last season to the surprise of many Cougar hoops fans, big…
What is more of a mystery is how other players will perform this season, even some of the returning players, and how they will all mesh and perform together. Rose said on Tuesday that the team has a good understanding of the offense, but that defense is taking a little bit longer because of an increased emphasis on learning zone defense in addition to man defense.
One of the key returners looking to step up this season is sophomore point guard Matt Carlino. Coach Rose has talked about how players often make a big leap following their first season, and he said he has already seen Carlino make some real improvements in different areas of his game.
"Matt has been one of our most consistent guys in practice for the 10 practices that we've been through," said Rose on Tuesday. "He's really pushing the ball well. I think he's really picked up the system and is ready for kind of a breakout year – at least we hope so. And I think he's a guy that is talented enough, and [if] he stays on this pace with this consistency, and his ability to learn, I think he's going to have a great year."
It was a challenge for Rose to not have Carlino for the first 10 games of last season, and to then have to add him to the team and change the way the Cougars played. For example, in those first 10 games the team didn't run any pick and roll, but then wanted to utilize it once Carlino became eligible. This year Rose is no doubt happy to have Carlino eligible from the very beginning, and said they are looking to run a lot more pick and roll for him.
Tyler Haws is certainly not a new player, having had a stellar freshman season back in 2009-10, but he was serving a mission the past two seasons and hasn't played much with most of the team's current players. If the Cougar Tipoff is any indication, the Haws that Cougar fans know and love is definitely back, as he scored a game-high 26 points (although Davies scored 20 before sitting out the entire second half). Oh, and he also hit all six of his free throws, so he appears to still be automatic from the line.
"I think that his confidence is every bit as good as it was, and that's what I think takes some time," Rose said about Haws, who was just selected as one of the team captains. "Ty works so hard. I think he's so committed and dedicated to not only his own routine, but the routine of the team, and so he's coming along well and hopefully he has some real early success that he can build on."
Another bright spot in the Cougar Tipoff was sophomore forward Josh Sharp. Last season he was coming off of a mission and was also learning a new system, having transferred from the University of Utah. He played limited minutes for the Cougars and never scored more than five points in a game, but in the Cougar Tipoff he scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. He also chipped in a block, an assist, six rebounds, and a game-high three steals, but it was his one-handed dunk that got fans talking.
Even before the game, however, Coach Rose noted that Sharp has really "upped his game."
"I think that Josh makes unbelievable second-effort plays for us, and that's something that we can really build on," said Rose on Tuesday. "You can find a spot for a guy who is always giving you another possession offensively, and that's what he seems to be doing really well right now. Then defensively, he's picking up things really well."
Of course, there are also some guys that will be playing in a Cougar uniform for the first time this season.
"These guys are all really good players, and we're just trying to figure out the lineups that work best for us," said Rose.
Among the team's newcomers that figure to contribute this season are junior college transfers Agustin Ambrosino (forward) and Raul Delgado (guard), and true freshman guard Cory Calvert. Rose said that he thinks they are doing a good job of picking things up, but that the two transfers might be a little bit ahead of Calvert since they are more used to the physical nature of college basketball.
That certainly seemed to be the case on Wednesday, when Ambrosino and Delgado scored 17 and 14 points, respectively, while Calvert scored just three.
The biggest hole to fill on this year's team is at the four spot, with Noah Hartsock having graduated after leading the team in points per game and blocks last season. Ambrosino – or Augie, as Rose likes to call him – will be one of the players looking to fill that void.
"I think you'll see a lot of guys playing in that spot early," Rose said. "Josh and Augie and Nate [Austin] are the guys that we practice there most of the time. We've had Brock [Zylstra] play that position at times in practice when we're trying to get through personnel issues, and Brock is an option there for a short period of time I think, but that would be difficult – because of his size – to play that. But I think those [first] three guys are the guys you'll see [get] most of the minutes."