BYU basketball coach Dave Rose already was looking ahead to this week a few minutes after his Cougars walloped Mississippi Valley State 91-61 last Saturday.
And for good reason.
It definitely will be one of the Cougars’ most difficult weeks of the season. They boarded a flight for the East Coast on Monday morning and will meet defending Ivy League champion Princeton at 5 p.m. MST Wednesday at 6,800-seat Jadwin Gymnasium in New Jersey. They then will host the team that knocked them out of the NIT last spring, UT Arlington, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Marriott Center.
“Good way to start, but now we got a huge challenge here next week,” Rose said after BYU won its 12th straight home opener. “Tough week ahead — flying across the country and playing a Wednesday game and then getting back on Saturday and playing a really good veteran team that beat us up pretty good last year in here.”
March Madness is four months away, but how the Cougars fare this week against the No. 92 team (Princeton) and No. 115 team (UT Arlington) in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings will go on a long way in determining their postseason fate. BYU is No. 73 in the ratings that can be found at kenpom.com.
BYU defeated Princeton 82-73 in Provo last year, but that was with Eric Mika and Nick Emery playing big roles. Mika is playing professionally in Italy and Emery withdrew from school last week and won’t play. Returned missionary Zac Seljaas is starting in Emery’s place, and TJ Haws is playing more point guard. Junior college transfer Jahshire Hardnett slides in at the point when he comes off the bench.
“This is not how anyone wanted [the Emery ordeal] to turn out,” Rose said. “We have to put it behind us and now move forward.”
Princeton graduated three stars from the team that went 14-0 in the Ivy League last season — Player of the Year Spencer Weisz and first-team picks Steven Cook and Pete Miller. However, juniors Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens are back as well as senior Amir Bell, a 64-game starter during his career.
Bell scored 22 points and Stephens added 21 in Princeton’s 85-75 loss at Butler on Sunday.
Offensively, BYU will continue to rely on junior Elijah Bryant, who had 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting against the Delta Devils. Defensively, the game plan is simple.
“We are trying to protect the rim,” Rose said. “It is no secret: We don’t want to give up 3s, we don’t want to foul and we don’t want to give up layups. Make them beat us some other way than in those three things.”
BYU AT PRINCETON
At Jadwin Gymnasium, Princeton, N.J.
Tipoff • 5 p.m. MST Wednesday
TV • NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 1-0, Princeton 0-1
Series history • BYU leads, 5-0
Last meeting • BYU 82, Princeton 73 (Nov. 14, 2016)
About the Cougars • Junior G Elijah Bryant was 10 of 11 from the field for 27 points, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range, in the season-opening win over Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night. … Yoeli Childs added 13 points and 10 rebounds for his his sixth career double-double and added six assists and five blocks. … TJ Haws is primarily playing point guard on offense in the absence of Nick Emery. He had 14 points against the Delta Devils.
About the Tigers • They are hosting BYU for the first time since 1981, a game BYU won 39-38. … They opened their season Sunday with an 85-75 loss at Butler. Both teams scored 44 points in the second half. … Jadwin Gymnasium seats 6,854 for basketball and was built in 1969. It is the second-largest on-campus basketball arena in the state of New Jersey.