by Daniel Olsen
Then USU President Stan Albrecht sent a letter of apology to BYU for inappropriate fan behavior directed primarily at Brandon Davies. The BYU center had been suspended from the team for an honor code violation the year prior. Jimmer Fredette was still able to lead the Cougars to the Sweet 16. Fans didn’t let Davies forget what had happened.
Utah State has found ways to barely lose (see the 2012 game) and ways to get blown out by the Cougars. Lately, both schools have revived their programs and become perennial NCAA tournament teams. BYU did lose to Utah Valley in Orem last week in an upset. However, they lost to the Wolverines five years ago and still managed to beat the Aggies. Ironically, the Aggies never lost to Mark Pope or any other coach leading the Wolverines. What will it take for USU to finally end the streak for BYU? How can BYU make sure that win number ten is coming for them? It’s time to look at three key matchups for this game.
Rylan Jones vs Alex Barcello
Rylan Jones is a guard that has poise and actually had a monster game his freshman year to knock off a talented BYU team. As a young star of the Utah Utes, Jones scored 25 points in the overtime win. He also made the shot that send the game to overtime. He now finds himself as the facilitator for the Utah State Aggies. He is back in a city where he played high school basketball as a freshman.
Alex Barcello also transferred from a prestigious PAC-12 school in the Arizona Wildcats. He has gradually increased his scoring throughout his career. The senior now averages 18.6 points per game for the Cougars.
When he’s on, Barcello is the more pure scorer. However, Jones is a sneaky good player due to his toughness on defense. When he is at his best, he can facilitate and also hit the three. Barcello has the edge in this matchup. Both are extremely clutch players but if I want a last second contested shot, I would go with Barcello due to his slight height advantage and history of hitting daggers on the Aggies.
Justin Bean vs Gideon George
This one is a matchup where USU has a clear advantage on paper. Justin Bean is a do-everything guy. He hustles, rebounds and has improved his shot. He is currently among the top scorers and rebounders in the NCAA at 22.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Gideon George has been out due to sickness, but he will be much needed after the front court of the Cougars got a lot smaller. Gavin Baxter injured his ACL against UVU. He has been plagued by injuries his entire career at BYU. With Ian Harward out, there is not a single player over 6’9”. While the Aggies will be taller in the front court, Gideon George only gives up an inch to Bean and has been known to frustrate opponents with his length and athleticism on defense.
If George can at least slow down the machine that is Bean, it will be a win for BYU. By slow down, that means hold him to either under 20 points or under 10 rebounds. Not many have been able to do that. Bean has struggled against BYU in previous years, but that was before he became the main guy. He was playing with NBA players like San Merrill and Neemias Queta. Overall, the Aggies hold a considerable advantage in this matchup.
Brandon Horvath vs Caleb Lohner
This is an interesting matchup. The Aggies hold a considerable advantage in the height department here. Brandon Horvath has two inches on sophomore Caleb Lohner. He has the threat of an outside jumper and is the second leading scorer on the team.
However, Lohner was highly recruited out of Wasatch Academy and brings a unique skill set to the game. He leads the Cougars with 7.5 rebounds per game. His athleticism makes up for his rough shooting. He is shooting 40 percent from the field, 55 percent from the charity stripe and has missed all 14 three-pointers he has attempted this year.
If the shooting percentage is the usual high clip for Horvath, then the edge would have to go to Utah State. The home atmosphere could make it difficult for all Aggies in the shooting department though. The Cougars are undefeated at the Marriott Center this year.
It is hard to say who will win the game because BYU seems to be unpredictable. Not many thought they would beat a ranked Oregon Ducks team and they destroyed them in the home of the Portland Trailblazers. Not many predicted UVU to beat the Cougars, but they did so in an overtime thriller.
Instead, pick the team with the last shot to win. If there is more than one second left on the shot clock, you can bet Alex Barcello would have a great chance to hit a buzzer beater at home. The Aggies could give it to any of their three key players and have a good chance to win. On paper, two of the three best players are on USU. Due to injuries, BYU is thin down low, but they are deeper than USU at every matchup. It should be a close exciting game that will be interesting to watch unfold.
Featured image courtesy Rick Bowmer, AP Photo