The BYU men’s basketball team won’t pick up where it left off, but the Cougars should contend once again

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (4) celebrates with teammates as he is substituted during the second half as BYU takes on UNLV in men's NCAA basketball at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Sat. Dec. 7, 2019.

Provo • Last year, BYU became known as “the best locker room in America.” That’s still the goal, but the Cougars will have a much different look than what fans saw last year.

There’s no TJ Haws nailing a fade-away jumper, driving down the lane for a hard basket or nailing a game-winning shot. Jake Toolson is no longer around to dazzle with three-pointers and his grit. And Yoeli Childs isn’t available to provide consistent double-double performances or to light up highlight reels with huge dunks. At least, they won’t continue doing so in a BYU uniform.

That is another way of saying the Cougars’ starting lineup will see drastic changes this season.

“When you start to talk about schematics and game plans and rotations, and even pace of play, and all those things with the roster, it’s going to be incredibly different than last year just because we have such a different roster,” coach Mark Pope said. “And so we’re learning that all together right now. And we’re trying some new things that we’ve actually never tried before that we’re actually trying to create a hand specially made for this roster.”

“We don’t know how that’s going to turn out, which is pretty exciting.”

But it can be expected for senior Alex Barcello, who a year ago transferred in from Arizona, and grad transfers Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette will lead the charge.

Barcello started in all 32 games and had the fourth-best scoring average (9.3) on the team last season, behind Childs, Toolson and Haws, and shot 48.6% from the field.

The Cougars will succeed if:

BYU will be in good hands if it can keep up the high octane scoring and 3-pointers coming, as it did last season. The production will need to be better shared through the team, but the Cougars have plenty of guys (new and returning) available to put up those numbers.

The Cougars won’t succeed if:

They can’t get rebounds, particularly offensive rebounds. The Cougars struggled with that issue early last season, costing them the game against San Diego State, but improved as the season went on. Another issue will be getting key stops and preventing opponents from putting together monsgter runs.

Bottom line:

The Cougars seem to have all the pieces to build off last season’s historic run and should again contend, even if they won’t pick up where they left off. BYU will have a much different look this season, but expect them to again break into the rankings and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Haarms is coming in from Purdue having averaged 7.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. The Amsterdam native landed himself in the Purdue record book as fourth all-time in blocks (210) and sixth in career field goal percentage (58.2%).

Averette will play for his third school when BYU starts the season. The Texas native started his career at Oklahoma State, where he played his freshman and sophomore season, and played for Utah Valley last season, where he averaged 12.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists while adding 27 steals. He also earned a spot on the All-WAC Newcomer Team.

The Cougars have also added transfers Gideon George (New Mexico Junior College) and Spencer Johnson (Salt Lake Community College), and freshmen Caleb Lohner (Wasatch Academy), Hunter Erickson (Timpview HS) and Townsend Tripple (Rocky Mountain HS).

And that’s not to forget other returning players like Kolby Lee and Connor Harding, who provided stability and depth to the Cougars, and Gavin Baxter, who came in late to the season last year after returning from a shoulder injury.

Even with all the new faces, Pope said his team has been able to build chemistry and has picked up the staff’s system pretty quickly — “lightning quick,” Pope said.

While it is yet to be determined if the Cougars will be the best 3-point shooting team in the country for a second year running — Pope doesn’t know if that reproducible — the second-year coach said he has plenty of shooters available on the team, based upon what he’s seeing in practice.

So the Cougars should again be dangerous from beyond the arc.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be the best three-point shooting team in America, but I do know the shots will earn for each other and I do know how to approach those shots and I do know how we’ll commit to those shots,” Pope said. “And that’s actually going to be good enough.”


Wednesday Westminster, 6 p.m.

Thursday New Orleans, 7 p.m.

Saturday Utah Valley, 7 p.m.

Dec. 1 USC at Roman Legends Classic, 2:30 p.m.

Dec. 3 UConn or Vanderbilt at Roman Legends Classic, TBA

Dec. 5 at Utah State, TBA

Dec. 9 Boise State, TBA

Dec. 12 Utah, TBA

Dec. 18 at San Diego State, TBA

Dec. 21 Texas Southern, TBA

Dec. 23 Weber State, TBA

Dec. 31 at Pepperdine, TBA

Jan. 2 at San Diego, TBA

Jan. 7 Pacific, TBA

Jan. 14 at Saint Mary’s, TBA

Jan. 16 at San Francisco, TBA

Jan. 21 Portland, TBA

Jan. 23, Pepperdine, TBA

Jan. 30 San Francisco, TBA

Feb. 4 at Portland, TBA

Feb. 6 at Gonzaga, TBA

Feb. 11 Saint Mary’s, TBA

Feb. 13 San Diego, TBA

Feb. 18 at Pacific, TBA

Feb. 20 at Loyola Marymount, TBA

Feb. 25 Santa Clara, TBA

Feb. 27 Gonzaga, TBA

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