BYU is riding higher than anyone expected.
After jumping out to an 8-0 start, the Cougars are No. 1 in NET rankings and top 10 in the KenPom rankings. They sit at No. 14 in the Associated Press poll and have one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
The Utes, meanwhile, are 6-2 thanks to some improved play and improved shooting.
When the Utes and Cougars square off Saturday evening at the Huntsman Center, it will be the first time the in-state rivals have both been in the KenPom top-40 for a matchup since 2009. (Think Luke Nevill, Jimmer Fredette and the Mountain West.)
That’s got BYU head coach Mark Pope excited.
“In-state games man, they are magic,” he said this week. “You just look forward to them because you know it is going to be an all out … super competitive [game] like it should be. … Every game is so huge for us now and we love it.”
Saturday will also be the final nonconference test for both teams. BYU doesn’t play anyone inside the top 180 until January. Utah won’t play a team in the top 150 until Dec. 29.
How to watch
BYU vs. Utah
Saturday, 5 p.m.
At the Huntsman Center
TV: Pac-12 Networks
A look back
Dec. 17, 2022 — BYU beats Utah 75-66: Pope’s crew came into this game looking the part of a young team. It had enjoyed some highs, like beating Creighton in Vegas. But it also lost to Utah Valley (by 15) and South Dakota in the Delta Center. Utah had just beaten Arizona and was ready to wrap up a mostly strong start to the non-conference (before playing TCU).
But Pope’s team came in and put up 75 points behind transfer point guard Rudi Williams’ 26 off the bench. Four players were in double figures and Utah couldn’t counter. It shot 22% from three and couldn’t capitalize on Branden Carlson’s 20-point, six-rebound effort.
Nov. 27, 2021 — BYU beats Utah 75-64: Craig Smith’s first time in the rivalry didn’t go well for the Utes. Pope had an undefeated team coming into that November game and they played like it. Alex Barcello had 17 points, five assists and four rebounds. The senior leader went to the line 12 times and controlled the game in the second half.
Utah competed in the first 20 minutes. But in the second half BYU scored 48 points and pulled away from a two-point deficit. Carlson had 17 points that night. But again Utah shot just 26% from three.
Remember, though, that was a much different BYU offense than this season. That game, BYU shot only 12 threes and did most of their work in the half court. That is much different than the Pope today.
Dec. 12, 2020 — BYU beats Utah 82-64: The Cougars cruised to victory during Larry Krystkowiak’s last trip to the Marriott Center. Utah was under .500 this season and this BYU squad finished top 20 in KenPom and went to the NCAA Tournament as a six-seed (losing to eventual national-runner up UCLA).
The game reflected that as BYU ended the first half on a 23-11 run and never really looked back. A young Spencer Johnson had 16 points in that game. Richard Harward had 15 off the bench. BYU held Carlson to four points.
Dec. 4, 2019 — Utah beats BYU 102-95 in overtime: This was arguably Pope’s best team. Nobody will truly know as COVID-19 wiped away the NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars were a dark horse candidate for the Final Four and went 24-8. They beat Gonzaga at home.
Ironically, though, this was the Pope team that lost to Utah. BYU had a comfortable lead for most of the second half, but Utah erased an eight-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to force overtime. And then the Utes pulled away for a win in the Huntsman Center.
Timmy Allen (who would transfer to Texas) and Rylan Jones (who would transfer to Utah State and Samford) put up 27 and 25 for Utah.
BYU had good performances from Yoeli Childs, 29, and Jake Toolson, 27. But it wasn’t enough. TJ Haws was held to five points and Kolby Lee, a starter, played just nine minutes and was a non-factor. Trevin Knell made his first appearance against Utah in this game. He played 10 minutes and did not score.
Dec. 8, 2018 — BYU beats Utah 74-59: Two middling teams played a largely middling game as BYU controlled the night. The Cougars pulled away in the second half to win Dave Rose’s final BYU-Utah game.
Childs had 31 points and 11 rebounds. Haws had 18 points. The SMU transfer Sedrick Barefield led Utah with 16.
Both teams, though, would be left out of postseason play after losing in the first round of their conference tournaments.