Depth, experience key to upcoming BYU Men’s Basketball season

BYU Men’s Basketball opens its season next week with three games in four days, starting Nov. 25 against Westminster.

The Cougars announced their non-conference schedule on Nov. 12 and now have a full slate of games to look forward to.

BYU Basketball will kick off its season at home against Westminster on Nov. 25. The non-conference schedule will conclude with an in-state matchup against Weber State at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Dec. 23. (BYU Basketball)

“We are really excited about this non-conference schedule,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “It’s a tough schedule and might be the death of us, but there’s nothing better than playing great teams in non-conference play, so we are really excited about it.”

This season’s team looks a lot different from the one that went 24-8 last season and was poised to make a deep postseason run, but it has the potential to be just as good.

The Cougars lost seven seniors from last year’s roster, including stars Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson. Alex Barcello, Connor Harding, Gavin Baxter and Kolby Lee highlight the returning players on this year’s team.

One thing Harding noticed that may set this team apart from last year’s is confidence in the ability to go deeper into the rotation.

“I think the biggest thing is being able to rotate in a fresh five guys,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing to change our defenses and confuse or slow down an offense. Last year, we only had like seven or eight guys in the rotation, but this year we might be 10-12 guys deep in the rotation.”

Brandon Averette drives against Barcello during BYU’s first practice on Oct. 14. The two are poised to form the starting backcourt for BYU this season. (BYU Photo)

Barcello will team up with graduate transfer Brandon Averette to make up what the local media has dubbed the “ABBA (Alex Barcello-Brandon Averette) backcourt.” Barcello, who averaged 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game last season, is excited to be joined by Averette for a one-two punch at point guard.

“It’s been a joy for me to play with him,” Barcello said. “I think that he’s gonna have a great season and we’re going to complement each other well throughout the season.”

The Cougar frontcourt will have a lot more depth than it has had in recent years. With an average height of 6 foot 9, the seven forwards and centers will most likely all see playing time this season.

Coach Mark Pope gives direction to center Matt Haarms during the Cougars’ televised practice on Oct. 14. Haarms was the biggest name to join BYU in the offseason and will likely be the team’s starting center. (BYU Photo)

Most notable of that group is the 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, a transfer from Purdue. Haarms averaged 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and two blocks a game last year for the Boilermakers. Outside of his immediate impact in the paint, Haarms can shoot the three as well, and Pope has said he’s shooting it really well right now.

“You can’t challenge his shot,” Pope said. “So he’s literally always open. Even if you’re standing right there in his face, he’s still essentially open.”

Cougar fans will finally get to see the two Utah Valley University transfers who sat out last year due to NCAA rules: 6-foot-11 Richard Harward and 6-foot-10 Wyatt Lowell.

Lowell required surgery for a torn labrum he suffered over the summer, but is expected to be back soon. Harward, who garners the nickname “big and scary,” has brought a lot of energy into BYU’s two-a-day practices and draws high praise from teammates and coaches.

Richard Harward celebrates a win during a drill at practice in the Marriott Center. Harward sat out last year after transferring from UVU. (BYU Photo)

“He’s such a physical presence,” Pope said. “He’s unbelievable on the offensive glass, he takes up a ton of space defensively and he’s running the floor really hard. I’m super pleased with him. He’s been terrific.”

Another player spoken highly of this offseason has been big man Kolby Lee, who got a lot of game experience last year, starting 28 of the 30 games he played in.

“Come on, I mean how consistent is he?” Pope said about Lee. “He’s like a giant oak tree in the middle of the forest that you just know is going to be there tomorrow and it’s gonna be there in 100 years and 1000 years. He’s such a beautiful piece.”

Gideon George dribbles to the hoop against Caleb Lohner during practice on Oct. 14. George and Lohner are both newcomers to the team and have impressed with their improvement during offseason workouts. (BYU Photo)

Newcomers Gideon George and Caleb Lohner have transitioned well onto the team. Pope has often mentioned their growth throughout summer workouts and into official practices this fall. In a recent media session, Baxter also spoke to their rebounding abilities.

“Gideon and Caleb are just relentless on the offensive glass,” he said. “So that’s going to be huge for us.”

Each of BYU’s first three games: Nov. 25 against Westminster, Nov. 26 against New Orleans and Nov. 28 against UVU will tipoff at 7 p.m. MT. They will be closed to the public, but televised on BYUtv and broadcast on the BYU Sports Network on BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143 and KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM.

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