Friday, February 23, 2024

Is BYU on a serious hoops run?

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This article was first published in the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday night.

Mark Pope will take his 14th-ranked Cougars to Utah on Saturday for a crucial test with rivalry overtones. The undefeated Cougars played Evansville Tuesday night as a tuneup. 

Fresh off a plastering of Fresno State during which Jaxson Robinson and Spencer Johnson combined for career highs, the Cougars have made waves nationally with their 3-point scoring, margin of wins and rebounding differential. 

In this piece, Dave McCann describes the wave Pope is seeing his team ride heading into a crucial showdown with the Utes. In this analysis, Jay Drew explains how BYU needs to avoid what happened a year ago.

Cougar Insider predictions

Question of the week: Break down the upcoming BYU at Utah basketball game and predict the score.

Jay Drew: As many of our readers probably know, I covered the University of Utah men’s basketball team the past three seasons, while Jeff Call covered the Cougars.

I believe this is Utes coach Craig Smith’s best team in the three years he’s been at the helm. That’s primarily because star center Branden Carlson returned for a fifth season, and Carlson is really good. He’s a matchup nightmare for most teams and especially for BYU. It will be interesting to see who coach Mark Pope puts on BC, who can play the stretch four position now that Utah got Lawson Lovering from Colorado.

I believe this will be BYU’s toughest test of its nonconference schedule. That’s especially true because the game is at the Huntsman Center, where the Utes have been pretty good the past two years. 

It will come down to shooting. BYU will need to make 15 or more 3-pointers to win this game. It’s going to be close.

Prediction: BYU 86, Utah 83.

Dick Harmon: It would be the most BYU thing ever for a KenPom No. 8-ranked Cougars team that is climbing up in the rankings, creeping up the AP Top 25 rankings, to go to 5-2 Utah’s house and lose. But will it happen? Yes, if Utah has 20 more free throws made than BYU, if BYU turns the ball over 15 times or if BYU fails to make enough 3s.

BYU has a matchup problem with Utah’s Carlson and it will be a great test for Mark Pope to figure out how to defend and attack Utah without Fouss Traore.  But what we’ve seen with the Cougars so far this season with wins over ranked San Diego, North Carolina State and Arizona State is a BYU team steeped with multiple scoring threats. Utah, on the other hand, was very impressive in a loss to top-ranked Houston.

The Cougars feature a unique deep bench capable of scoring. BYU has an athletic rotation that leads the nation in win margin and is atop the charts in 3-pointers made, rebounding margin and scoring. I think this will be a close game but BYU’s depth, bench scoring and ability to generate points in transition while defending the three will elevate Pope’s team in the second half at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.  

Good luck finding the Pac-12 Network.

Prediction: BYU 81, Utah 75.

Cougar tales

BYU’s No. 1 seeded women’s soccer team lost to Stanford in the Final Four of the College Cup 2-0 after giving up a pair of goals in the first five minutes. Women’s volleyball was eliminated by ASU in the NCAA tournament after sweeping Weber State. Utah’s 12th-ranked women blew out the Cougar women in Salt Lake City. BYU football fired offensive line coach Darrell Funk and tight end coach Steve Clark. It is expected head coach Kalani Sitake will hire back Jeff Grimes with an elevated title and salary after he was released at Baylor.  

In the meantime, the transfer portal opened this past week, and here is a look at who is coming and going as of Tuesday. BYU defensive end Tyler Batty announced he will return for another season.

From the archives

From the X-verse

Extra points

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Comments from Deseret News readers:

It looks like I might happily be forced to increase my expectations for the BYU basketball team this year. I can’t remember the last time a BYU team had the killer instinct to keep scoring when they were up instead of trying to milk the clock when they were 10 points up at halftime.

— Kamelon

Aly Khalifa gives BYU a completely different look offensively. While they are certainly going to miss Fouss as a scorer and rebounder, Khalifa passes out of the high post better than any college player I’ve seen this year. If teams focus too much on defending the perimeter to limit BYU’s 3-point shooting, they can open up the paint by bringing Khalifa out and using cuts and off-ball screen to create good looks.

It’s also clear that every single BYU player is committed to crashing the boards, especially in transition. If you are sloppy with the ball this BYU team will make you pay, in this case to the tune of 36 points off turnovers.

This team spreads the floor like an NBA team. It makes for a play style that is refreshingly fun to watch, and isn’t often seen at the college level.

— Cheezit

Up next

  • Dec. 8-9 | 10 a.m. | Indoor track and field | BYU Invitational | @Provo
  • Dec. 9 | 2 p.m. | Women’s basketball | Boise State | @Provo
  • Dec. 9 | 5 p.m. | Men’s basketball | Utah | @Salt Lake City

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