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BYU center Matt Haarms will wrap up his college career where he started it — in Indiana, at the NCAA Tournament

The Cougar center, who played at Purdue, is also checking a big box on his arena bucket list. The Cougars will play Saturday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse

(Isaac Hale | Special to The Tribune) Brigham Young University forward Matt Haarms (3) greets the crowd after the BYU Cougars’ 65-51 win over the Saint Mary’s College of California Gaels at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

Long before becoming a Cougar, Matt Haarms was a Boilermaker — playing at Purdue University for three seasons from 2017-20. Haarms entered the transfer portal as he was completing his undergrad and was considering 10 different programs to transfer to.

At the time, the coronavirus pandemic was still new and no one knew how long it would last or the continued effects it would cause. But it forced some big changes to March Madness this year, forcing all games to be played in a bubble environment in Indiana.

So, it didn’t much matter where Haarms chose to play his final year of college basketball; his collegiate career will end where it started.

“It’s weird, that last year transferring, coming here, I wouldn’t think I’m going to be right back where it started a year later,” Haarms said. “That was something that’s really unexpected.”

However, it’s clear Haarms has been instrumental in helping the Cougars get back to the Big Dance.

The Dutch center is averaging 11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.95 blocks while shooting 55% from the field, and only continues to improve.

The Cougars left for Indianapolis on Monday to quarantine before playing in the first round on Saturday against Thursday’s UCLA/Michigan State winner. While Haarms definitely has familiarity with the area and people, he doesn’t believe it will give him much of an advantage in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m familiar with the arenas, mostly, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Haarms said. “Every single team is going to be ready in the same way that we are. So, we’ve just got to go out there and compete harder — that’s what it’s going to come down to.”

NCAA TOURNAMENT

BYU VS. UCLA OR MICHIGAN STATE

At Hinkle Fieldhouse

When • Saturday, 7:40 p.m.

TV • Ch. 2

Haarms’ connection to Indiana may help get more BYU fans in the limited seats during the games.

BYU tends to travel well for away games (sometimes making it feel more like a home game) because the connection to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The effect it will have this weekend remains to be seen, but Haarms is hoping there are still local Purdue fans who are continuing to support him and maybe get some to cheer on BYU.

“I hope some people still have some love for me there,” Haarms said. “So, I know we’re going to have a little bit of some fans in there.”

Haarms is not only going back to Indiana; the 7-foot-3 senior is going to check off a big box on his Indiana arena bucket list: The Cougars are playing either the Bruins or the Spartans at Butler’s storied Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.

The NCAA Tournament will have games played in six different arenas: Hinkle, Mackey Arena, Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Just to be able to cross Hinkle off would be cool,” Haarms said. “But any arena we play would be awesome because I know they’re all great environments.”

Even if having the NCAA tourney in Indiana doesn’t translate to some sort of advantage for the Cougars, Haarms’ experience in that state does. During his three seasons at Purdue, Haarms played a total of seven NCAA Tournament games.

While BYU won’t know its first round opponent until Thursday, Haarms knows both Michigan State and UCLA are heading into the tournament with a sense of desperation. And the Cougars have to feel the same way.

“We can’t let this end here,” Haarms said. “... It’s got to be a mindset of desperation, like this is all we have. If this game on Saturday turns into a loss, our season is over — we’re going home. And that would be the last time this team ever plays together. So, we’ve just got to come in with the mindset that we cannot allow that to happen.”

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