by Max Westerman | BYU Basketball is back! The Cougars kick off their season at 6 PM Mountain Time against Westminster UT. After an incredible 2019-2020 season, the Cougars look to replicate last year’s success under second year head coach Mark Pope.
Before we begin, let’s recap the success of last season. In Pope’s first season as the BYU head coach, he led his team to a 24-8 record going 13-3 in conference play. Pope’s squad came in second in the WCC to the resident first place finisher Gonzaga Bulldogs. BYU entered their final game of the season ranked 14th in the nation. Despite losing a heartbreaker in the first round of the WCC tournament to St. Mary’s, the Cougars seemed to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament come selection Sunday. While this day never came, Pope’s promising inaugural season at the helm has had Cougar fans excited for what’s to come.
The success of last year was built upon strong backcourt play. Jake Toolson and TJ Haws averaged a combined 29.2 points per game which accounted for 36 percent of BYU’s offense. Both players have since moved on leaving the starting guard positions to be filled. Haws and Toolson are two of five key players who are not returning for the Cougars. Star power forward Yoeli Childs has signed with the Washington Wizards and BYU is bringing back a mere 36 percent of its roster from last year.
“Our roster is so different — like the pieces are so different,” said Pope. “Even guys that are returning are playing different positions, so I don’t know that we’re trying to mimic the way we played last year or how we played or how we approached the game.”
The Cougars will change up the playbook and look to play a very different style to their guard heavy strategy of a season ago.
Purdue transfer Matt Haarms is the biggest addition literally and figuratively. Haarms stands at 7’3” and comes to BYU with a solid college resume. Last year with Purdue, he averaged 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds playing in limited minutes. He is sure to get an increased workload at BYU and he can even shoot the three. BYU boasts six other players taller than 6’8” and another incoming player, Gideon George. He comes out of Nigeria and is 6’6” with a rumored 7’1” wingspan. The Cougars brought in a couple other potential breakout candidates. Four-star forward recruit Caleb Lohner out of Texas (he moved to Utah to high school ball at Wasatch Academy) can shoot and has serious hops. Don’t be surprised if we catch a poster or two throughout the year. Guard Brandon Averette transferred from Oklahoma State to Utah Valley University and started to produce in a big way down the home stretch. Forward Wyatt Lowell won WAC Freshman of the year when he was at UVU and will spread the floor with his 3-point shooting as well as add a 6’10” frame to the frontcourt.
This year, BYU fans should look forward to dominant play inside the paint. Mark Pope was a forward back in his playing days and will enjoy lending his experience with the new players at the forward position. Does BYU have the talent needed to make it back to the NCAA tournament? Only time will tell. Have confidence in this coaching staff to get the most out of the fresh mix of players. Despite losing five of the top seven scorers from last year, BYU is a team that could surprise people. There are talented pieces joining this team but it’s tough to predict how this team will come together. The Cougar’s road begins tonight at 6.
Featured image courtesy Scott Winterton, Deseret News