by Daniel Olsen | While the Holy War on the gridiron was cancelled this year due to PAC-12 regulations, the matchup on the basketball court is ready to go. The Utes enter this game with an undefeated record, albeit vs Washington and Idaho State. The Cougars have dropped to 5-2 after a close loss to the Boise State Broncos. Now, they welcome the Utes into the Marriott Center. Who will win? Let’s break down the key matchups to see who might have the edge.
PG: Brandon Averette vs Rylan Jones
Only one inch separates the two point guards but they could both probably help you win your six feet and under league. Averette is a BYU transfer from UVU and Rylan Jones is in his sophomore year at Utah. They both average just under 10 points per game but really do their damage when they are dropping dimes. Averette is second on the team with 2.5 assists per game and Jones is tied for first on the team with 5.0 assists per game.
Jones led the Runnin’ Utes to an overtime win over BYU last year with a clutch shot. I give his peskiness a slight edge. He may still look like the teenage boy across the street. However, when it comes to hoops, he can do some damage. I feel like we might see a surprise here. While the stat lines are similar, I once again think Jones will have a bigger shot at a bigger moment.
SG: Alex Barcello vs Alphonso Plummer
If there is anyone who puts the shooting in shooting guard, it’s Barcello. He has led the Cougars in scoring in a year where the top three leading scorers for last year’s team have graduated. He is averaging 19.6 points per game on a sizzling 62.9 percent from three. His free throws have struggled a bit as he is ironically not much better at 65.4 percent from the charity stripe. He is capable of hitting clutch shots and will need to prove himself against athletic Ute defenders.
Plummer can really “clog” the lane (pun intended) as he is tied with Jones for the steal count on the team. They both have 2.5 per game. Plummer also leads the team in scoring with 17 in the last two contests. His senior leadership should help the Utes in pivotal moments. I still feel that Barcello is more efficient from long range and that will give BYU a slight edge at this position. The Utes will really have to move quickly to their defensive assignments. They don’t want to give Barcello open looks if they want a shot at this game.
SF: Connor Harding vs Timmy Allen
Harding does everything for the Cougars. He makes baseball passes, clutch shots and is the energy guy for this team. He won’t fill up the stat sheet but he plays a pivotal role in games. Look no further than his performance in the Spectrum at Utah State last weekend.
Allen is the second leading scorer on the Utes with 12.5 points per contest. He leads the team in minutes played with 64 in just two games this season. When it comes to hoops, Allen is as good as they get. It feels like Allen is one of the best all-around players on the Utes after what we have seen from his career so far. I expect him to dominate the scoring in this matchup while Harding will still do the little things to try to help his team win.
PF: Mikael Jantunen vs Caleb Lohner
This will be quite the storyline for this game. Lohner left a sour taste in the mouths of Ute fans when he de-committed from the University of Utah only to sign with the rival Cougars. He leads the team with 6.3 rebounds per game and his hustle and intangibles are where he does most of his damage. He is a freshman trapped inside a Hercules-like body. His main struggle so far has been shooting. He missed his first 13 three-point shots of his BYU career from downtown before finally getting things going vs Utah State. Overall he is shooting just 15 percent from three for the season and 27 percent from the field. Yikes. Despite his shooting woes, he is pretty good from the free throw line at 80 percent.
Jantunen isn’t the best player on the team but he’s a good piece to the puzzle. The Utes have a deep starting five that so far have all scored in double figures and is very evenly distributed. Jantunen averages 10 points a game and is tied for the lead with six rebounds for his team. While I think Lohner is a more physically gifted rebounder and player, Jantunen might have enough intangibles and a year under his belt to hold his own in this matchup. Also, as mentioned, Lohner isn’t hitting the broad side of a barn from beyond fifteen feet unless it’s on free throws.
C: Matt Haarms vs Branden Carlson
When you stand at seven foot three, it makes a difference. Haarms has been a great rim protector for the Cougars with a team-leading 2.4 blocks. He is also a willing outside shooter but is shooting even worse than Lohner at 14.3 percent from three. He is second on the team in points per game (10.2) and is the only player besides Barcello to score in double figures. He was the golden ticket for BYU in the transfer portal last offseason.
As mentioned previously, the Utes distribute the scoring pie fairly evenly, and Carlson gets his fair share. He averages 11.0 per game but does most of his damage doing big man things. At seven feet, he is no scrub. He can hold his own vs Haarms for a while but it may be tough to do it for a whole game. Haarms struggled against Queta last weekend but was able to stifle smaller opponents at the rim with four blocks in that contest. Queta is on the Wooden Award watch list though. Carlson isn’t on that level but I expect him to hang with Haarms for the first half before Haarms ultimately wears him down with his length.
Prediction: This is tough because both teams are good. The Utes were a very young team last year and this year, BYU is showing their youth. BYU has the better bench and coaching but in the end, I think the Utes have the better starting five. The key for the Utes will be to rebound. They struggled on the boards in the last game as Idaho State edged them 41-24 in that category. They were able to survive that with a great shooting night. Against BYU, it will be hard to get buckets in the paint with Haarms lurking down low. For BYU, the key is to not psyche themselves out. The Utes found a way to win last year so the last thing BYU wants is for them to start building a win streak like they have in football.
In the end, I think this will be a close game. My head is saying Utah is the correct choice. However, I still feel like Haarms will have a monumental block and Barcello will have a clutch shot to send the game to overtime once again. In the overtime game I’d have to pick the slightly more seasoned Utes. BYU coach Mark Pope never lost back-to-back games in his career but there is a first time for everything. BYU is not playing their best basketball so they have some questions they need to answer quickly.
Final Score: Utah 77 BYU 70 OT
Featured image courtesy Eli Lucero | The Herald Journal